By Dave Pehling
BERKELEY (CBS SF) — One of the most explosive punk bands to emerge in Europe during the 1990s returns to the Bay Area this weekend when reunited Swedish group Refused headlines the UC Theatre in Berkeley Saturday night.
Founded in 1991 by singer Dennis Lyxzén (best known for fronting straight-edge punk group Step Forward), drummer David Sandström and guitarist Pär Hansson, the band began forging a style of intense hardcore with its live performances and two demos filled with massive riffs and caustic, hard-driving songs. Second guitarist Henrik Jansson by the time the band recorded its 1994 debut This Just Might Be…The Truth, a collection of tracks that established Refused’s bombastic style of punk. They quickly released the more metallic follow-up EP Everlasting, but soon the two guitarists would be replaced by new members Kristofer Steen and Jon Brännström.
The band’s follow-up effort — Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent in 1996 — found Lyxzén and company shifting to a far more radical sound and political message. Drawing inspiration from the early 20th century organization the Industrial Workers of the World that had ties to both anarchist and socialist movements, the album presented revolutionary rhetoric on such pulverizing tunes as “Worthless Is the Freedom Bought” and “Coup D’etat”
The group built a rabid cult following on both sides of the Atlantic with their ferociously intense live shows. Their third album, The Shape of Punk to Come, would mark another quantum leap forward for Refused. Released in 1998, the recording introduced more experimental elements to the band’s sound, incorporating electronic music and spoken word samples as well as quoting the music from artists as varied as Bo Diddly and Stravinsky in the new songs. The album’s bold direction would initially be met with bewilderment by fans and critics, adding to simmering tensions between band members that culminated in their sudden break-up while touring the U.S. only months after The Shape of Punk to Come came out.
In the wake of the sudden split, the members of Refused started new projects with Lyxzén founding the (International) Noise Conspiracy and the rest of the band forming the new avant-garde ambient group TEXT. Despite the break-up, interest in Refused grew as The Shape of Punk to Come belatedly found an audience. The album would come to be hailed as one of the great punk albums of the decade as fans raised a growing call for the group to reunite. Early signs of a possible reconciliation came in 2007 when Lyxzén and Sandström reformed their earlier side project Final Exit, a year before the pair started the new hardcore band AC4.
After years of rumors, Refused finally granted fans wishes by reuniting for the Coachella Festival in 2012 and headlining numerous European festivals to a joyful reception. Though they initially insisted that the reunion was only for one year of performing and touring, after a short hiatus Refused returned to live activity and eventually recorded its first album of new material in almost 20 years with the release of the acclaimed 2015 effort Freedom that returned the band to a more straightforward punk sound and was met with universal acclaim.
For the group’s latest recording War Music, Refused delivered an album that seems more of a spiritual successor to The Shape of Punk to Come than Freedom. Filled with Lyxzén’s angry yet melodic screeds against capitalism and the 1%, War Music stands as another triumph and a perfect album of protest punk for these uncertain times.
On the group’s current tour, Refused are joined by another leading light of punk, Canadian trio METZ. Formed in Ottowa in 2008 by guitarist/singer Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies, the band has refined its tuneful take on noise-punk indebted to the sounds of the Jesus Lizard, Drive Like Jehu and early Nirvana over the course of three albums for Sub Pop records. It’s latest release on the label entitled Automat compiles some of the threesome’s hard-to-find singles and unreleased early material. Raw Los Angeles industrial duo Youth Code opens this Saturday night show at the UC Theatre.
Refused with METZ
Saturday, March 7, 8 p.m. $32.50