Review Summary: They come by night, cruising in their uniforms and their dances down the damp city streets, swinging along like mad weekend lovers to the stereo sound of liberation.“They come by night, cruising in their uniforms and their dances down the damp city streets, swinging along like mad weekend lovers to the stereo sound of liberation. They come as witnesses, spectators, and participators, crazy, wild and drunk on love and noise. The speakers explode and we are blinded by a wall of sound, screams, beats. The movement flows through the room as the band is on fire, flying across the room. Naïve and beautiful, yet serious and scarred. Wisdom flows like water and this new name, this new beginning is like the bullet the CIA killed Kennedy with: relentless and hard. It’s a night of magic and every note hits like a hammer. The smell of perspiration and perfume is flowing through the air as we hold each other tight, moving along to the manifesto. This could be the shape of punk to come, liberation theology in practise, togetherness spiting the dividers and rulers, the sum of our parts forming the gag in the mouth that voices the status quo, woven into fabric with every last thread of our defiance, sewn to fit like the shirt on my back. Or it could be just another sleepless night of midnight punk romance.”
Many bands try to do the whole anarcho-communist revolution thing, but none can pull it off like Refused. The above words (and many more) comprise one of singer Dennis Lyxzen’s two manifestos that accompany this album, which eloquently express Refused’s political/social revolutionary views. With influences ranging from the 1980’s and ‘90s Washington D.C. bands Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi to economist Karl Marx and anarchist Errico Malatesta, Refused released nothing short of a classic: The Shape of Punk to Come.
As stated, Refused are a very political band. They sing for the downfall of the bourgeoisie, of class systems, of capitalism and of government. Their anti-capitalistic message can be summed up in the lyrics of “The Deadly Rhythm”:
“Cheapest labour at our expensive cost, auctioned our lives away. We consume our lives like we are thankful for what we are being forced into. Is it our duty to die for governments and for gods" Is it our privilege to slave for market and industry" Is it our right to follow laws set to scare and oppress" Is it our gift to stay in line and will it take away the blame" We can no longer pay the price. We’ll get organized. We no longer believe that working for you will set us free.”
Live shows would frequently be shut down midway by the police, and riots often ensued in the aftermath of a Refused performance. Their final show, taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, had the power shut down during the crescendo to the song “Rather be Dead”, just at the part where Dennis screams “Rather be alive”. The entire audience shouted “rather be alive” over and over for a half hour, before police finally arrested several concert goers.
Whilst the revolution mentioned in the lyrics never did happen, a different kind of revolution did. Refused revolutionized the post-hardcore punk sound. If you listen to
any of the said music at all, chances are that this album influenced it heavily. The guitar is simplistic, yet it delivers all the right riffs and grooves. The bass is very prominent, and holds the songs together. The drums are in the happy medium as well, pounding out tight rhythms and ferocious breakdowns, but not to the point of showing off. This may not seem very impressive, but when all the instruments are put together, magic happens. However, the highlight of the Refused sound is the vocals. Dennis’s scream is not low and gravely, but piercing and high pitched, yet not irritating or cliché. The passionate vocals and poetic lyrics really do make the band.
The most popular song from this record is “New Noise”, the only one with a music video. (Silly Refused, how can you be anti-capitalist and release anything on MTV") I highly recommend this song to an uninitiated listener. With several build-ups and breakdowns, listening to this song is like riding a rollercoaster in the dark. You may feel you know the direction you are going, but instead you are whipped about unexpectedly. “Liberation Frequency”, another stand-out track, starts with some soothing clean guitar and smooth, beautiful vocals. Then, just when you think its safe, a blast of furious guitar and drums and screams explode through the speakers, begging the question, “What frequency will liberation be"” “Refused are ****ing dead” is my personal favorite from the album. Its infectious head-banging groove is perfectly executed; everything from guitar notes to vocal inflections is perfectly accentuated on the backbeat.
If you listen to punk music at all, this is absolutely essential. Every song on this album is brilliant, and has influenced nearly every contemporary post-hardcore band in existence. I cannot recommend this album enough.