Just prior to an acrimonious breakup, Swedish hardcore group Refused released its magnum opus, The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts. It was as much an assault on capitalist philosophy as it was a striking stylistic evolution, and it did its best to advance hardcore in the way that its titular influence, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, did with jazz.
Here are the album’s best moments, in (loose) chronological order:
1. The spoken-word intro
Something special is evident from the disc’s opening words: “They told me that the classics never go out of style, but…they do. They do. Somehow, baby, I never thought that [we would] too.” The quote is indirectly expanded in the album’s liner-notes manifesto (see #10), in which the group expounds that “we all need to recognize that style in contradiction to fashion is necessary to challenge the conservatism of the youth cultures placed upon us.”
2. The incensed anti-capitalist lyrics of vocalist Dennis Lyxzén
The album’s foreword states that “ideas can be expressed over any soundtrack,” but the enraged screams of Lyxzén, in conjunction with Refused’s pummeling rock sound, work best for this type of expression. If you’ve listened to this album with any frequency, you’re bound to long remember lines like “I took the first bus out of Coca-Cola city” and “rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in.”
3. “Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull”
Yes – the whole song(s). The guitars are huge, the drums at the end of the “Faculties of the Skull” portion are massive, and the electronic interlude before “Liberation Frequency” is one of many genre overlaps to follow. Lyxzén declares, “I got a bone to pick with capitalism — and a few to break.”
4. The upright-bass breakdown in the middle of “The Deadly Rhythm (of the Production Line)”
The whole song is great, but this breakdown typifies the type of fusion that makes the album what it is.
5. “Bruitist Pome #5”
A heavily reverberated marimba or vibraphone plays a brief but entrancing melody over synthesizers and electronic beats. The 85-second spell softens listeners for the album’s celebrated single, “New Noise.”
6. “New Noise”
“Can I scream?” This is the question that Lyxzén discharges after a high-toned, palm-muted intro builds and eventually settles into an electronic reverie. Lyxzén’s question then leads an explosion, a fiery rock riff that propels his proclamation that “we lack the motion to move to the new beat.”
After another trancelike breakdown, the song eventually erupts with the sound of cheering throngs behind the band. Lyxzén repeatedly calls for “the new beat” as a means to reshape art and music. “New Noise” is then followed by a rejoinder of sorts — “The Refused Party Program,” a concise, raucous “anthem” that converts the lyrics of its predecessor into heavy sonic grooves.
7. The drum beat that begins “Protest Song ’68”
It’s simple, catchy, and sets the foundation for clean, palm-muted guitars and spoken-word vocals. Naturally, the song erupts into heavy chords and screams before the beat and its complements resurface.
8. All the guitar riffs on “Refused are Fuckin’ Dead”
This isn’t to say that the accompaniment is lacking; in fact, the wah pedal and distortion on the bass are vivid augmentations, and the flanger effect on the drums to close the track is a nice touch. The guitar riffs, however, are top notch on an album of standout riffs.
9. The reverberated violin intro and melodica/cello outro on “Tannhäuser/Derivè”
Gorgeous and melancholy, the intro performed by guest musician Torbjörn Näsbom is easily one of the best pieces of musicianship on the album. It sets the table for the rest of a crushing eight-minute track, which is capped by a harmonized melodica, cello, and upright bass.
10. The liner-notes manifesto
Despite being wrought with internal conflict, The Shape of Punk to Come levels a seemingly unified charge at capitalist culture. An assailing manifesto, though disjointed at moments, accompanies the lyrics to accuse capitalism of leading to the literal and figurative loss of life, of removing political messages from mainstream music and art, of stealing creativity, and of forcing boredom upon its subjects.
An excerpt reads:
“With dry wits and knuckles dragging the ground, co-operations claim that profit is rightfully theirs and that the blood squeezed out of Africa, South America, Burma, the Baltic states, and South Asia is nothing but market interest and public craving. Their products are death and they are salesmen of corruption and power abuse. They are the slave dealers of our time.”
Then, in its conclusion, it offers a solution tried by past radicals:
“So as we sit tight and enjoy the soap operas that are designed to keep us bleeding out of our eyes and keep us nodding and sighing, there is still hope in the petrol bomb and, in it, the revolution.”
— Scott Morrow