Released: Jun 29, 2015
Genre: Post-Hardcore, Hardcore Punk, Alternative Rock
Label: Epitaph Records
Number Of Tracks: 10
Over fifteen years since their iconic third album, Refused's fourth album, "Freedom," has the band's return ensnared in ambivalence.
FreedomFeatured review by: UG Team, on july 14, 2015 3 of 4 people found this review helpful
Sound: Coming into the scene during the ever-so-fruitful punk surge of the '90s, Refused started off as a pretty standard offering of hardcore punk, but it would be the challenging of that notion of "standard" that would fuel their seminal third album, 1998's "The Shape of Punk to Come." With the key goal of going counterculture towards punk itself, feeling that the genre was getting too conventional in its practice, the album ambitiously infused several new sonic elements with the band's hardcore style - from an array of guitar pedals and synthesizers to jazz and classical music sections. Though ongoing tensions between bandmates would result in Refused breaking up for good (at least that was what they had originally planned) only months after its release, the reception for what they accomplished on "The Shape of Punk to Come" was overwhelmingly positive - with many substantial punk voices like Brett Gurewitz and Kerrang! magazine deeming it one of the best punk records ever.
Rumors of the band reuniting would start circling at the turn of the current decade, and despite their originally-stated adamancy to never reform, Refused confirmed that they would temporarily reunite in 2012 for touring purposes only, but firmly stated that they had no plans to record a new album, in similar fashion to other temporary reunions like Rage Against The Machine, At The Drive In, etc. But after rumors of a permanent reunion for Refused began to spur up a year ago, the band announced only a few months ago that they would be releasing a fourth album. As excited as people were about this news, it didn't make for an easy situation for Refused. After abruptly leaving on a monumental note, how does a band properly follow up from that apex? Do they spend their return album returning to form, calling back to their legendary material from before, or do they move forward? With the new album being named "Freedom," it's indicative that Refused have approached the songwriting of their returning album with a focus on creative hedonism more than extrinsic expectations.
That mentality towards the songwriting may be synonymous with that heard in "The Shape of Punk to Come," but as opposed to the boundary-pushing ambition of the band's third album, "Freedom" just does what it feels like doing. It does indeed spend some time rehashing the band's hardcore side, which is expectedly satisfying. "366" and "Dawkins Christ" hark back to the band's hardcore salad days of "Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent," the unnerving "Destroy the Man" sounds like a lost track from Philm's second album "Fire From the Evening Sun" (especially in its messy wah-pedal solos), and the puzzling 21/8 main riff in "Elektra" shows Refused upgrading their technical side.
However, the primary flavor tasted on the album is, surprisingly, classic rock. While that's vaguely adjacent to being another drop in the trendy bucket of blues rock revival, Refused don't draw inspiration from Led Zeppelin and Cream, but rather, pay homage to classic rock acts like AC/DC (heard in the rock-steady riff of "Françafrique"), Mötley Crüe (heard in the heavy metal riff of "War on the Palaces"), and the funk days of David Bowie (heard in the funky guitar swells in "Old Friends / New War"). While this non-hardcore sound is expected to be wholly polarizing to the Refused fans who only want hardcore punk, the bigger problem is that it doesn't feel like much more than a pastiche of classic rock. And with many sonic tropes making repeated appearances throughout the album (like the horns that cameo in "Françafrique" and "War on the Palaces," the down-pitched vocal bits in "War on the Palaces" and "366," the anthemic stomp-clap beats that give "Old Friends / New War" and "Françafrique" the same rhythmic backbone, or the phaser pedals that are employed liberally in several songs), the new sonic flavors Refused offer here get bland fairly quick. // 6
Lyrics: The politically-charged brashness of frontman Dennis Lyxzen's lyrics hasn't gotten weaker after all these years, but his approach in "Freedom" feels more rudimentary in comparison to his lyrics in earlier Refused albums. Whereas his lyrics in "This Just Might Be... The Truth" read like a transcript of conversations in the quad of a liberal arts college, "Freedom" is composed more of hammering simple and inflammatory statements into the head of the listener; from the chanting of "Nothing has changed!" in "Elektra" and "Without a god, when we need a god!" in "Thought Is Blood," to the children's choir chanting "Exterminate the brutes" in "Françafrique."
In terms of subject matter beyond shout-able bite-sized dissent, though, Lyxzen generally covers the standard bases of political lyrics. He harangues the pacifying purpose of religion in the cheekily-named "Dawkins Christ," and faithfully rails against the global elite and governments for causing war in the interest of profit in "War on the Palaces," "Destroy the Man" and "Servants of Death," though these come off pretty similar to one another, not to mention Lyxzen has beaten that topic path many times before. "Useless Europeans" takes shots at the sheltered bourgeois population in Europe ("Outside your pretty walls / There's an ugly world / With no skin left for new scars"), which wields more magnitude given the current issue with Europe struggling to solve the financial crisis in Greece. And most impressively is the historical cut of "Françafrique," which shines a light on the not-well-known but atrocious despot Mobutu Sese Seko, whose USA-endorsed regime in Zaire ran the country into turmoil for his own monetary gain - a perfect target for Lyxzen's lyrical crosshairs. // 7
Overall Impression: Though the "breaking expectations" mentality is what "Freedom" and "The Shape of Punk to Come" have in common, "Freedom" makes much less of an impact than its predecessor. The outside-the-box oddities that studded "The Shape of Punk to Come" may have put the album at risk of being a flop of a punk record, but it was the principle of challenging the expected punk sound that made it the iconic record that it is today. "Freedom," in contrast, is more simply about Refused doing what they feel like doing, and with its result being a mixed bag of enjoyable hardcore and innocuous hard rock, the album succeeds in being the awkward "black sheep" album of their catalog. Ultimately, it's an unriveting product from the riveting return of Refused. // 5