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Epitaph reissues Refused: The shape of punk that came

June 8, 2010 |  4:28 pm

Refused wasn't the first punk band to incorporate drum machines and synthesizers (that would be Suicide), nor the first to turn hard-core's regimented song structures inside out (that would be the Minutemen). But they were the first to very seriously suggest that both of those things belonged in stadiums of thousands.

Released in 1998, "The Shape of Punk to Come" was as sonically ambitious as its title was fantastically arrogant. The album didn't just make room for free-jazz breakdowns, glitchy sampler wrangling and scalpel-sharp guitar interplay alongside Refused's noise detonations -- they made them inseparable and necessary to each other. But even more unexpectedly, the end result wound up sounding absolutely huge, maybe even with the potential of a "Nevermind" to bring brutal, innovative music to a very mainstream audience.

A three-disc reissue of "Shape," out today on Epitaph, underscores that potential, sadly never fully realized as the band broke up soon thereafter. "New Noise" still feels like a jock jam for Marxist eco-terrorists, "Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine" takes the dry-cleaned guitar licks of ESG and gives them Fugazi's fangs. The great irony of hard core is that, at heart it's an orthodox, conservative genre, and Refused was one of the few bands in that tradition that could capably upend it.

But the package's extras add some necessary context as to why Refused was both special and sort of doomed. The accompanying live album finds the band just demolishing a festival in its hometown of Umea, Sweden, while the accompanying documentary "Refused Are F- Dead" has a title as prophetic as that of "Shape." Ambitions like theirs often comes in a difficult personality, and singer Dennis Lyxzen is as flinty in person as his band is on record (and the band's members seem to know what fate awaits them the whole time).

That said, let this completely essential reissue be a hint to Paul Tollett's reunion-alchemy department that they would be really, really nice to have at Coachella 2012.

-- August Brown


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