Refused : The Shape of Punk to Come

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Refused Shape of punk to come review

It’s remarkable that a band like Swedish hardcore troupe Refused could crash MTV. Though plenty of interesting discoveries could be found on 120 Minutes over the yeaers, or Subterranean as it would eventually be called after the ’90s, Refused still stood apart. The first time I caught the clip for “New Noise” was on a VHS cassette recording of an episode in 1999, which also featured a clip of Sleater-Kinney’s “Get Up” (which was also cool), but “New Noise” stood out in particular, for its seemingly mismatched sound and visuals—fierce, aggressive post-hardcore sounds with Moogs and intense screams; shaggy hair, sweaters and skinny slacks. They looked Britpop, they sounded far more vicious. My reaction: what the fuck was that?

Though the title of Refused’s The Shape of Punk To Come may be presumptuous, even arrogant, it was 100 percent true. The Swedish group blended complex melodic textures, unhinged hardcore aggression, experimental atmosphere, leftist politics and a visual presentation that seemed more mod than hardcore (with a nod to free-jazz icon Ornette Coleman in its title). Those components most certainly spilled into the punk to come: The Bronx, At the Drive-In and Blood Brothers in sound, The Hives in every other aspect (save for the far-left politics). Refused took jabs at their guitars like machetes to man-eating snakes, and pounded rhythms like machine guns on concrete. Yet they did it with style, looking sharp, but a little dangerous. And they were a hell of a lot more fun than hardcore ever let on.

Most of The Shape of Punk To Come pushes heavily on volume and intensity, with a handful of instrumental/sound collage tracks to serve as interludes between sonic explosions. “Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull” stretches an epic exercise in progressive hardcore over seven minutes, while “The Deadly Rhythm” lives up to its title in its pursuit of syncopated violence. “Liberation Frequency” finds frontman Dennis Lyxzén singing “we want the airwaves back” over a relatively low-key (and tension-building) verse, which is a goal they temporarily achieved with “New Noise.” And on that note, there were likely many others similar to myself who were left a bit confused and awestruck by seeing it on MTV. Far from the typical pop video fodder, it doesn’t even really have a chorus, or maybe it’s all chorus, I’m not sure, and I don’t care. It rocks too hard for me to bother parsing.

“Protest Song ’86” doesn’t let up on the screams, but interestingly enough, its melody is textured and atypical of hardcore riffs. Minor key chords with traces of jazz elements seep their way in, maintaining a heavy sound, but one that goes against the grain of the aggro norm. Slightly less destructive is “Summerholiday vs. Punkroutine,” which, while raw, finds Lyxzén singing melodically rather than shredding his pipes. And the dual punch of “Refused Are Fuckin’ Dead” and “The Shape of Punk To Come” show off the best of Jon Brännström and Kristofer Steen’s fretwork, with the former spiraling maniacally and the latter edging into an urgent and catchy groove (kicked off by a disco beat, no less).

The very same year that The Shape of Punk To Come was released, the band split, with Lyxzén forming The (International) Noise Conspiracy shortly thereafter. Given the band’s volatility, both sonically and politically, it’s not terribly surprising that the inferno dissolved, but a masterpiece was left in its wake. At the opening of the record, Lyxzén recites, “they say the classics never go out of style, but they do.” Shape, contrary to his own declaration, lives on.

Label: Burning Heart

Year: 1998

Buy this album at Turntable Lab

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