Review Summary: 19 minutes of unfiltered rage
I’ve never gotten into a fight, nor have I ever wanted to. The pain of being punched in the face by a fist full of rage, unadulterated anger and fury; these are completely foreign to me. Until recently hearing Punch’s self-titled debut album, my experience with aggressive hardcore/powerviolence was extremely limited, but for the first time, I actually wanted to be in a fight. Not to fight for any particular reason or cause, I just wanted to fight evenly with someone. No music had ever made me feel genuinely aggressive, and whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, the album did what it set out to do, and I craved more. Most people who have delved into the genre understand the feeling, and for this reviewer, listening to Punch’s latest album They Don’t Have to Believe
made that feeling finally return. With barely 3 seconds of breathing room, the first riff tears through the speakers alongside Meghan O’neils absolutely vicious vocals, and it doesn’t let up for 19 solid minutes of tumultuous, grind-influenced, violent hardcore.
The biggest positive here is that every technical aspect of Punch’s music has stepped up since their last lp; the production has improved, guitars and drums are more complex, vocals are angrier and boast a wider range, and the lyrics have become more intelligent. Dummer Val Saucedo (of Loma Prieta fame) in particular goes above and beyond his performance in past releases (for both Punch and Loma Prieta), always timing his blasts and fills perfectly, while never taking the spotlight for long and providing the perfect backbone for the vehement vocals and riffs. Even the bass is audible and improved upon! Though often simply following the guitar, there are several moments where the bassist follows his own tangent and takes the track to a new level. While not always discernible, the lyrics are a personal and emotional attack on anti-feminists, covering issues like street harassment, prostitution and abuse. On paper, all of these factors combine to create the bands most impressive release to date, and while this is certainly true, there are a handful of problems that hold it back from being something truly spectacular.
With previous albums, Punch gave significantly more breathing room than they do here. While you certainly couldn’t call them soft, they’d often set into a slower groove, taking their time with the song and giving the listener a chance to drink in what they’re hearing. On They Don’t Have to Believe
, Punch have decided to trim all the fat, creating a concise slab of music and no filler, with mixed results. While the genre is fundamentally built on a fast-paced and trimmed-down formula, there comes a point where it’s simply too stripped down. Punch throw grimy hardcore at you every step of the way, and allow no time to catch your breath. This accomplishes the objective of assaulting the ears of their decidedly masochistic audience, but with the exception of the first minute in 9th track ‘Denial’, there aren’t even 5 seconds where rapid-fire riffs and Meghan’s impassioned screams aren’t flooding the speakers. This makes it hard to flesh the tracks out, and while they succeed at creating a no-frills hardcore record, highlights are minimal. This hurts its replayability, but thankfully this is somewhat mitigated by the sheer complexity of the music at hand.
While sometimes you’ll think you’ve heard the same riff before, and sometimes bordering on unoriginal, Punch have succeeded in creating a coherent and concise piece of abrasive hardcore that will abuse you and have you begging for more. There is enough meat to keep a listener occupied for several playbacks; riffs aplenty, lyrical depth and musical complexity all offset the minor problems and ensure an avid listener won’t get bored. Avoiding all the gimmicks that many female-fronted hardcore bands lean on as a crux, and never preaching its message to the point of becoming contrived, They Don’t Have to Believe
stands as one of the best hardcore releases of 2014.