Never let your guard down. Rise to the occasion. Even their name spews that sense of urgency and affirmation of rebelliousness. The Refusers, a Seattle, Wash., based rock outfit drops truth bombs in their audacious new album, Freedom Fighter. The first three singles released, “Love Never Fails”, “Shame On You” and “Clown Show” signify that the summer’s heat is not all that is shaking the world of music. These guys rock.
The Refusers are lead singer and guitarist, Michael Belkin, Joe Doria on the (Hammond) organ, Eric Robert on Nord keyboards, Brendan Hill on drums and Steve Newton on bass and backing vocals. Freedom Fighter follows 2016’s Wake Up America and 2018’s Disobey. What makes The Refusers stand out even more so is that Belkin’s previous life had him walking the walk and talking the talk on Wall Street. His unique perspective is front and center in many of The Refusers’ songs’ lyrics. Belkin’s eyes have been wide open for years and he’s relaying what he’s witnessed to the masses.
On a positive note “Love Never Fails” channels The Beatles for a punchy more pop rock tune. Belkin’s guitar sings, the arrangement transcends rock and bounces over garage punk to create this melodic tone. The Hammond organ, a nod to a sound that some may forget to be powerful rock & roll instrument, holds court, as it sound surges throughout the track. Belkin sings “it don’t come cheap but it’s not for sale, love never fails,” and tallies his reasons for a united front. Leaving it up to chance, it’s easy to chant along to the rallying cry “na-na-na-na”.
“Shame On You” incessantly stays with the listener. This up-tempo ride is crisp and Belkin’s guitar once again rides smoothly. His intricate chords elevate the sound. The bass and percussion are toe-tappers, but it’s the earworm chorus that stalks the night: “shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.” Robert’s keywork peaks its head in and out, before showering the listener with a deluge of spunk and funk.
“Clown Show” keeps the momentum strong. Belkin’s lyrics call out Wall Street and the government – “it’s a clown show, bozo!” he sings. The guitar work is once again accentuate melodies, a nice compliment to Belkin’s matter-of-fact singing style. He has a bit of a timbre in his voice that could fall into the grunge scene, but he seems to be right at home with the avalanche of truths. I preferred “Shame On You” compared to this track, but the liveliness is palpable in each song. At their core, The Refusers sound at their best when the riffs are loud, the bass guitar and the drums are humming and the keyboard or organ is motoring away. “Clown Show” would be an exciting track to see performed live. That’s the key to a band like The Refusers – they make their albums sound like the live show is right in your living room. Their recorded sound brews just as harder and faster than the live experience. Let loose and listen – The Refusers are back.