The seventeen years between The Shape of Punk To Come, their ‘final’ record, and Freedom, their surprise comeback, have evidently not been kind to Swedish hardcore punk band Refused. Rather than bursting back onto the scene with the fire and rage that marked out their exemplary releases of the past for greatness, the band feel pale and stiff here. Freedom isn’t a bang, it’s a whimper, and though they’re still loud, the sentiments behind the group’s screeched riffs are so lacklustre they’re almost parodic. Though the release isn’t a total disaster – at times, the Refused of the past show up to play a number – the album is characterised by a terribly humdrum mundanity.
Album opener Elektra starts things off well, mixing up math rock influences with the best of hardcore. It’s the kind of arch, jet black beauty that Refused used to consistently churn out during their heyday, and the song’s central lyric, ‘nothing has changed’, is both a tongue in cheek reference to the band’s absence and a damning criticism of the modern world.
Useless Europeans, the record closer, is the other success. At over six minutes long, it’s a hulking behemoth of a song that takes its time to build to an operatic crescendo which leaves more of an impact than any other track on the album. The way lead singer Dennis Lyxzén catapults his voice from a gentle croon to a hoarse howl thrills, and the track finishes out the album with style and aplomb.
But the filler in between the album’s ecstatic opening and its furious close disappoints on almost every level. Dawkins Christ, with its sloppy name and sloppier lyric, feels like the kind of tune a number of lesser bands have churned out in the almost two decades since Refused took their leave from the hardcore scene. A song like Thought Is Blood is as hollow as anything the band have recorded, and the song’s instrumental ‘experimentation’ trudges over very old ground.
But despite these grave missteps, the hardcore scene is still a better place with Refused back. Freedom might be a failure, but it’s not bad enough to wish that the band had never returned at all. One only hopes that they have another album in the pipeline, and that when it emerges, we can truly welcome back the Swedish pioneers.