Punter: Punter

Nathan Burns’ furious howl is the sound of someone who’s been screaming relentlessly for days in an otherwise empty room. His home city of Melbourne, Australia holds the record for world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown, totaling almost nine months. In a manifesto included with the album, anarchist punk band Punter describe their self-titled debut as an attempt to unpack a chapter of history that’s quickly being swept under the rug of “back to normal.” Punter didn’t care for whatever “normal” was before, and they are furious about how pandemic restrictions excused harsh police tactics against underprivileged citizens and enabled the government to pass out special dispensations and lucrative private contracts to corporations. (Their manifesto is also pointedly pro-vax and social distancing.) Written at home during the thick of it, Punter’s thesis is succinct: They did not forget and will not forgive.

Burns’ screams about his friends losing their wits in isolation while “essential workers build essential suburbs” cement the album as hardcore in both its politics and burly relentlessness. For all their heft and pummel, Punter are remarkably nimble. “Retirement Simulator” careens, with Burns’ power chords and Bella Steel’s basslines bouncing from peak to valley and back. Just as the song begins to feel established, they drop the hook in favor of a complementary earworm. Several times across the album, Steel and drummer Nathan Revell provide backing vocals that add melodic dimension and contrast to Burns’ rougher approach. Meanwhile, Burns is full of surprises. Several times, his scream subtly morphs from a tuneless bark to a wail, and suddenly he’s hitting actual notes. Even on Punter’s most repetitive songs, like “Curfew Eternal,” Burns howls like a wolf and then lets loose with a guitar solo that utterly whips.

Light on its feet and full of sharp turns, Punter is also a record of emotional multitudes. Rage and depression are balanced by humor, especially when Burns sets his sights on the rich, the “little shits,” and of course, the pigs. The album’s introduction is an elevator music rendition of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” overcome by a squall of feedback. The anti-gentrification protest “A Minute’s Silence” takes an ironic survey of the values the band’s late countrymen died to protect at the World War I Battle of Gallipoli: suburban sprawl, Chemist Warehouse pharmacies, and regional chain stores in trendy brick structures. Burns closes “State Breakfast” by grunting not one a cappella “yeugh,” but eight. It’s like he couldn’t decide which loogie was most spitefully hocked and realized they were all perfect.

The standout track of Punter—simultaneously the best illustration of their pandemic manifesto and their musical ambition—is “A Year’s Silence.” Burns is screaming again, disgusted by a lockdown-era stadium crowd, ripping into the capitalist structure that keeps the general public isolated, divided, and coasting on autopilot. After one of his best guitar solos, Burns and his bandmates find an anthemic hardcore melody that brings to mind the more theatrical inclinations of Fucked Up. The band rollicks as Burns sounds equal parts angry and weary: “I don’t wanna stream another funeral again,” he sings. The word “stream” bottles a timestamped feeling of loss made more terrible by insurmountable distance. Many are eager to forget the darkest and most absurd days of 2020; these enraged and commanding punks seem to remember it all.