Noted punk band breaks up in the wake of its best album, and after repeatedly insisting they'll never reunite, the bandmembers get back together to play a few high-profile shows. After calling it a day following said tour, they decide to make a new album as they learn there's good money to be made playing the festival circuit. Sound familiar? More than a few bands have followed this template, and there's no arguing Refused are one of them, but the smart Swedish punks clearly aren't going through the motions on 2015's Freedom, their first album since 1997's The Shape of Punk to Come as well as their first salvo since returning to action with a 2012 tour. Freedom is a considerably more aggressive set than The Shape of Punk to Come, recalling Refused's earlier work rather than the dizzying eclecticism of their acknowledged masterpiece, but this is still clever and challenging stuff, making abundant use of electronics to complement and texturize their post-hardcore guitar attack (and the fact Refused were able to create this monolith of six-string howling after the departure of guitarist Jon Brännström says a great deal for the abilities of Kristofer Steen, who handles lead and rhythm all by himself here). Calling out God and Man with equal fury, lead vocalist Dennis Lyxzén doesn't appear to have mellowed a bit in the course of 18 years, and bassist Magnus Flagge and drummer David Sandström are limber enough to keep the rhythms surprisingly flexible (when they're on point, they recall a slightly funky version of the Jesus Lizard's rhythm section, no small accomplishment). And while Refused sound more like a traditional punk band on Freedom than they did in 1997, these guys have no use for standard-issue 4/4 stomp; their music hits hard while they explore the rhythmic and musical possibilities of a four-man rock band, and the lyrics are as bitter, intelligent, and impassioned as ever as they howl out accusations against a world where wealth, power, and narrow-mindedness take their toll on us all. It's not hard to be a bit cynical about Refused choosing to reunite, but Freedom sounds as furiously principled as this group has ever been, and it's a liberating, hard-hitting exercise in punk for smart people.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming