Reviewed by Kevin Curtin, Fri., July 31, 2015
Twenty-four years after forming, 17 years following prophetic classic The Shape of Punk to Come and a sudden cessation, and three years into a reunion that included a 2012 tour stop at Fun Fun Fun Fest, Refused now adds Freedom to its Lazarus routine. On the Swedes' fourth full-length, Dennis Lyxzén reignites his fire-starter act, the frontman's trebled roar ringing theological crusher "Dawkins Christ" and human-race-baiting "Destroy the Man." Always a melodic mic wielder, the singer sparks peak power with the breathy pre-chorus to "Old Friends/New War." Lyrically, Refused remains a manifesto for anti-control, stomping capitalism, religion, war. Lyxzén's dire urgency even brushes death in seven of the 10 tunes. Which makes it all the more crushing that the album all but ignores the Umeå quartet beginning life as a radical hardcore band. Freedom's means of contemporary diversification, Ted Nugent riffage ("War on the Palaces") and gothy industrialism ("Thought Is Blood"), rarely suits them. Gone are the coil and release that once hallmarked the group's sound, although lightning opener "Elektra" comes close. Instead, Refused attempts power through inflated production gimmicks: pitch-shifted vox, acoustic guitar overdubs, echoed drum triggers, and female backup singers. Protest chants were sampled on 1996 sophomore release Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent, but on "Françafrique," they employed a children's choir. That adds distinction, but reeks of contrivance. The album title pinpoints Refused's politics and also serves their prerogative to eschew artistic expectations. Loaded with fake anthems and wholly failing to capture the anarchistic musical charisma of past work, Freedom is a worst-case scenario. Refused was better off dead.