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Refused were essential. They were razor sharp and brutally honest. In their own words, they had a "bone to pick with capitalism and a few to break" - how's about that for a fucking mission statement? They were ringleaders of the liberal socialist cause and proudly so. The Shape of Punk to Come was their triumphant climactic moment; it was "art as a real threat" with the potential to reach thousand-strong audiences. But Refused were a niche group with punk intentions. They were never going to headline massive festivals in their heyday, and nor did they wish to. As soon as they were in, they were out. Refused were fucking dead. Only, once they were dead, their plight was canonised and inspired what became their 2012 reunion tour (which is still rolling). But now they were in front of an army of new followers who were chanting their messages back at them and the taste of the comeback album was too much to resist. Here we are with Freedom, "some of the most radical stuff that [Refused] have ever been a part of," according to lead-singer Dennis Lyxzén at least.

If "they stack the bodies a thousand high" from opener 'Elektra' is supposed to match the iconic Genesis moment from 'Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull' then it's Dennis' radical claim against ours. The chasm between the two albums immediately begins to stretch. The introduction to 'Elektra' exchanges blast beats and intricacy with care, and it's a visceral relief after so long. But what follows for the next 45 minutes is an internal conflict: in an attempt to cope with the demand of preparing their message for large audiences, their artistic vision has been somewhat compromised. You see, when Refused were delivering their politics in the past they took long pauses to explain their ideology with poems - 'Refused Party Program', the interlude to 'The Deadly Rhythm', that aforementioned opening monologue to 'Worms of the Senses' - but that was back when they could sit down and talk to their pub-sized audiences during intimate shows. Now they've got fixed concert lengths and thousands of people to deliver their thoughts to, so we get the following hammered into our heads: "nothing has changed, governments suck, there's no escape - our press release says that - but please buy our shit."

Still, I bet all of this sounds great live.

Whatever. Even if you decided to ignore their politics, Refused were always incredibly ambitious musicians. One long jazz interlude here ('The Deadly Rhythm'), an electronic sketch in there ('Bruitist Pome #5'), a mammoth folk intro over here ('Tannhauser') - you could always rely on them to throw more than a few curveballs into the mix to drive the hardcore genre forward. It is a great tragedy, then, that this time they've hauled a bunch of children into a recording studio and ordered them to chant "exterminate the brutes" - for god's sake - to set up 'Françafrique', which is insufferable. Refused were always an incredibly tight band, and they still are, but with 'Françafrique' there's the genuine concern that robotic modulation has been programmed into the each member. Drummer David Sandström is reduced to his kick and his snare, meaning that Lyxzén's lifeless battle cry - "Kill! Kill! Kill!" - is the closest we come to barely tangible passion in this ham-fisted arena rock crowd-pleaser. It's more Aerosmith than Refused and you can imagine an audience screaming "Kill! Kill! Kill!" as Dennis punches the air in perfect time - the image is nauseating.

Never mind, though, eh? I bet it will sound great live. Who cares if they can't correctly pronounce the title of their own songs?

Maybe this is too much. Going stadium-sized has actually done Refused some small favours. The rubbery horn section that neatly augments 'War on the Palaces' - for god's sake - is something they never would have attempted in the '90s, and the delicate cooing that opens up 'Dawkins Christ' - for god's sake - carries the right amount of intrigue to complement the instrumental impact. Both moments summarise Freedom's better attempts at experimentation. The band haven't exactly released this album as an entirely safe banker. It might be riddled with decisions their former selves would have been embarrassed to hear (wait for the pitch shifted vocals on 'Old Friends / New War') - and you'd be hard pushed to find anything in this album's entire duration that even stands up to Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent - but occasionally Refused hit some sweet spots. 'Thought Is Blood' and '366' both accelerate with Refused's famous fierceness and power through their various sections with the irrepressible intensity that's lacking from a good portion of proceedings here. Dennis' famous scream rings out like it always has done, too.

That's the sort of stuff that actually will sound great live.

This, however, is all in spite of the band boiling down their message into that party line, and that intensity is largely absent because Freedom is nothing more than an exercise in competent stadium rock. The number of segments on this album that are dedicated entirely to audience participation begins to extend beyond one hand's counting ability. The move is understandable given that Refused are now playing for the crowds who initially missed them, and stuffing reverb into everything in sight while delivering their worthwhile political agenda in bitesize chunks is sure to be the recipe that sees this worldwide reunion tour extend into its fourth year. But we need more than that.

Right now we're in an era of politically charged popular rock music that's represented by Muse's overblown, clumsy, interpretation of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Enter Shikari's honest but frustratingly facetious take on the global banking crisis. We're not asking for much - but perhaps the Refused Party understand that all too well. They were once a band that punched upwards from the underground with guttural screams and explosive instrumentation - they didn't just have something to say, they had something worth listening to. But now that they're benefiting hugely from the system they despise, I suppose it's hard for them to muster up the same raw enthusiasm. It's an album written with that jumping, slobbering audience in mind. As a good friend of mine said, "there's nothing Refused could have to prove that would warrant the conviction required to be a good punk band [anymore]".

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