Punk-rock authenticity has been argued over, analyzed, poked, prodded, and torn apart to the point of irrelevancy since the form's inception in the late '70s (or early '80s, depending on which self-appointed punk historian you listen to). I suppose it's important for people to make some attempt to define and analyze the things that are meaningful to them in art — and especially so when the art form is built around the idea of reacting to the norm and deliberately being different than the status quo. But it's also important to remember that an idea loses potency when confined, and there is probably nothing less punk rock than aping the sonics of the genre's rich past, regardless of how powerful those sounds may have been. ("Those bands sounded unlike anyone else and your band should, too!") Which is why Refused's influence and spirit is so important, now more than ever.
While Sweden might not be known as the capital of genre-shattering punk bands, Refused, from Umea, is arguably the most important punk band of its generation. Refused took the ethos of hardcore punk and the energy of revolution yet wasn't afraid to grow creatively. They eventually released an album that changed the rules again and hit the reset button for what punk could be. That album was titled The Shape of Punk to Come, and its legend has been written about incessantly since it came out – and with good reason. That record fearlessly carries its philosophically charged message with samples, electronic flourishes, and myriad sound manipulation techniques that were so far out of the realm of what was acceptable in hardcore at the time, it changed everything. This was a time when the genre had become stale, self-referential, and truly boring, and Refused shirked the trends and taught bands that you could wield the weapons of punk rock artistically.
Refused broke up shortly after that record came out, but the band has since rebooted, hit the reunion tour circuit, and gotten back to the business of creating poignant, energized punk music with sonics that transcend the norm of the genre. While Refused may unfairly and unfortunately be stuck perpetually in the shadows cast by the legend The Shape of Punk to Come has developed, it's important now — when hardcore and punk rock have returned to a state of impossible predictability and blandness — that we remember the lessons that record and band have taught us. Seeing Refused perform live is the type of inspirational event anyone with a thread of punk ethos can benefit from.
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