Influencing just about every modern rock band worth their salt Sweden’s *Refused *are pretty much the first and last word in progressive hardcore-punk. Very few bands have attempted to utterly smash the boundaries constricting the flow of creativity in this field more than this far-left leaning Umea-based quartet, and they know it only too well. _“Punk is the most conservative musical form there is…” _voices frontman Dennis Lyxzén on their website. _“Even in hardcore there are so many rules about what is and what is not acceptable, and that completely negates the whole spirit of the original idea.” _Such concerns have fuelled their output since their inception and thankfully, at a time when the words punk and hardcore are fast becoming synonymous with the mainstream, Burning Heart have chosen to re-issue their three albums, reminding us all about what the ‘punk’ label truly stands for.
Emerging at a time in the mid-nineties when the ideology of punk first appeared to be drowning in a swamp of commercialism, Refused were a band who stood by its key values of individuality and independence both musically and politically. Formed out of the cultural vacuum provided by a society with no real sense of art or humane politics, they were held together by a fervent determination to rise above conformity, challenging the orthodox and rebelling against a hardcore scene which was gradually selling out these ideals in favour of formulaic nostalgia trips.
Although by their standards Refused’s early tracks sound like mere slabs of uninspiring hardcore, when you actually listen to this collection of early EPs on *‘E.P. Comp CD’ *(bizarrely re-issued minus ten recordings available on the original pressing) the quality is seriously good enough to lift them above most of the current major players. And despite most Refused fans refusing to even acknowledge its existence, lined up against such mid-nineties peers like *Biohazard *and *Born Against *it’s more than apparent how easy it would’ve been for them to pursue that formulaic route, the tracks bulging with enough pit-stomping muscle to guarantee a high-billing on an Eastpak Resistance _or _Warped Tour had they been just recently released.
But for these Swedes it wasn’t enough.
It was only on *‘Songs to Fan The Flames of Discontent’ *that they were to start finding their feet and the album opened with a fiery statement of intent: “I’d rather be dead than alive by your social values / I’d rather be dead than alive by your tradition”, screamed Lyxzén on the album opener ‘Rather Be Dead’. It was a visceral, heart-pounding energy that carried on throughout the album, the following track _‘Coup d’Etat’ _bustling with high-energy grooves that shift and slide around electrifying rhythms, raging guitars and a fierce polemical bite. Such a style would later be incorporated into the creative mindset of scene-breakers *Snapcase, Snot *and *Amen *yet, as adventurous as it was at the time, it took a radical overhaul of their sound to achieve the level of experimentation that *‘The Shape of Punk To Come’ *was to present a year later.
After five years of toil and inner tension it was with this immense 12-track swansong that Refused finally came into their own. Explosive, complex and ultimately revolutionary it’s a shattering foray into futuristic hardcore innovation, each track seemingly soldered with all manner of samples and electro glitches that was far too audacious for the hardcore fraternity of the time. Which probably goes some way in explaining why it was for the most part overlooked and shunned by the mainstream, but, like other such bands, it was only after their demise that they were to become recognised by pretty much every musician in the field of progressive heavy music – from Deftones *to *Minus *and even _Metallica*_– as one of the most important bands of the 20th Century.
Just take _‘Poetry Written In Gasoline’ _as it beautifully melds freeform jazz with a frittering aggression while _‘New Noise’ _- as voracious and dynamic a track you’ll ever hear from a modern rock band – pounds the speakers with a splintering post-modernist mix of sounds.
A gloriously defiant statement of independence _‘The Shape of Punk To Come’ _is a timeless insurrectionary masterpiece and, once again, an earth-shattering wake-up call to the hardcore-punk movements of today.
8Mat Hocking's Score