Refused Are Fucking Dead

All artists, to some extent, strive to predict and shape the future of music. However, when Refused released The Shape of Punk to Come in 1998, the Swedish hardcore band literally attempted to predict what punk would sound like years after the album’s release. Though their estimate does not hold up with any level of uncanny precision, the accuracy of their prediction is predicated on the influence the band exerts on today’s punk.

To understand the influence of Refused, it is first necessary to understand what influenced Refused. Their musical style roots in Nordic rock, specifically second wave black metal. Second wave black metal emerged through the Norwegian black metal scene in the early 1990s, with bands like Darkthrone and Enslaved. Fast-paced tempos, screaming vocals, and blast-beat drumming characterize this strain of Nordic rock. Refused’s drummer, David Sandström, once joked that before the band, he was a “glue-sniffing death metal kid”.

Bathory – of Sweden – first used the screaming vocal style which has since defined black metal. Refused adopted the screaming style in their second album, combining it with revolutionary lyrics – thus amplifying their message. Blast beat drumming from black met-al tends to set the rapid tone for the whole piece and can at times become overwhelming. Refused counter this effect with the addition of jazz, breaking up the blast beasts with more mellow sections. The calmer moments provide an opportunity to gather yourself together and prepare for the next onslaught. This combination of jazz and metal helps break up the thickness of pure black metal without changing the fundamental heaviness the band held in the past. Refused acknowledges their adaption of certain aspects of jazz music in the title of the album itself, which references Ornette Coleman’s 1959 avant-garde jazz album The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Photo courtesy of Ned Lanamann

Photo courtesy of Ned Lanamann

Refused packaged revolutionary lyrics into their music, usually along the themes of radical left and anti-capitalist politics. The band calls the public out on being complacent through their abrasive melodies. This trend picked up after the album, influencing bands like Green Day; see: American Idiot. While pop punk bands like Blink-182 partly dropped the screaming vocal style, they still kept the broken up blast-beat drumming style. The post-hardcore band La Dispute even quoted Refused as one of their influences.

As traditional punk bands have been on a slight decline over the past few years, hardstyle bands, like Worthwhile, are emerging, reviving many elements of Refused’s sound. Modern hardstyle bands continue to uphold the screaming vocal style, though the lyrics stray from the revolutionary. For example, Worthwhile’s song “Unloveable” reflects all of Refused’s approach, from the screaming vocals to the switch between blast-beat drumming and mellow tempos, but the lyrics focus more on a personal, emotional message.

Today’s punk is split different subgenres, from post-hard-core to pop punk. As a result, there could never have been a truly accurate prediction as to what punk music today would have sounded like because there is no definitive modern punk sound. Even so, Refused’s album isn’t so much of a prediction as it was a source of influence. They preserved aspects of Nordic rock by not only incorporating them into their music, but then influencing future bands to do the same. Punk may have been different without Refused’s album. They synthesized some of the best aspects of both Nordic rock and American hardcore music from the 1990s, packaging it perfectly for their listeners. The Shape of Punk to Come is a fantastic hardcore album, even if it broke up the band in the end.

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