For their new record, Refused wanted to capture the visceral energy of their live show; this is a band that summon the gods of chaos when it comes to witnessing them in the flesh. By their own admission ‘Freedom’, their first album since their reformation in 2012, was very much a studio LP, one they’re proud of but not a true depiction of Refused: a marauding, gig destroying machine. During the touring of ‘Freedom’ when soundchecking in Austin, Texas, the Swedish hardcore troop were jamming through some sketched out ideas and were hooked on an infectious riff; it was this spark that would ignite the fires of ‘Blood Red’, the first single from their latest album and the starting point for what would eventually become the incendiary ‘War Music’.
There’s no faulting ‘War Music’s direct, punchy persona and it’s rallying cry against political tyranny and social injustice. It’s a record anchored on an immediate gut punch and one that’s fuelled by a wanton rage. However, there are pockets of the album that seem laboured and a little stodgy; instead of being lean and fighting fit, the group’s fifth record can lack a killer blow or that immediate jolt you’d expect from Refused. This isn’t to say ‘War Music’ isn’t another worthwhile addition to the Swede’s discography, it most certainly is but it’s not without its faults.
Starting with a bang, ‘REV001’ kicks off ‘War Music’ with a crackling radio recording, not dissimilar to the ones you’d expect in war films “one more revolution my love/one more times through the fire/one more revolution once more/we’ll march into enemy fire” is then decimated by Dennis Lyxzen as he howls “revolution one!” which is then punctuated by a cavalcade of explosive hardcore punk; so far, so immediate. ‘Violent Reaction’ maintains the vintage radio transmission aesthetic but its verses lack the kind of intensity from such a gutturally named song. However, the song’s chorus comes out swinging, and the gnarled breakdown that has Lyxzen barking “I’m a violent reaction/to a world gone to shit”, helps up the song’s ante. While you can’t disagree with ‘I Wanna Watch The World Burn’s message, it lacks the flammable urgency normally associated with Refused. The same applies to ‘Malfire’, which is culpable of having some cliché lyrics “the wolves are at
the door/forever/ever more”. It’s a song trapped in a mid-paced limbo, where it doesn’t appear to know whether to pounce or stand its ground.
If urgency is missing via some of ‘War Music’, ‘Turn The Cross’ has it in spades. This is Refused in full attack mode; a juddering, deadly combination of strangulated riffs and relentless hardcore drumming. The same can be said for the explosive ‘Damaged III’; frayed social anxiety is interwoven into the song’s rampant aura, where the band’s vocalist reflects “I’m damaged and I’m not alone”. During the song’s dying embers, Lyxzen bellows “I have violence coursing through my veins” with an acidic growl. The theme of protest screams blue murder on ‘The Infamous Left’; “rise up!” is the unifying cry as Refused hurtle through another dose of contorted punk ‘n’ roll. ‘Blood Red’, the song that spawned the whole thing, prowls and roars with a dramatic edge, as Lyxzen snarls “I remain/with blood on my hands” whilst calling out “the 1 percent” with a firm finger pointed at the ignorantly privileged at the top of society’s food chain.
Battled hardened but with a few flesh wounds ‘War Music’ is valiant solider amongst the ranks of Refused’s artillery.
Words and thoughts of Adam Williams