REVIEW: Refused – “Elektra”
by Chad Jewett
“Refused Are Fucking Alive”. These are the galvanizing words with which Swedish post-hardcore legends Refused announced their long-hinted-at full return, and the looming release of Freedom, their first new album in seventeen years. In 2010 the band toured widely in support of a reissue of their absolutely essential 1998 full-length, The Shape of Punk To Come. The band characterized that tour as their attempt to do the album justice, to give it the real-life culmination it never got when the band first broke up shortly after The Shape’s release. If The Shape of Punk To Come was daring as a work of art-punk that challenged just about every bit of received wisdom about what hardcore should sound and feel like, what genres it might interpolate, what ideas it might express, then there’s a whole different sort of bravery in the band trying to find a way to follow all of that up. What do you write when you’ve torn up all the pages?
In the case of “Elektra” – our first listen from Freedom – Refused seem to be adapting the tension-and-release drama of Shape classics like “New Noise” and “The Deadly Rhythm” into something simultaneously sleeker and more mathematical. “Elektra” is three minutes long and at once brainy and ferocious. The song’s whittled riff seems to keep recycling at different angles, and one finds oneself getting lost in that compressed maze (the song’s byzantine visuals underline all of this) until you realize you’re following a lit fuse. Then it explodes. Dennis Lyxzén’s voice remains a thing of wild beauty, screaming “Nothing has changed” over the song’s elliptical chorus. Read the song through Refused’s neo-Marxist politics and there’s an obvious barb in nothing changing. Consider that shouted refrain in the context of one of punk’s most singularly brilliant and bracingly original bands however, and it reads like a reminder that, in fact, Refused Are Fucking Alive.
Pre-order Freedom here.