The Shape Of Punk To Come
Epitaph / Burning Heart
By: Eric G.
Politics and music make strange bedfellows, but when the delivery is as phenomenal as this, I can listen to wacko pinko rhetoric all day long. Throughout the history of punk, politics has plagued the pens of everyone from The Sex Pistols to Fugazi. With the former it was a much needed right hook in the mouth, but when you have to listen to the latter’s Ian Makaye endlessly complain about abortions and commercialism it can be pretty embarrassing. Sometimes, though, the music is creative enough to overshadow any hackneyed socialistic dross and such is the case with Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come.
The title is unabashed bravado. This band is confident enough to lay claims to the future of a genre that seems to have been treading water for decades. Who do they think they are? Even after listening to the band’s argument, I don’t believe anything will change the shape of punk any time soon- at least not in the terms suggested. I do believe that this record is essential listening, though, and I think it will be revered as much as any important punk record of the past fifteen years. Refused sounds as harsh as its name. This record storms through your speakers with relentless energy and cunning calculation.
The ‘punk’ aspects of Refused’s sound hark back to hardcore bands like Born Against, as well as early Pink Flag-era Wire, Entertainment-era Gang Of Four and an healthy dose of Fugazi- not so much in the music but certainly in vocalist Dennis Lyxzen’s phrasing. Lyxzen has a deafening voice. He toys with its inflections to make the harshness sound even more severe. For example, in “Liberation Frequency” he coos over the quiet guitar chops in a gentle falsetto. When the bass kicks in he adopts a typically bratty half-yell, but the explosiveness of his full on attack is hard to describe. It’s more than a scream. It literally shreds right through the buzzsaw guitars and grabs you by the throat and shakes the shit out of you. This guy’s not fucking around.
For punk purists Refused’s sound may dabble too much in ‘metal’ territory, but it would be silly to write the band off for such a shallow reason. The song structures are sophisticated but punk at the roots. The metal influence only occurs when the songs burst into their ‘choruses.’ Lyxzen’s vocals keep the music grounded in authenticity. Any other style of singing would surely sink these parts into heavy metal cliches. Punk purists might also flinch at Refused’s fusion of electronics and jazz into its assault. These guys are stellar musicians with an ear for caustic dynamics as well as melody and arrangement, and they veer off into eclectic musical styles effortlessly. Refused is the first band to meld these styles so that it works on this level.
Refused comes from a hardcore background, and The Shape Of Punk To Come reflects its origins. There’s a sense of desperation in hardcore that isn’t expressed (as well) in any other genre. Harsh heavy metal usually just sounds silly, almost like a cartoon. Death metal is even more ridiculous. Refused sounds real and it has something to say. You may or may not agree with it, but it is expressed with sincerity and vehemence. The Shape Of Punk To Come is Refused’s ultimate manifesto. The band had to break up- how do you top a record like this? The nature of punk and all of its intentions succeed on this album. It is a revolution on record. Despite all the shortcomings inherent to punk, politics, and uprising, Refused manages to break the barriers and wipe the slate clean.