Like its role model, the pioneering post-hardcore band Nation Of Ulysses, Refused always presented itself as a gang—albeit one that wore Portishead T-shirts, quoted Guy Debord, and hailed from Sweden. But Refused’s us-against-the-world unity had disintegrated by the time The Shape Of Punk To Come was made. The group split bitterly the month the disc was released in 1998, and the implosion mythologized Refused just as much as its patchwork of hardcore, metal, electronica, jazz, and sociopolitical sloganeering. Shape has aged incredibly well, however—its dynamism and exploratory spirit remain gripping. Granted, the techno breakdown of the disc’s anthem, “New Noise,” and the discordant post-rock strings of “Tannhäuser/Derivè” seem quaint now. But the disc’s intricacy and tension, heightened by the disciplined chaos of frontman Dennis Lyxzén, pack just as stunning a punch. Ironically, though, the derivative elements—debts to contemporaries like Fugazi, Quicksand, and even Rage Against The Machine—are what render Shape timeless.
As essential as Shape is, Epitaph’s triple-disc reissue borders on superfluous. The documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead, which chronicles the band’s final days as it rode and then abandoned imminent stardom, serves up insight and self-aggrandizing melodrama equally. The third disc, a concert recording from ’98, is decent but redundant—though it does show that, at least onstage, Refused had the ferocity of a gang to the very end.
Grade: A (original album), C+ (bonus discs)