The Refused' album collection may be sparse, only having three full lengths to show in the time span which the band was together, but these three recordings are easily among the most influential in the hardcore music world. Picking a favorite between the three is a very difficult task for me, because each presents something uniquely different from the other. Their eponymous debut "This Just Might Be... The Truth" was a frantic blast of early 90's hardcore with noise/grind tendencies. "The Shape Of Punk To Come" was a bold and brash experimental masterpiece, which saw the band not only taking their sound to the furthest extremes, but also creating some of the best musical compositions the punk and hardcore worlds had ever seen. While the other two albums are both amazing in all respects, my personal favorite Refused record has always been "Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent." Stepping up their technicality from "This Just Might Be... The Truth", the Refused melded together punk rock fury, with the 80's ethic and mentality of hardcore, added in metallic elements to their sound, and let the energy take them to their highest pinnacle. Among the their albums, "Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent" remains the band's heaviest and most aggressive outing, without the vast experimentation and atmospheric landscape that would follow. If you never listened to this album initially, now is just the perfect time as the album has been re-issued by Epitaph, with sleek new remastering and production. What's more important is how much influence this record still holds today, especially in the punk, post-hardcore and hardcore scenes.
"Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent" is easily the band's most hardcore outing. Everything about the band is tight and toned up on this record, and represents the most straight forward aspects of their sound. Fans of the later "Shape Of Punk To Come" will notice songs are mainly fast and straight to the point (most don't run over the 3 minute mark). The band doesn't drift off into any uncharted territory really, they simply stick to their guns and keep it fast and heavy. Opening up with the timeless anthem "Rather Be Dead", the band will immediately capture your attention. Songs can range from the ultra heavy bombardments of "Life Support Addiction" and "Worthless Is The Freedom Bought" to sensible rockers like "Coup d'etat" and "Hook, Line And Sinker". The band's lyrics are very poetic and yet often political, without being overly concentrated on either side. Obvious political messages can be found in "Coup d'etat" and "Worthless Is The Freedom Bought", while much more introspective pieces like "Crusader Of Hopelessness" and "This Trust Will Kill Again" make sure the record doesn't bore you with the band's views. My personal favorite track is the closer, "The Slayer", which is a heavy-hitting blast, mixing the finest elements of hardcore and punk into one of the most memorable songs the band has ever recorded. The lyrics and riffs are extremely well written, and the atmosphere of the song goes from frantic to melodic and back again all until the last seconds of the closing breakdown, where the record immediately bows out into the sound of pouring rain. Clocking in at 30:26, there's never a second where you will be waiting for the record to end.
Musically everything this band does is innovative no matter what genre you single them into (although they cannot easily be placed into any one genre). There's obvious elements of 80's hardcore and new wave punk, but there's plenty of metal sensibilities and even influences of noise and grind. This was also the only Refused record recorded with two actual guitar players, so the riffs are much more focused and fit very well together. The backing of the drums and bass give the band backbone, although they don't stand out very much individually. That's a good thing about this record though. Instead of singling things like the guitar or the drums out, the band's sound is very much dependent upon one another. You don't listen to "Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent" and think "man the guitars are killer" or "those drums are so sick", but instead you just think "wow this band is talented". This adds to the overall attractiveness of the band's sound. Vocally Dennis doesn't try to do too much, and his delivery is especially different from the one he gave on "The Shape Of Punk To Come". While on that album his vocals were much more of a scream, on "Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent", he goes much more along the lines of the traditional hardcore shout. He does mix in some screams here and there, but mostly he sticks to the tride and true method. Occasionally he'll do some soft whispering, like on "Return To The Closet", but most of the time he stays around the same style throughout the course of the record. If you're a fan of Dennis' newer band, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, you're especially going to notice a big difference in his vocal delivery.
All three of the Refused' albums are classics, and all staples for 90's hardcore, but each offers a very different listen from one another. If you're looking for the most straight-forward, aggressive and stripped down side of the band's sound, you will probably like "Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent" the most. It's easily the most "hardcore" of the band's catalogue and an essential recording to fans of the band and hardcore alike. I also recommend looking into their other two full lengths "This Just Might Be... The Truth" and "The Shape Of Punk To Come". The remastering job alone is enough to pick this up even if you own the original, because honestly this record has never sounded better. This is still a very influential band in many different musical genres, and after listening to any of their recordings it's easy to see why. If you've never listened to this band before, I would recommend you start here, then head to "The Shape Of Punk To Come" and finally back to "This Just Might Be...The Truth". Every record is essential, but this is a great introduction. I'm glad to see this album is still having a huge impact of music almost a decade after it was initially released. And remember "Every Freedom Needs a Trust".