Album Review: Refused, ‘Freedom’
It is impossible to overstate the level of expectation that enshrouds a new release by an artist that returns after a lengthy absence – especially when that artist makes a profound impact and then abruptly breaks up, exactly as Swedish hardcore outfit Refused did in the wake of their seminal third album, 1998's The Shape of Punk to Come. In a sense, it's a lose-lose proposition when bands like Refused resurrect themselves after nearly two decades, as if it were possible somehow to finish unfinished business. But Refused, as Freedom proves, are quite the wily animal when it comes to both meeting and confounding expectations.
On opening track "Elektra," vocalist Dennis Lyxzén screeches that "nothing has changed" from the bottom of his throat – a rather convincing sentiment amidst the agitated fury of the song's central riff. Not content to just thrash away, drummer David Sandström plays a slightly off-time pattern that creates a feeling like the ground is shifting beneath your feet. With "Elektra," Refused establish right away that they're not lacking in the slightest when it comes to passion or drive, and that they might just be the rare exception to the rule that bands always lose some of their spark when they spend too much time apart.
At the same time, Refused were never big on staying true to punk orthodoxy. With Freedom, the band don't wait long before they start throwing curveballs, proceeding to do so in spades throughout the rest of the album. The thought of a radical left-wing act railing against post-colonial imperialism disguised as free market economics, for example, but choosing to work (on two tracks) with Taylor Swift/Pink co-writer Shellback boggles the mind on its own, but also hints at the band's gleeful embrace of paradox and flexibility. Inevitably, individual listeners will debate the merits of Freedom against the Refused back catalog. What can't be debated however, is that the album is the work of a band hell-bent on doing things on its own terms. As a forceful assertion of the will to stay creative, Freedom qualifies as a triumph.