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“They told me the classics never go out of style, but they do, they do. Somehow, baby, I never thought that we'd do too…”
--The opening lines of The Shape of Punk to Come.
Everything went to hell. With virtually no time to rest, Refused
had returned from their first tour in support of The Shape of Punk to Come
to travel to the US. The events had taken their toll, and Jon needed to rest, but was convinced by the band that he could withstand another long streak of shows. With only four performances having been completed, the band had already labelled tour as “catastrophic”, and, after Refused’s Atlanta gig, the band, no matter how hard they tried to deny it, was driven into the ground. The tour continued, and Jon tried harder and harder to keep it together, but between his gear breaking down and the complete dissipation of all of his passion for the band, Jon could not take much more, and entered a state of deep depression and confusion. Recognising Jon’s unbearable mental anguish, David called a meeting.
“I think we should cancel the tour”. I imagine that the words would have shot down Dennis, who was determined to keep the tour, and Refused, going. David stood by his decision, but Dennis, still in denial, couldn’t take it. “Let’s call it quits then. If we go home now, I’m through with the band,” he said, and David could only respond by saying, simply, “well, okay.” Refused, now reduced to a collection of four disheartened, distraught men, decided to conclude everything with a final show, one that would very possibly have rivalled that of The Germs
’ farewell show. The band and their personnel arrived at the venue, and a melancholy aura of confusion and contempt hung eerily among them. That night, as the opening bands had completed their songs, Refused began to set up. The basement of the house was packed to the brim, and the band begun to play. The display was said to have captured the hearts of the audience as Refused completed their second song, having only begun to “gather momentum” among the listeners in the crowded basement.
Just then, the message came to Dennis that the police had arrived, and come to shut down the show. While the fans who had organized the show hastily discussed what they should do, Dennis turned to the band. “I think we should keep playing”. Immediately, the captivating introduction of “Rather Be Dead” initiated, and the crowd, knowing that this would be the last time they would ever see Refused perform, erupted and sang along with all their sincerity, as Refused made one last stand against those who oppressed them. The torchlights entered the room, and before the band could even grasp the song’s ferocious pre-outro build-up, the cops deactivated the amplifiers and silenced the band, once and for all. The audience just kept shouting those words; “rather be alive”. Unable to complete the final culmination of all their hard work over their entire career, the four men, officially a band no longer, left the venue and left the country, returning home to build new lives from the wreckage of Refused.
Almost immediately, the band had moved on, with Dennis’ formation of The (International) Noise Conspiracy
taking place within mere months following Refused’s decline, and the rest of the band forming TEXT
in response. But everything Refused ever did, represented or believed in lived on through their final masterpiece, The Shape of Punk to Come
. As unquestionably one of the most essential influences to hardcore and post-hardcore music of the new millennium, Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come
is still one of the most highly regarded punk albums of all time, and continues to inspire and captivate young musicians all over the world.
forms a new style that departs from Refused’s more violent, thrashcore beginnings and roots the band in a more experimental foundation, but still maintains the fiery hardcore style of the band’s earlier releases, in addition to a subtle influence of post-hardcore that can be found within the album (a characteristic closely related to the band’s sound on Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent
). The album, notably lengthy for a hardcore punk release (summing up to fifty-five minutes), introduces a wide range of unorthodox styles into the band’s sound, incorporating particularly frequent use of electronically programmed effects (“Bruitist Poem #5”, the post-intro interlude of the band’s classic hit “New Noise”), as well as more infrequent but equally impressive elements such as the astounding one and a half minute long string introduction of “Tannhäuser/Derivè”, or the album’s bizarre epilogue, “The Apollo Programme Was a Hoax”, which sees David Sandström’s use of the uncommon melodica instrument. Even tracks like “Liberation Frequency”, an obvious highlight on The Shape
, are not driven by a ground-breaking hardcore sound, but instead motivate listeners with uniquely composed passages (even though hardcore elements may still be used under moderation); “Liberation Frequency” possesses verses which rely on Dennis’ slightly muted vocals and light guitar chords that inspire a sense of freshness within the song, while returning to a ferocious hardcore section every once in a while.
It is known that Refused are particularly favoured by critics and listeners for the political messages present in their songwriting. Ranging from revolutionary ideals (“Liberation Frequency”, “The Refused Party Program”) to the band’s disgust for capitalism (“Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull”), lyrics are extremely sophisticated and meaningful, firmly expressing the band’s views on the operation of society and the human condition:
I’m tired of losing myself to some stupid childhood dream of what I could have been.
Money proves the point and I’m stuck between summer holidays and punk routine.
I shoot off a hundred things to remain more sorry than safe.
You see, I only get this chance once and I just can’t let it be.
And I’m still certain that what motivates me is more rewarding than any piece of paper could be.
Well adjusted and corrupt, all these icons that stole our teenage lust.
A scenario of simplicity, a scenario of you and me.
A scenario of simplicity, a scenario of you and me.
Rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in.
We’re all tired of dying, so sick of not trying.
Scared that we might fail, we’ll accomplish nothing.
Not even failure.
--The lyrics of “Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine”.
These lyrics are carried through the charismatic voice of frontman Dennis Lyxzén, ranging from incomprehensible screams (“The Refused Party Program”) to his rare, distinct soft vocals (“The Apollo Programme Was a Hoax”).
In spite of the fact that Refused’s virtuosic songwriting is obviously one of the leading factors in The Shape
’s triumph, the depth of the album’s instrumental side is, simply, marvellous. Aside from the aforementioned musical elements, the band members’ respective instrumental affiliations are as sharp as ever. Guitarists David Sandström, Kristofer Steen and Jon F. Brännström continue to uphold the sheer strength of Refused’s music with impacting chord progressions in the album’s more aggressive areas (“The Refused Party Program”, “The Deadly Rhythm”), though coarse hardcore melodies are in fact more prevalent on the record than the heavy power-chord reliant sections that the band continued to use through their earliest works. Favourites such as the iconic palm muted verse riff featured in “New Noise” or the classic riff from “The Shape of Punk to Come” are surprisingly catchy on the record, establishing memorability into the record to the full extent without seeming overly repetitive.
Though Refused never did find a permanent bass guitarist, guitarist Kristofer Steen and former bassist Magnus Björklund carry out the duty better than any other bassist possibly could have done; the sludgy, heavy bass line of “Liberation Frequency”, the absolutely brilliant distorted passage on “The Shape of Punk to Come” and the bass’ reinforcement of the rhythm section on “Refused Are F**kin Dead” being among the absolute finest of bass guitar use in hardcore music. Steen and Björklund are accompanied in this duty by double bassist Jacob Munck, who demonstrates his proficiency perfectly in the double bass solo on “The Deadly Rhythm”, as well as supporting the melodic section of the album’s closing track, “The Apollo Programme Was a Hoax”.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, the band’s self-proclaimed leader, David Sandström, tops it all off with his wide range of percussion instruments and thorough use of his drum kit. Particularly impressive is his use of cymbals throughout the album, perhaps best used on “The Deadly Rhythm”, which provide an eerie feeling during the song’s double bass interlude, while providing an astounding amount of atmosphere in the chorus of that very same song. Also worth notoriety is Sandström abundant use of cowbells (“Protest Song ’68”) and snare drum rolls (“New Noise”), while his ability to keep the timing of each song steady while also showing off his talent for complex rhythms (“Refused Are F**kin Dead”) and quick, heavy beats (“Tannhäuser/Derivè”).
And so, Refused present us with not only one of the greatest, most perfect hardcore punk records to ever be conceived, but also one of the most important, most influential records in punk music, inspiring a multitude of post-hardcore bands that would carry punk music to new heights long after Refused had concluded their run as a band. It is a saddening thought that, in their prime, Refused were ended so quickly just as they were achieving their true potential, but, because of The Shape of Punk to Come
, Refused’s reputation has, in fact, outlived their time as a band, and, hopefully, will forever be remembered as a masterpiece in rock music.
On the way home I asked Matt to pull over so we could all talk about what had happened. I told my friends how much it meant to me to see Refused play that night, how much I had needed it, and how crushed I was that they had been stopped once and for all. I told them that it was not enough for me to live in a world where things like that could happen, without anyone even caring that, if they were going to go on living, they would not settle for living half dead, that they would fight for what they wanted, and be courageous, and be beautiful. That’s what this is about, and it’s for you, if that’s what you want. Be creative, be alive, share every gift and every passion you have to offer, we all need all that we can get. Remember, Refused never got to play their last show for us.
--The final narration of the documentary Refused Are F**king Dead.