In the wake of blistering power that pierces through the silence like a hot blade sliding through butter, The Refusers’ “Live Free” comes into focus ready to rip apart anything that comes between its monstrous riffing and the audience it seeks to sonically shred. No more than ten seconds into the video for “Live Free,” it feels as though we’ve just witnessed several hours of postmodernity ala late-night commercial programming inside of what amounts to a handful of verses and a grating groove that only grows more powerful with every passing moment. The Refusers are refusing to conform to the mainstream model here, and while rebellion is nothing new in rock music, I don’t believe I’ve seen it come in quite as belligerent and confrontational a form as it does here in a very long time.
There’s no precursor to the damage that the guitar parts do in this piece, but the bass is giving us just enough of a buffer in the mix to ensure every melodic element is getting some share of the spotlight. Just because this band wants to get wild in the studio doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of the sonic parameters within which they’re working here, and had they not been as rigid with the arrangement of the instruments in “Live Free,” we might not have been able to appreciate just all of the action that is taking place in a relatively short period. I’m eager to find out what they’re like in concert and judging from the looks of what we’re getting in this single and its video, The Refusers aren’t likely to let us down in the flesh.
The drums might have had a little more of the spotlight in a live performance than they ever could in a studio version of this single, but part of the allure of a release like “Live Free” is the conceptualized rendition of the music we’re receiving. This is just a starting point for The Refusers with regards to what they could do in a concert adaptation of this song, and that just can’t be said for a lot of the releases their contemporaries have to offer right now. So many punks are playing straightforward versions of their music when they get out on the stage anymore, but this is a track that feels too flexible to be left the same when taken out on the road.
Roughly a minute and change into “Live Free,” we encounter the only strands of genuine melodicism that the track contains, and they unsurprisingly cling to the fuzz of the adjacent noise rather beautifully, at once embodying the spirit of punk rock’s iconic duality and yet inspiring more confident energy than any of the genre’s stalwarts have produced in decades. The video transforms from a mere exercise in political surrealism to a full-on commentary on capitalism and destruction, boasting gruesome references to commercialism that can only be generated through raw power in a performance. By the time “Live Free” concludes, there is no room for debate as to whether or not The Refusers are at the top of their game in 2022 – as I see it, they’re at the forefront of their genre in more ways than one this year.
David Lee Marshall