Substance. Photo: Josh Robicheaux
The first time I go see most bands, I have some sort of an idea of what I’ll see when they play. The first time I saw Houston’s Substance, I got pretty much the opposite of what I was expecting. You see, when your friend says, “Come see this punk band lead by a sixteen year old,” I just figured they’d be mediocre at best with zero stage presence. That may seem crappy to admit, but it’s honest. However, when I saw them live, they were far from mediocre and they had more stage presence than many seasoned punk veterans. On their new 7-inch release, The Fight For Identity, they have no problem distinguishing themselves from most of what gets called punk today. Brash, unapologetic, and snarling, Substance proves that good is good, no matter how old you are.
To start, it should be noted that the entire release is just a little over ten minutes long, but that shouldn’t distance anyone from it either. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a set from the band that exceeded twenty minutes. Squealing guitars accompanied by plenty of fuzz and feedback kick off the blistering opener “The Fight For Identity.” Recorded live at Walter’s by Brandon Bowers, who also played guitar on the release, the rough and brash vocals are hard to understand, though anyone who’s a fan probably doesn’t care too much about lyricism. The real “meat and potatoes” here is the frenetic pace and immediacy of the music. Quick, snappy and with no fucks given, Substance cuts through the song with a fevered intensity that sounds closer to a mental breakdown set to music than the formulaic punk that many people associate with the larger-venued sounds of the genre. They keep this pace going on the following track, “Masculinity.” There’s no softness to this music. Almost like the band is playing on stolen gear, the music reminds you of a real world fist fight where it’s over and done with before you know that there’s even a fight going on. It’s like if you took the music of Austin’s GLUE and Dallas’ Power Trip and forced them to duke it out with their songs.
The intensity that’s at the forefront of “What Will You Do?” is gruff and grimy, sweaty and full throttled, and never weak or false. There’s hints of chaos here, but it never sounds like things are falling apart either. This is punk as it’s meant to be played, through mediocre gear and with nothing but energy from start to finish. The electricity of “My Head” can’t be denied, where the band almost emulates early Bad Brains with a quickness and force that you can’t forget. While the song “Pity” is almost a minute and a half, it’s the odd length of the closing track “Hate Me” that stands out the most. Over three and a half minutes, the song from the outside looks like it would be too long. However, with multiple rhythm changes, the track seems to have a droning factor thrown in that gets tossed aside for a series of radio transmissions and riffs that seem to fit this release.
You don’t have to wrap your head around what Substance is doing here, nor is there any circular logic to be placed upon these six tracks. The Fight For Identity is straightforward hardcore punk played loud in small rooms with kids writhing on the floor like they’re in the middle of some sort of tantrum. But that’s what punk was and has always been meant to be, and Substance is leading the pack of those who do it, without pause or explanation.
You can catch stream The Fight For Identity here, and you can catch Substance on tour from June 5 in Lake Charles to June 12 in Chicago.