I always wonder how it felt to be one of the people back in the 60’s who got to experience The Beatles when they were current, and cutting edge band. To be a kid and sit down with “Revolver” or “Abbey Road” and just get blown away by the sheer massiveness of those records. To hear these musical ideas just pouring out of four guys, and unto your record player, it had to have been a really intense moment to be there, slipping the piece of vinyl out of the jacket, and experiencing everything. For most of us, we were born with those musical values always in place, we’ve been fed our whole lives with the singular knowledge that The Beatles are infallible geniuses and nothing will ever top them. Or what about “Dark side of the Moon”, another equally brilliant record by Pink Floyd? It was a fully functional concept record that took what “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” achieved and took it to a whole different, spacey level. What about The Stones masterpiece “Exile on Main Street?” Or The Clash’s “London Calling?” or Johnny Cash “Live a Folsom Prison”?
These records are a part of me because I’m a homogenized fan by default. I never had to earn these records, masterpieces to most standards; they were there long before I was born 30 years ago. I have been lucky to witness a few records that changed the game, I was there to anticipate tearing off the plastic and throwing it in my cd player and letting my mind get blown away. Moments like that are rare, but they happen, ala At the Drive In’s “The Relationship of Command”, Radiohead’s “Kid A” or Pantera’s “Far Beyond Driven”. But there is one record, one that has stood out like a thorn in my side every time it’s mentioned. It’s the one record that crosses so many lines of musical boundary most people from hardcore kids, to strict punks to beer guzzling metal heads can usually agree, if it’s not their exact cup of tea, there is something really cool about it. That record is Refused’s “The shape of punk to come”.
Arguably, it’s the greatest punk/jazz/metal/hardcore record of all time. It’s a piece of music that lives in so many bands, that continually many have tried to copy the feeling, the songs, the sound, and the dress. Every aspect of what Refused was doing in the late 90’s, bands today are absolutely trying to get an inch of. It was complex, unique and bold. It was the record that in all of its brilliance, that killed Refused.
It mixed screaming with stand up bass, spacey techno with blasting drum explosions. Off timed guitars with guttural howls of the revolutionary kind. Everything about them was absolute, and austere and perfect. A small band of mad geniuses who made everything that should work, work like a maniacal clockwork.
The riff that introduces “The New Noise” is instantly recognizable. Bands tune up to it at shows, or people over play it on car stereos leaving shows. From wonky Moog processors to broken signal dial tones, the destruction achieved is relentless. “The Apollo programme was a hoax” is a classic because it speaks. It literally crosses genre lines like a crossdressing cokehead in a tranny bar. From Drum and bass, to crushing hardcore, the mix was capable and legit. The expression in the music wasn’t this forced idea, it was something that they, themselves created from nothing. And through the nothing came the greatest noise of them all.
Before “The shape of punk to come”, Refused were just another mid 90’s hardcore band from Sweden. On their prior record “Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent”, we saw a band that had ideas that weren’t just the prototypical chug breakdowns, coupled with screaming of the traditional European style. They were a different band; they were rearranged, complex and raw. Refused toured Europe, and grew significantly but the scene wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the four skinny dudes who looked more like 60’s mods than they did kids who liked Black Flag. The plot was thickening as the culture within the walls of the band was percolating, and growing into something new, something malignant.
Returning home from those tours in Europe, something was boiling inside. Something bigger than what had previously been attempted by a band who’s chief ingredient in their music was feral angst, and decided hatred for capitalism. They set out to write a record that meant something to them before they played entertainers to anyone else listening. It’s raw, it’s stadium cock rock in all of it’s excessive glory, but stripped down almost to Sex Pistols ferocity. Released in 1998, at a time when Fred Durst was fucking up the musical world with begging for pussy while wearing a goofy red hat, Refused was influencing generations of kids around the globe. Track by track, the bricks of the new punk rock eternity were built with “The Deadly rhythm” a song that takes Jazz drums and threads them into a truly deadly moment of metallic fury.
The idea was so big it couldn’t be contained within the four members who had created it. In the midst of touring before the internet, and when kids were trading tapes and when a dude living in a van didn’t have a wifi connection on his phone, the pressure got them. All of the beautiful noise that is held on those 12 songs was dead in its living form. Today, we’re left with a moment like The Beatles, only because there is a slew of kids of tomorrow who will only know the shadow of a band that had the world in it’s hands, had they been able to keep it together.
But now, the light has finally turned back on. The Refused are back. The signal is not dead. Everything we’ve ever dreamed of, to see “The Shape of Punk to Come” played in it’s proper form is about to happen. People across the world will finally get to see the antichrist’s of serendipity come raging through whatever speakers line the walls of the venue that night. The greatest noise created in the last 20 years is alive. The Refused are not fucking dead.