Review Summary: Blood Red, or at least as much as it can be.
Be it through any creative medium, the artist who finds himself haunted by their most famous or critically acclaimed piece will forever be one under constant scrutiny. For Swedish hardcore punk outfit Refused, 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come
is entirely inescapable.
Seemingly destined to eclipse anything the band should potentially release in the decades ahead, from the striking subtitle A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts
through to the uncannily prophetic impact the album made within the multifaceted veins of rock’s future, Shape...
was solidified as an album of immense influence, whilst also standing tall as the band’s own worse enemy. Indeed, with Refused’s eventual resurrection from being “f**king dead” and lukewarmly received 2015 effort Freedom
appearing (in the eyes of some) as little more than an attempt to capitalise on a wealth of collective fame, recent years seem to have only strengthened the grip of The Shape of Punk to Come
. While ‘New Noise’ reared with intent and ferocity or where ‘Tannhaüser / Derivè’s introductory strings struck with beautiful poignancy, the mere fact that Freedom
’s leading single ‘Elektra’ would be trimmed from a rumoured seven minutes to the far more (God forbid) radio friendly
runtime of just over three minutes was enough to install wariness amongst fans.
Ultimately, regardless of any high points, Freedom
disappointed compared to its seemingly legendary predecessor, so where exactly does War Music
fall with so much (or perhaps lack there of) pressure to course correct Refused’s return? Well, if the first 30 seconds of album opener ‘Rev 001’ are to be believed, it’s with determined vigour.
Indeed, whilst ‘Elektra’ opted for a frenetic energy with bouncier guitar riffs, ‘Rev 001’s haunting introductory female vocals quickly give way to something with a little more punch; sludgy, slamming guitar riffs and drums dominate and Dennis Lyxzén’s politically infuriated screams feel just like ‘98 all over again. Unfortunately, while the momentum is undoubtedly there the variety just simply isn’t, and thus the track uncomfortably drifts by repetitiously with most of the song playing it safe by hopping back and forth between the same old verse/chorus/verse/chorus and before you know it it’s on with ‘Violent Reaction’.
Which, speaking of ‘Violent Reaction’, is actually a lot
of fun, and brings things back nicely. Boasting infectiously fuzzy lead guitar licks and an energetic percussion not too dissimilar to (ironically) ‘Elektra’, ‘Violent Reaction’ unleashes the energy of a far younger band, while Lyxzén’s searing delivery of ”we’re a violent reaction”
rips through the track’s far heavier down tuned bridge fiercely. It’s not exactly anything stellar lyrically, but the aggression is welcome and suddenly ‘New Noise’s signature opening riffage doesn’t seem so far away after all. Elsewhere, and enjoying another welcome example of well utilised aggression, ‘Turn the Cross’, relishes in launching thrashy guitar riffs into your face and an unrelenting percussive backbone showcasing David Sandström’s abilities perfectly. Eventually culminating in a final 30 seconds of cocky, stomping riffage and Lyxzén’s furious screamed vocals, ‘Turn the Cross’ reinvigorates where lead single ‘Blood Red’s aggression seemed to be lacking some much needed “umph”.
Changing the album’s pace, ‘I Wanna Watch the World Burn’ borrows the introductory guitar riff of Shape...
’s ‘Liberation Frequency’ and delivers a lighter, alternative rock sound, and for the most part probably stands as the most radio friendly release of Refused’s entire career. It’s not entirely awful, but hearing Dennis F**king Lyxzén singing ”I wanna watch the world burn, cause I know you felt it too”
drifts just a little
too close to the Billboard Top 40 Alt Rock when coming from the band that penned “Refused Are F**king Dead.” On the subject of reusing previous material, however, if you thought we wouldn’t notice the ‘Dawkins Christ’ introductory guitar lead recycled into a brand new riff for the moody, downtempo ‘Malfire’, we didn’t ignore Freedom
extent Refused, come on guys... And yes, ‘Damaged III’ also sounds like ‘New Noise’ in the intro, it’s just a shame that the rest of the track is relatively lacklustre compared to what is probably your biggest song ever
Truthfully, where War Music
does best is easy enough to gauge; it’s when the band actually lives up to the aggressive implications of the name of the album
. While the thrash metal-esque ‘Economy of Death’ proves a massively fun ride, especially hearing Lyxzén’s repeated screams of ”you’re so f**ked”
, the missteps are those that try too hard to be “single worthy” and thus fall a little flat despite some genuinely interesting instrumentation in virtually every song (see ‘Blood Red’s dual lead guitar for further elaboration). True, variety is the spice of life and experimenting musically should absolutely be encouraged, but the same experimentation that sometimes hindered Freedom
crops up from time to time and it’s the glaring black sheep of ‘I Wanna Watch the World Burn’ that stands out most of all.
All in all, when compared to the mixed bag of 2015s Freedom
, War Music
certainly stands as the more consistent release of “Modern Refused”’s discography. While the likelihood of ever releasing a magnum opus comparable to The Shape of Punk to Come
seems more and more unlikely, tracks such as ‘Turn the Cross’ and ‘Violent Reaction’ prove there is still plenty more bite left to back up the signature aggression Refused became so well known for. The political standpoint may have changed throughout the years, and Shape...
may still be the overbearing shadow that eclipses anything to follow War Music
, but Lyxzén and Co hardly seem all that concerned when slamming percussion and shotgun blasting thrashy guitar riffage out into the world is probably just as cathartic as it ever was back in 1998.