Refused wasn't the first punk band to incorporate drum machines and synthesizers (that would be Suicide) or the first to turn hard-core's regimented song structures inside out (that would be the Minutemen). But it was the first to seriously suggest that both of those things belonged in stadiums of thousands.
Released in 1998, The Shape of Punk to Come was as sonically ambitious as its title was fantastically arrogant. The album didn't just make room for free-jazz breakdowns, glitchy sampler wrangling and scalpel-sharp guitar interplay alongside Refused's noise detonations — it made them inseparable and necessary to each other. But even more unexpectedly, the result sounded absolutely huge, maybe even with the potential of a Nevermind to bring brutal, innovative music to a mainstream audience.
A three-disc reissue of Shape, just out on Epitaph Records, underscores that potential, sadly never fully realized because the band broke up soon thereafter. New Noise still sounds like a jock jam for Marxist eco-terrorists, Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine takes the dry-cleaned guitar licks of ESG and gives them Fugazi's fangs. The great irony of hard-core is that at heart it's an orthodox, conservative genre, and Refused was one of the few bands in that tradition that could capably upend it.
But the package's extras add some necessary context as to why Refused was both special and doomed. The accompanying live album finds the band just demolishing a festival in its hometown of Umea, Sweden, while the accompanying documentary Refused Are F- Dead has a title as prophetic as that of Shape. Such ambitions often come in a difficult personality, and singer Dennis Lyxzen is as flinty in person as his band is on record (and the band's members seem to know what fate awaits them the whole time).