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Coup d'état: Dennis Lyxzén on 25 Years of Refused's 'Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent'

Thursday, 10 June 2021 Written by Sam Sleight

“Well, I grew up as an un-political character in a small town in the north of Sweden,” Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzén recalls. “I had one of those families where you didn’t talk about politics at all. I discovered punk and that changed my perception of everything in the world around me. It radicalised me.”

Lyxzén’s story is far from unique in the world of punk and hardcore: a smalltown kid grows up in a reserved household where progressive ideas and forces for change are not often discussed. From their local scene in Umeå, around eight hours’ drive from Stockholm, Refused emerged in the early 1990s, starting on a path that would lead them to redefine an entire genre with their third LP, ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’. But first, they had another statement to make in the form of their table-setting second album ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’, which has just turned 25.

Unlike the wildly successful radio-friendly punk bands seen emerging in the US during the early to mid-1990s—your Green Days and Offsprings—Refused took cues from the politicised fury of ‘80s hardcore. As they did for so many, the revolutionary ideas of Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Dead Kennedys changed Lyxzén’s approach to artistry and turned his world inside out. 

More than that, though, he discovered philosophers like Noam Chomsky, who arrived in Lyxzén’s life not through his influential writings but through his 1991 split 7” with Los Angeles punks Bad Religion. ‘New World Order #1’ marked a sea change in Lyxzén’s life and the future trajectory of his band, and once the door was open, nothing was going to force it closed. “It really propelled my interest in politics and I started reading around it,” he recalls.

“[Punk] made me a political person,” he observes. “It stemmed from the fact that to understand one’s alienation, and to understand why I always felt like an outsider, politics really put the finger on what’s actually wrong with the world and why I feel so distant from it.” 

These themes of alienation and dissatisfaction run throughout Refused’s discography, but Lyxzén’s penchant for politicised imagery was perhaps at its most blunt and viscerally angry on ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’. “Around ‘95 when we were recording ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’, we were a small group of people in town who were really into politics and really into the idea of using music as a platform for political ideas,” he says.

A track such as Coup D’Etat—where he spits “I will hold your burning flag in my hand!” before the song breaks into a riffy thrash-funk section that is equally instructive—feels like a notable peak in the Refused manifesto, even if ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ casts such a long shadow over the group’s finest achievements. It is a landmark record but as Lyxzén himself says: “Without [‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’] and the reaction to it, the touring, what we experienced, ‘Shape…’ would never have become a record.”

Lyxzén’s recollections of the tours around ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ tell a story of a band finding themselves, from content down to personnel, and the voice that would eventually resonate with thousands of people looking for a more literate, boundary-pushing take on punk music. “We did a bunch of touring, mainly Europe and Scandinavia, before we recorded ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ and it was one of those times where you started writing songs on tour,” he says. “We played a bunch live that made it onto the album. It was fun. 

“The only weird thing about the tours for [1994 debut album] ‘This Just Might Be... the Truth’ and the ‘Everlasting’ EP was we couldn’t hold down a solid line-up, there were changes every tour, always a new bass player on every tour, so that was weird. And then Jon [Bränströmm] came in as our bass player. We liked him and he wanted to keep working with us, but wanted to be a guitar player. So he came in on ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ as the second guitar player. In the early stages everything was fresh and unpretentious, you could tour Sweden for 25 dates. Now you do four dates and it’s a full tour of Sweden.”

Lyxzén particularly attributes the stylistic change between ‘This Just Might Be… The Truth’ and ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ to Bränströmm and guitarist Kristofer Steen. The shift from the crossover thrash leanings of their early work towards something with greater hardcore focus and the incorporation of serrated metal elements was a natural step for Refused. “When we started the band, we had a different guitar player, and when I listen to our discography I see quite a clear line between the first EP to ‘Everlasting’ and ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’,”  Lyxzén says. 

“‘This Just Might Be…the Truth’ is a weird record because we had a guitar player named Pär [Hansson]—he was a great guy and a great guitar player. But, he was really into the slower metal kind of crossover thing. When we were writing ‘This Just Might Be…’ we didn’t have enough songs. He came in with a bunch and they were   more metal-tinged, whatever, hardcore. After that record he left the band and we got Kris on board. Kris fully came into his own as a guitar player and songwriter on ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’. The way he approached his riffage really set the tone and I think that was the big change: his influence. He wasn’t a hardcore kid, he was more like a metal guy, but then to fuse that with the hardcore thing that we were doing, I think was Kris coming into his own.”

With a couple of decades stretching out from the releases of ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ and ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’, there has been some revisionism among fans suggesting that it’s the former that should be hailed as Refused’s masterpiece. It’s a big claim. ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ is regarded as a full stop on what punk could be in the 1990s and its influence can be felt today in the bold experimentation of bands as far reaching as Turnstile, Code Orange and The St. Pierre Snake Invasion. 

The record’s posthumous reappraisal after Refused’s initial split in 1998, outlined by their savage essay Refused Are Fucking Dead, has seen it enshrined as an untouchable, enduring landmark. The idea that ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ is the superior LP, then, is not the prevailing view. But there is an argument that it doesn’t suffer that much in comparison. It is more straightforward, and therefore more appealing in some ways. “When ‘Shape…’ came out, a lot of hardcore kids did not like it,” Lyxzén says. “The touring we did on that record was not really successful.” 

The jagged appeal of ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ in the punk landscape is something Lyxzén is, and has long been, keenly aware of, but he laughs when considering his own thoughts on the place ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ occupies in their catalogue. “I mean, it’s pretty good!” he says. “There’s still three or four songs from that record we play live all the time. Rather Be Dead is still a crowd pleaser, people really get into that song. But as a band everything is a stepping stone to the next thing that you do, and I think that’s the thing with Refused. 

“They all sound like Refused records, but none of them sound the same. We can do what we want. We’re not tied down to a sound or having to do songs exactly like this. But I think ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent’ holds up well, it’s a great record. I think there’s a couple of songs—I mean 25 years on you realise this—where I think ‘maybe that wasn’t the best choice’ but the intensity of that record never lets up. It’s short and it just attacks you from start to finish. It is so relentless, and it’s really the start of hyper-political Refused. I think it’s a pretty great record.”



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