It doesn’t feel as though there’s been much anticipation for this new Refused album, as if it’s just dropped rather unceremoniously without much buildup or noticeable groundswell. Even if 2015’s comeback album Freedom was taken rather lukewarmly (even though it wasn’t nearly as bad as many made it out to be), this is still a band with a genuine classic under their belt in 1998’s The Shape Of Punk To Come, which to this day remains one of the most forward-thinking and boundary-pushing hardcore punk albums ever released. And yet, at a time when older hardcore bands are returning in their droves with decent material that’s not picking up much steam, it feels incredibly strange to have to lump War Music into that camp. The attention towards it has been greatly diminished compared to the sort of spotlight you’d expect to be offered to a band like Refused, something which, even without the novelty factor of a huge comeback album to ride the waves of hype off, doesn’t feel right when considering the enormous, storied legacy that this band have.
At the same time though, for what War Music offers, it’s not the sort of album would benefit from huge hype behind it. This is arguably Refused at their most streamlined and concise with regards to their identity as a punk band, and to have built it up as something more would’ve really only hurt it in within a discography that’s much more expansive and experimental as a whole. Still, that’s not to denigrate War Music; even for punk that is this direct and streamlined, Refused are still capable of bringing a biting incisiveness and intelligence that far surpasses what others are doing, and even if it’s still generally less impressive in the wider context of this band, War Music’s sheer bloody-mindedness can take it to great distances on its own.
But as such, it means there’s not all that much to really analyse here, given that Refused are, for the most part, comfortable with embracing the directness of their material to concentrate the punch as much as possible. And it’s easy to tell that’s what’s ultimately working best here, not only because the sparse moments of greater experimentation can feel a bit heavy-handed like the lumpy transitions between tempos on Blood Red, but because War Music does connect remarkably well simply through the power of the force used. The buzzsaw guitar tone that rages through Violent Reaction and Turn The Cross provides the best possible foundation, but the jagged freneticism in the bass and percussion work across the album keeps the intensity wiry and angular, and Dennis Lyxzén‘s terse barks are still able to cut through the mix with acidity. It’s no-frills in the most effective of ways, where everything is firm but forceful and just over thirty minutes feels like the most efficient time to get the job done. Beyond some slight quibbles with making such a direct beeline to this sharper form, there’s really not a lot about War Music that feels like wasted breath; there’s not an evolving canvas as such like with some of Refused’s past material, but as a collection of songs going straight for the throat, it’s hugely effective.
Of course, there’s bound to be some fans taking umbrage at such a blatant paring-back of Refused’s approach, and with the same sort of being true for the writing as well, it’s not hard to see how some frustration may arise. Like the title suggests, this is protest music pretty much exclusively, but when the calls for revolution on Rev 001 or the anarchic desire to cleanse the world of its ills on I Wanna Watch The World Burn do feel a bit on-the-nose (as does the whole first half of the album, in all honesty), it’s not quite as gripping even if there’s a more literate streak that’s appreciated compared to so many others. Really though, Refused do take that far enough across the album to give these subjects a sense of weight that’s been drained from them in recent times; The Infamous Left is about as direct as a call to arms gets, but there’s an almost brutal emotiveness that really works at pushing that fresh dimension forward. It’s a similar case for Turn The Cross and Economy Of Death, in which both the far-right and corrupt capitalistic forces are taken to task with the seething rage that’s more genuine that many have been in some time. Again, none of this is all that new, particularly today, but Refused have the leg up simply through doing it better and with a more distinct and interesting approach than just another run-of-the-mill punk band.
And to be clear, War Music is not another Refused album with the sticking power of The Shape Of Punk To Come or even Freedom, but it’s not trying to be. This is very much a different branch of Refused, one fuelled by the anger and frustration that basically everyone seems to be wrapped up in, and allowing that explode in a way that’s vital but also unmistakably tied to them. Despite stripping itself right back, the beating heart of a Refused album is still there, and though its creative scope is a bit narrower, War Music is still able to utilise it to really strong effect. Even without the longevity to match, this still feels like an important album, even only for a short time, but for a band like Refused with the reputation that they have, that’s still a considerable victory.
For fans of: Gallows, glassjaw, The Bronx
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘War Music’ by Refused is out now on Spinefarm Records / Search And Destroy Records.