DB HOF NO. 67
The making of Refused’s “The Shape of Punk to Come”
label: Burning Heart
The story of Refused’s last—and best—album starts with the first line of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” which drummer David Sandström scrawled across one wall of the band’s recording space as a mantra: “I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” Twelve words of poetry inspired 12 different songs (including “Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull,” another reference to “Howl”) and really set the tone for a lengthy writing and recording process fueled by little more than caffeine, raw energy and chimerical fits of manic inspiration.
Sandström and vocalist Dennis Lyxzén met as teenagers and formed Refused in 1991; guitarists Kristofer Steen and Jon Brännström (originally recruited to fill the band’s revolving door bass player slot) joined shortly before the recording of 1996’s Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent. All four were straight-edge vegan punk rockers, steeped in working class Swedish backgrounds, and tracks like “Rather Be Dead”—written in the spirit of their Washington DC hardcore heroes Minor Threat—put them at the top of their local scene in Umeå and raised their profile exponentially across Europe.
After a run of four straight years of touring between 1993-1997, the quartet returned to Sweden dejected by what they perceived as hardcore stuck at its fashion-first, knuckle-dragging nadir. Refused worked themselves out of a rut by retaining the core concepts of hardcore and embellishing the canvas with concepts appropriated, borrowed or outright pilfered from other genres and sources. The longer the writing and recording process went on, the more polluted the album became with sounds that were a little too out-there for the group’s hardcore fan base to embrace.
Refused envisioned the album as a wild, massive attack on the listener’s senses and picked an intentionally pompous title—a nod to both Ornette Coleman and Nation of Ulysses—designed as a middle finger to the world of hardcore: The Shape of Punk to Come. Of course, the music on this seminal album completely justifies the band’s artistically-pretentious approach. Each of these 12 songs is perfect in their imperfections, from the fist-pumping arena anthem “New Noise” to “The Deadly Rhythm” (where the group’s long-acknowledged Slayer influence really rears its head) to the willy-nilly mix of strings and gypsy folk on “Tannhäuser/Derivè.” After the breakup, the quartet issued a legendary press release that demanded that newspapers burn all their photos of Refused and vowed not to “give interviews to stupid reporters who still haven’t got anything about what we are about.” Now, 12 years after the release of The Shape of Punk to Come, they’ve finally agreed to revisit the most painful chapter in the band’s history. —Nick Green
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