Punch’s third full-length is an unrelenting, fearless, abrasive hardcore record. They Don’t Have to Believe is concise but smart, and despite the fact that every song is a condensed confrontation, there’s also a great deal of sensitivity contained within its 19 minutes. The sensitivity, however, doesn’t undermine the pure rage, and the result is a record that reveals itself to be human despite its screeching noise and venomous attitude.
“Worth More Than Your Opinion” takes an unapologetic stand — to the most satisfying degree — against catcalling. “Our looks, our bodies, are none of your fucking business,” sings frontwoman Meghan O’Neil. “We don’t exist for you to appraise.” It’s the record’s fiercest moment. It conjures impassioned fist pumps and stage dives. And it’s one of the most succinct, righteous denunciations of sexism to appear on a punk rock record. Punch doesn’t understate its social conscience; it bears it with deserved anger.
Like its forefathers in Minor Threat, Punch frequently addresses small-scale human interaction and interpersonal relationships. “Unconditional” is a straightforward, honest vow about compromising with a loved one. “Not Sorry” acknowledges that it’s perfectly normal to cry. And “Self Help” employs uplifting guitar progressions and a fair amount of melody, addressing a closed-off individual struggling with depression. “You ask me to hold my judgment, but I just want to hold your hand,” sings O’Neil. There are no ballads here, and the album doesn’t slow down, but there’s a sense of vulnerability to it, one that’s often disguised by the sheer volume of the music.
For all of its vulnerability, however, They Don’t Have to Believe is still no pushover. The Jack Shirley-produced record leaves little to no breathing room between each of its 15 tracks, and an onslaught of short songs (close to a minute or less in length) spans half the record. The title track is a five-second burst of energy, but the relatively lengthy “Personal Space” follows it, complete with a neat New York hardcore breakdown. Additionally, much of They Don’t Have to Believe evokes Paint it Black; Dr. Dan Yemin would surely endorse the record’s traditional hardcore leanings, not to mention its social conscience.
They Don’t Have to Believe is typically laconic in getting its point across, which sometimes veers close to sloganeering. But most of the time, that same approach yields powerful, human sentiments. Punch plainly puts into words feelings of frustration and anxiety, but that’s also coupled with a type of confidence, especially related to social matters. This is powerviolence at its most anthemic; it lacks conventional hooks, but its rage is infectious.