December 1, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

Refused are alive and well, actually. They want the airwaves back. They want to dance to all the wrong songs and enjoy all the wrong moves again, or something. Point is, Refused have announced a handful of festival dates for 2015—Groezrock in Belgium on May 1-2; Las Vegas’ Punk Rock Bowling on May 23-25; Amnesia Rockfest in Montebello, Quebec on June 20; and the Reading and Leeds Festival in England on August 29-30—and recent signs, such as guitarist Jon Brannstrom being fired from an otherwise inactive band as well as a now-deleted Instagram post from …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead bassist Autry Fulbright II featuring himself and Refused vocalist Dennis Lyxzen captioned with, “In austria tonight for the ahoi pop festival weekend along with st. vincent and this guy’s band invsn which he’s doing between finishing vocals for the new refused album that’s coming out next year.” Fulbright is far from an ironclad source. (Full disclosure: I incorrectly reported a Refused reunion story in 2010 with information from a source I considered very reputable who may have been fed premature info but at the end of the day, that was my fuckup. But hey, then again, the band did reunite! Just not when I was told they would.) It wouldn’t appear that he has any incentive to lie about such a thing. If he was lying, why delete the post? But if the cat was prematurely let out of the bag, why haven’t the band addressed it yet?

Obviously, Brannstrom’s dismissal, Fulbright’s post and Refused’s upcoming shows have generated more questions than answers at this point, one of the most glaring being: What would a new Refused album really sound like? Does the world even need a new Refused album in 2015? Even 17 years later, would even attempting to follow up an album as seminal as The Shape of Punk to Come be smart?

Many would argue that Refused went out on as perfect a note as possible: Releasing TSOPTC to little acclaim in April 1998, inner turmoil forced an abrupt dissolution of the band by October of that same year. Their “breakup letter” reads especially pithy in hindsight. A favorite passage: “We want every day and every action to be a manifestation of love, joy, confusion and revolt.This is the last that we have to say about it, WE WILL NOT GIVE INTERVIEWS TO STUPID REPORTERS who still haven’t got anything of what we are all about, we will never play together again and we will never try to glorify or celebrate what was. All that we have to say has been said here or in our music/manifestos/lyrics and if that is not enough you are not likely to get it anyway. WE THEREFORE DEMAND THAT EVERY NEWSPAPER BURN ALL THEIR PHOTOS OF REFUSED so that we will no longer be tortured with memories of a time gone by and the mythmaking that single-minded and incompetent journalism offers us.” Sorry, gentlemen.

As these things generally seem to go, Refused’s legend grew after they broke up, their sound wielding considerable influence over the following generation of punk, hardcore and metal bands. They ended up being an unintentional unifier in that sense. Their music was aggressive enough to be superficially enjoyed, but politically charged enough to be worthy of a second look. It didn’t have that cloying snottiness a lot of popular 1990s punk had. It was weird, but accessible. You could skateboard to it.

By the mid-2000s, “post-hardcore” had reached peak commercial appeal. Every mid-sized American city had a shiny new Best Buy, and kids were flocking to them every week to buy priced-to-move CDs from bands like Thursday, the Blood Brothers, the Used, Thrice, My Chemical Romance and others. The artistic merits of many of these bands were debatable, but nearly all of them seemed to be influenced by Refused in one way or another, whose members had moved on to several disparate projects: The jangly post-punk of the (International) Noise Conspiracy; the warm, mostly acoustic folk of The Lost Patrol; the straightforward hardcore of AC4; the shimmering goth synth-pop of INVSN. They stayed so busy that a reconciliation and reformation seemed out of the question. But the waves of nostalgia grew for them, as they did for many other bands of the era. When the band’s 2010 relaunch of their website—of all things—yielded such anticipation, guessing and yes, incorrect reporting, it seemed to say that a reunion would be viable, lucrative, trusted. It would be a slam dunk.

It was. Refused returned in 2012 for a world tour, which initially emanated from Coachella and hit other large festivals and sold-out clubs on four different continents. From all accounts, the band hadn’t lost a step, their presentation as fiery and as meaningful as it had been during their original run. And as if their music’s urgency wasn’t enough, unlike a lot of reunions, this one wasn’t initially open-ended. Refused wrapped up the tour, and apparently that was that.

But understandably, a thing like a successful world tour has the tendency to reinvigorate a band’s creative muscles, especially a band like Refused who in their original run, never ceased being creative or pushing the envelope. But it’s almost 2015. The scene is far, far more crowded now than it was in 1998. There is surely room for a new Refused album, but does it risk becoming lost in the crowd? As fans, what’s our level of expectation? Should we even expect the band to top TSOPTC? Where else can they even take their sound? It’s difficult to predict a band who made their name by being so unpredictable.

But we can probably count on a few things: Refused’s new album, if there in fact is a new album, it won’t be a hasty cash grab. Their reunion tour, more than anything else the band have done, seemed to quantify their wide appeal and influence to them. They’re aware that they have a lot to live up to if they’re going to try this. And for all of the chaotic aggressiveness of their music, its composition and presentation has always been a series of calculated risks.

Maybe Refused are just doing it for the money. If so…so what? Bands making money for their hard work, even a lot of money, is not an inherently negative thing, no matter its unnecessarily negative connotation within the punk scene. Refused’s core fans are smart; if they smell bullshit with this, many of them will stay away.

The Shape of Punk to Come earned Refused a lifetime pass. It’s difficult to foresee a scenario in which more shows and a reunion album degrades its importance in modern punk history.

Maybe Refused went out on a perfect note in 2012. Perfection is, after all, nearly impossible to replicate. But surely if any band can it’s them, right?

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