As human beings, we tend to take a lot of what we have for granted. When it comes to music, we’re all guilty at various points in our lives of attaching ourselves to bands without knowing a single thing about the original article. During the rise of nu-metal in the late 90’s, a generation of young, impressionable teenagers latched onto the Limp Bizkit’s and Korn’s of the world, while Faith No More fell into inexplicable obscurity and disbanded. When Nevermind broke and grunge was the stench on everybody’s greasy mop, few paid any mind to our lords and saviours Black Sabbath, who by this point had lost two singers and fallen by the wayside in the mainstreams eye, even when their signature riffage was so omnipresent among the likes of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains.
Are you starting to see a pattern emerge here? Every generation scorns the last and vice versa. And it’s happening today, and has been for years. As hordes of hardcore, metalcore, post-hardcore and emo bands pass through the endless tunnels of popularity year by year and come out filthy and shell-shocked on the other side, since 1998, no one in the grand scheme of things has had the decency to trace the origins back to find out where it all came from. For if there is one band that the hardcore bands of today owe their entire career to, it is undoubtedly the mighty and inimitable Refused. In 1998, Refused released what was to be an inarguably genre-defining album and a proven timeless statement in their seminal The Shape Of Punk To Come album, a record with a title so apt it’s almost spooky. Refused knew they were sending out an urgent, defiant message with a title that so perfectly summed up their ethos and often irritating confidence in themselves, even if it wasn’t necessarily meant to be taken seriously. What they surely couldn’t have counted on is how much that simple tongue-in-cheek phrase would ring true 14 years later. And yet still, no one was willing to do them justice. Until January of this year, that is.
On 9th January, Refused – the band that in a spurge of almost adolescent emotion and vitriol declared would never reunite in their final statement – announced their much longed for reunion, into a world vastly different from the one they left us in. In the 14 years since their untimely demise, their legend had grown to the point where it was mind blowing to consider that this most important of bands were once playing to rooms barely a quarter full, in a scene that greeted their impassioned performances and anti-capitalist stance with complete indifference. Now they were a hot ticket, and promoter’s were throwing swathes of money the likes of which the band had probably never seen before at them, just to get them on stage in their town. Refused were finally back to reclaim their crown, make the modern hardcore scene get its act together and receive the adulation they never got to experience the first time round. And after the cancellation of the mixed bag of Sonisphere 2012, it soon became clear that the UK was to receive the most accurate representation of Refused in the wake of their newfound popularity, with the announcement of three “intimate” gigs in London and Manchester.
After half an hour of an eerie, melancholy drone, the black curtain bearing their name falls to the ground and they launch maniacally into ‘Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull’ with all the piss and vinegar they had back in the day, but with a tightness and machine-like musicianship that went largely unnoticed in 1998. It’s euphoric and rabble-rousing all at once, as Dennis Lyxzén prances around the dimly lit stage like a cross between Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger with John Lennon’s haircut. But what is instantly striking is just how…real it all feels. In The Golden Age Of Reunions, we have seen plenty of bands take their high festival slots and watched them half-arse their way through their back catalogue, all the while looking at the clock in the knowledge that a big fat payslip awaits their return home. With Refused, you’re getting the finished product, the same band you could put your faith in all those years ago, as Lyxzén leads a deafening sing-a-long of “We want the airwaves back” during the unbeatable ‘Liberation Frequency’, with man of the match award deservedly going to drummer David Sandström, proving himself to be Refused’s hidden ace in the hole.
The band are well oiled and focused with a refreshingly no nonsense approach, and it’s practically unheard of for a band with such a stripped back stage show and such a decidedly uncommercial sound to be playing a venue of this size, let alone selling it out completely. But it proves that Refused were, in amongst all the political rambling, vocal shredding and techno sequences, above all else, great songwriters. Intelligent songwriters at that.
Jumping from the youthful exuberance of ‘Coup D’Etat’ from their less renowned Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent album to the poppy, classic punk bounce of ‘Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine’ is testament to that, each boasting choruses that sound even more colossal in a live environment. But it’s the inevitable encore of ‘New Noise’, the bands one true “hit” if they ever had one, that truly brings the house down. As Kristofer Steen’s unmistakable palm-muted lead riff introduces the bona fide classic, the atmosphere in the Academy is at fever pitch, with the tangible sense that something unforgettable is about to happen. Lyxzén obviously knew this too, opting to give up his microphone and let the 2,000 strong throng before him ring in the songs crushing main riff with that unforgettable bark of “Can I scream?!”, inducing chaos in all the corners of the room.
As the final strains linger over a mass recital of “THE NEW BEAT!” in the climax, it becomes clear that this is a transcendental moment in a most extraordinary evening, where band and audience transform into a pulsing ball of energy, feeding off each other’s passion. Dennis’ closing speech is as inspiring as it is affirming, and most of all, it incites a true sense of liberation, before ‘Tannhäuser/Derivè’ closes the night in typically emphatic style.
What Refused did tonight was no mean feat, but in truth, there is no band more up to the challenge in the world today. Tonight, Refused defied those who decried their reunion as a mere cash-in and took the opportunity to imprint something profound on an audience desperate for something to believe in. They proved a million times over just how important and incendiary they truly are, and that songs that were written over 14 years ago still sound not only this fresh and vibrant in 2012 but are lightyears ahead of anything any hardcore band has conjured up before or since gives credit to their enduring vision. But if nothing else, it gave them closure, the chance to finally inspire people like they always tried but were always so ahead of their time that people simply chose not to listen. How wrong we were, and how much we would need a band like Refused along the way. And yet, the band are humble and dignified throughout, with the kind of integrity that you just can’t fake. They did what they set out to do. No new album needed – a book that was never truly finished can rightfully close its final chapter, giving proof to their legendary status, surely now upgraded to pure immortality. We were lucky to see this.
“This is a fucking privilege” remarks Lyxzén mid-way through the set. The privilege has been all ours. Don’t ever forget that.