“The members of Refused were all active in different bands in the early nineties, aware of each other, playing shows together but separated by the unshakeable apartheid of underground music. A small towns subcultural cliques are not to be trifled with: since there’s no actual subculture the cliques are all people have. The town in question, Umeå, lies in the north of Sweden which means it has four types of winter in a row and is not technically fit for human habitation. It was settled once upon a time out of dire need and growing up there you would start a band simply to approximate a dignified existence, lighting a beacon in a peripheral, sub and pop-culturally impoverished and literally dark part of the world. Though for any kind of artisan it was in no way a limitation since there were no distractions from getting good at whatever it was you chose to do.
Back in the winter of 91/92, David, previously quarantined within the miniscule Death metal faction of the scene, and Dennis, 3 years David’s senior and already a local punk icon, chose to form Refused after spending the first 6 months of their friendship experimenting with different genres on a bunch of four-track demos that they maintain will never see the light of day. Their other bands were already in varying stages of disintegration and as their manic energies collided within this new constellation the resulting cassette demo made a noise loud enough to start a chain reaction that in some sense carries on to this day.
Thereafter they basically just did what bands do: got better and better, added talent (Kristofer Steen most notably), toured a lot, put out ok to good records, midwifed a youth culture, inspired youths within said culture to destroy property, had their phones tapped by the secret police, evolved musically at a blinding speed, began disagreeing regarding the bands essence, made one great record and then broke up smack dab in the middle of a 1998 US tour.
Now, the events contained in those last two paragraphs have been mythologized and the resulting myths have passed through a 20 year-long game of telephone and ended up in that truth-adjacent phenomenon we call music history. This is neither the place nor the time to discredit a good yarn but let’s just say that we, as a species, have a tendency to disproportionally favor the type of stories that have people acting in a way that mirror the ideals and behaviors we ourselves aspire to most fervently, and leave it at that. The bands abrupt demise generated a bunch of unanswered questions and one strangely evasive attack-is-the-best-defense type statement in the hyperbolic “Refused are fucking dead”-manifesto. Literally accurate in its representation of the factors that precipitated the bands collapse or not, it’s at least not boring (it makes the most sense when looked at as a decoy, like in movies where bandits use raw meat to distract a terrifying watchdog).
This stunt was followed by 14 years of silence in which time the members of the band truly did all manner of things (people in bands are rarely the lethargic type) before reconvening for a triumphant comeback tour in 2012, to great jollification among its constantly proliferating fanbase. They enjoyed being back together so much that they decided to stay an active band, a surprise even to themselves since they’d had quite a thin time of it prior to their hiatus.
They say ruins are the triumph of oxygen and time, and time had definitely not treated all parts of the Refused machine with the same care, but after some fine-tuning they were able to set about re-configuring their artistic objective. The record that emerged in the process was called Freedom, an ambitious, adventurous and cerebral foray into the peripheries of post-hardcore, metal, hard rock and even, in finishing “Useless Europeans”, some sort of industrial sludge rock. What it wasn’t was a genre-faithful diehard-fan-appeasing record. Some old writer said: “It’s better to die than live mechanically a life that is a repetition of repetitions” and I think it’s safe to say that David Sandström, Dennis Lyxzén, Kristofer Steen, Magnus Flagge and Mattias Bärjed live their lives and make their music in accordance with this dictum.
So is there a point to all this rambling? The answer is no. But if you’ve made it this far I guess you deserve some sort of pay off, so here’s a joke by the great Norm Macdonald:
“I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Steampunk. But I will say, it is the healthiest way to prepare punk.”
Refused have a new record coming out in October called “War music” and it’s absolutely brilliant. Thank you for your patience.” – David Sandstrom