Influential Umeá, Sweden punk rock band releases War Music on Oct. 18.
Refused | Spinefarm Records
Formed in Umeå, Sweden in 1991, Refused became one of the most influential European bands of the 1990s. The quintet’s fourth album, 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come, is cited as a major influence on the development of the entire screamo scene that would top charts in the 2000s. Don’t blame the band for that.
They were gone shortly after the album’s release, owing to their fiercely held anarchist politics being at odds with the fanbase and industry attention The Shape of Punk to Come garnered.
Lead screamer Dennis Lyxzén formed the political garage unit the (International) Noise Conspiracy and the other members pursued everything from music to visual art and political activism. Then in 2008, Lyxzén and drummer David Sandström turned up in the hardcore crew AC4 and a buzz began. It took four more years for the band to come back, playing Coachella and touring select North American cities. Seventeen years after the Shape of Punk to Come, Freedom landed.
The fourth album didn’t disappoint fans or critics as it packed all the punch of earlier releases, as well as smart use of electronics and no shortage of targets to take aim at. Power, greed and the daily grind all get shouted down on the record. War Music doesn’t lose that focus as Refused drop 10 new tunes challenging the shape of things today.
Here are five things to know about War Music:
1: REV001. I said one more/I said one howls Lyxzén in the opening song and lead-off single, pleading for the planet to take note of where things are headed. The press material for the single reads like a manifest: “Lots of blinkered kaisers out there right now, eating their own, their right hands stealing from their left hands, the majority slaving away to make ends meet, infected with the venom of lack, the venom of need, excluded from social insurance, pitted against each other by ignorant ruthless infanticidal curb crawler tyrants, while an apathetic minority bathes in the eternal sunshine of a tilting climate, a doomsday clock wound up by the predatory capitalist insanity of this the most dysfunctional mammal, man.” There will be a skill-testing quiz at the end of the listening session.
2: Dynamic video. While always steeped in agit-prop art, the video for REV001 is above and beyond the usual call of revolt. Directed by guitarist Kristofer Steen, it posits a top hat and tail’ed Lyxzén, twirling cane and all, dancing his way in a cabaret set as the rest of the band plays alt-right neo-nazis performing a jackbooted line dance and assaulting the singer. The piece plays well on the legacy of such hard-working journalists as the late Stieg Larsson, who founded the Swedish Expo Foundation to counteract the rapid expansion of the extreme right and white nationalists in the country. Singer Mariam The Believer provides the haunting guest vocals to the track.
3: I Wanna Watch the World Burn. Not everything the band drops is full-throttle screaming attack. It can also produce singalong arena chorus pop songs like this 3:30-long “happy” tune about watching the world burn for “what it’s done.” The dual melodic guitar lick is a bit Thin Lizzy-like and readymade for arena air-punching singalongs.
4: Rhythm section rules. Drummer David Sandström and — presumably — bassist/cellist Magnus Flagge are key to the Refused sound. The way they manage to be both driving and still a bit bouncy is what separates this band from it’s many similar sounding peers. There is a pulse to tunes like Economy of Death and Death In Vännäs that makes you want to shake your hips more than slam dance in the mosh pit.
5: War Music World Tour. The band starts its tour on Oct. 26 at the 02 Academy in Birmingham, UK and begins its North American section on Feb. 24, 2020, at Mtelus in Montréal. Vancouver show is Mar. 4, 2020 at the Commodore Ballroom. Tickets: tickemaster.ca.
Also out this week:
John Mills-Cockell | Artoffact Records
Chances are almost guaranteed that you haven’t every listened to Intersystems or Syrinx and don’t know the music of pioneering Toronto-based composer/multi-instrumentalist and Moog synthesizer pioneer John Mills-Cockell. And that is a travesty, because his noodling instrumentals and space jams are right up their with far better known early electronic artists such as Jean-Michel Jarre and the like. This release collects the solo releases Heartbeat, A Third Testament and Gateway as well as the first Syrinx record. This pairs well with whatever the bud of the week happens to be.
Sarah Pagé | Backward Music
Montréal-based harpist Pagé is perhaps most familiar for her work with chamber folk rock act The Barr Brothers or the global music collective Esmerine. Her solo work is far more akin to the experimental solo expressions of artists such as koto player Miya Masaoka or her hometown honker Colin Stetson. So a lot of the harp on this recording is so treated and distorted that you might not even identify it as what it is. But it doesn’t matter as the ambient soundscapes of the title track or tape manipulations and drones of Lithium Taper are wicked being just what they are. The closer Pleiades could most certainly serve as a perfect soundtrack to some arthouse sci-fi thriller. Backward Music is a new, experimental imprint of Forward Music Group, which proves the label and its artists have a sense of humour too.
Starcrawler | Rough Trade
The latest in a long legacy of loud, grimy Tinsel Town bands mining the sonics of the Stooges with some requisite overdriven blues thrashed in, Starcrawler’s focus is vocalist Arrow de Wilde. Writhing and contorting herself in the band’s videos, she is all rawk all the time. Guitarist/singer Henri Cash, bassist Tim Franco and drummer Austin Smith know their away around a pounding tribal drum beat and dynamic feedback to frame de Wilde’s poetry about going insane, the trials and tribulations of being a Toy Teenager and the usual assortment of by-the-book rock and roll stories. It’s totally familiar, but in a pretty good way.
Low Clouds in the Morning
The Sweet Lowdown | thesweetlowdown.ca
The Vancouver Island-based folk/roots trio of lead singer and guitarist Amanda Blied, violin/vocals/other strings player Miriam Sonstenes and mandolinist/vocalist Tad Ruszel (who also mixed and engineered) plays smooth rolling songs steeped in earthy melancholy. Perhaps its innately Canadian to talk about aching lullabyes and Low Clouds in the Morning. Or maybe the trio just latched into something moving in its mid-tempo tunes. Very lovely.