The Lowdown: More than 20 years ago, Sweden’s Refused unleashed one of greatest hardcore-punk albums of all time, The Shape of Punk to Come, only to break up within months of its release. The politically charged outfit briefly reunited in 2012 to play a number of high-profile gigs, before getting back together as a fully functioning band in 2014. What came next was 2015’s Freedom, the group’s first album in 17 years. While a solid effort, Freedom served more as an experiment in modern rock than a continuation of where the band left off with Shape in 1998.
Now, Refused are back with War Music, with frontman Dennis Lyxzén setting the bar high for the LP in an interview earlier this year. He admitted that Freedom may not have satisfied fans yearning for the band to recapture the magic of Shape, adding, “I think [War Music] is the record that people wanted us to do last time. … I think that the people who love Shape will be like, ‘Oh yeah, this makes a little bit more sense.'”
The Good: Lyxzén was not mistaken. Fans who loved The Shape of Punk to Come will certainly latch on to War Music. The album is a no-holds-barred sociopolitical punch to the face, kicking off with fiery protest song “REV001”, as Lyxzen delivers anti-capitalist lines like, “When there’s blood on the streets profits being made / Profits being made on our backs today.” The following track, “Violent Reaction”, starts with a post-punk riff and launches into full-on rage, showing off the band’s masterful balance of melody and aggression.
Refused’s socialist and anarchist views are front and center throughout War Music, as evident on first single “Blood Red”. With great passion, Lyxzén takes on income inequality, screaming, “Time for some militance/ The fight will come down to us and them/ Joined we could represent/ The last gasp of the 1%.”
Musically, the band sounds as tight as ever, matching Lyxzén’s dynamic vocals with monstrous riffs and rhythm all through War Music. The album ends as powerfully as it started, closing out with the scorching “Economy of Death”.
The Bad: War Music is best at its most aggressive, which it is most of the time. Consequently, when Refused present a more straightforward melodic rock sound like they do in the chorus of “I Wanna Watch the World Burn” and the verses of “Death in Vännäs”, it seems a bit disconnected with the rest of the album.
The Verdict: With the Trump administration in place for nearly three years, and anti-authoritarian demonstrations taking place in Europe and Asia, the lack of protest music coming from the punk world has been surprising. Throughout the years, the genre’s most powerful music has been borne out of frustration with governmental authority and the status quo. With War Music, Refused have delivered a rousing call to arms, and perhaps a call to their punk-rock peers to join the fight.
Essential Tracks: “Violent Reaction”, “Blood Red”, “Economy of Death”