Back in Shape: Refused 

Legendary Swedish punk band Refused embraces the Freedom of a new start

click to enlarge music_mini_refused.jpg

What started as a reunion has improbably morphed into the second phase of a defiant and uncompromising career for Swedish hardcore punk torchbearers Refused.

The band, which split acrimoniously on tour in 1998, got back together for the 2012 Coachella festival and during subsequent performances found a new spark, as well as much larger audiences than they'd left behind.

"When we first played for the reunion, our first ambition was to do maybe 10 shows, and we ended up doing 82 shows. While we were playing, we realized what we had was pretty awesome," says singer Dennis Lyxzen. "It's one of those things that if you asked us in 2011, it would have been inconceivable. When we did the last show in 2012, we already knew we'd be working on the next record and continue the band. It felt really natural."

When Refused called it quits in 1998, they were what Lyxzen terms a "moderate hardcore band in a semi-small scene," but in the intervening years, the band's The Shape of Punk to Come established itself as a modern classic in the eyes of fans across the globe.

"It is one of those strange mysteries of life. We did something that at the time was perceived as nothing special," Lyxzen says. "At the time in the hardcore community in Europe and in Sweden, they kind of thought us as a sell out and they weren't that impressed. Then we broke up and that was it. We were going to be a small footnote in punk history, but it just grew. You can't expect that or plan for that. It was completely out of our control and it was fascinating to see how that evolved."

Between The Shape of Punk to Come and 2015's comeback record Freedom, the band members (Lyxzen, drummer David Sandstrom, guitarist Kristofer Steen and bassist Magnus Flagge) were always creating music, often with each other. So when the entire band got back together, there were 14 years of instrumental songs, riffs and ideas to serve as building blocks for the next Refused album.

"Even though we had an idea that we wanted to do these songs together, this bunch of instrumentals from the other guys, there was still a lot of work to define what type of band we wanted to be," Lyxzen says. "The first couple of times that we got together after 2012 was just us talking theoretically about what music means and what we should represent."

First, Lyxzen says, the band knew they wanted to make a Refused album, not send fans on some wildly and confounding detour. But where Freedom naturally diverges from The Shape of Punk to Come is that decade-plus gap of maturity, experience and expanding musical ideas.

"A lot of that inexperience shows in the madness of [The Shape of Punk to Come]. Sometimes winging it is pretty awesome, but it's a different time and place. Everything was very different writing this record," he says. "The energy between us is different. We like to be in the studio together now, and we did not have a good time in the studio for Shape of Punk. That was actually a miserable time in my life."

Refused has been going nonstop for two years since starting to write and record for Freedom, and while there will be a break, the band already has ideas floating around for another album.

"It depends on where the music takes us. We just want to create and challenge ourselves and challenge people who listen to us and be to us what is a relevant band," Lyxzen says.

"There are so many bands that come out of retirement and do the same nostalgia act over and over again. We've never been interested in that. We're going to take the time and create music that's bold and adventurous."

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