Zero Boys: Vicious Circle, History Of

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Zero Boys: <em>Vicious Circle</em>, <em>History Of</em>

Vicious Circle (93)
History Of (78)

Midwest hardcore punks prove mordant worth with reissues

In 1979, as hardcore punk crept from D.C. to New York and damn near took over Southern California, Indiana's Zero Boys were amongst the vanguard breaching the Midwest. Their scene's ethos was vitriol, more pure than simple. If you hated your parents, your town, your cultural past, your political present, your vocational future, misogyny, money, poverty, sobriety (if you hated what you saw around you and congregated, screamed, fought and moshed in response), then you were left with your body and your community, real and right now.

Although Zero Boys never gained the fame of Dead Kennedys or Minor Threat, with whom they toured, or Black Flag, or Bad Brains, it was never because their work lacked the epic scope or pinpoint intensity of those acts. And, perhaps, the obscurity comes as a bit of a gift now, making the Secretly Canadian reissue of 1982's Vicious Circle sting with the full force of its original historical moment. "Livin' In The '80s" rejects the vaulted memory of the '60s and '70s to recognize that punks of the early '80s "[had] no heroes." Frontman Paul Mahern laments how previous decades tended to eclipse cares for the current one, sneering his distaste: “Turn on the radio / and all I hear is The Beatles / Don’t wanna hear no more ‘bout Mick Jagger’s old bones.” "Civilization's Dying" pulls the rug out from under illogical current events, calling out for gun control as "no one's realizin' the position of hate's stuck inside of a gun." Its chorus references what should have been, but wasn't: the mutual interest among various larger-than-life personalities (Pope John Paul the 2nd, President Ronald Reagan and John Lennon), all gunshot victims in the first two years of the '80s.

The rest of Vicious Circle hits similarly frustrated pressure points with furious backbeats and tastefully raucous guitar work. The album, all recorded live-to-tape in only two days of studio time, provides a window into the band's muscular performances. Mahern's vocal abilities hit a difficult punk benchmark of sounding mad as hell and infectiously melodic at once, a feat Secretly Canadian recognizes here by adding "Slam and Worm" and "She Said Goodbye" back to the tracklist. Both had been cut by Vicious Circle's original producer for being too pop-oriented, and their inclusion now helps explain Mahern's foray into power-pop after the Zero Boys finally broke up.

History Of, first released on cassette after the band had already parted ways, fills out Zero Boys' recording history with inconsistency. The influence of Dead Kennedys—and other bands Zero Boys had been more thoroughly exposed to after leaving the Midwest to tour—shows clearly. In their wake, tracks like the tossed-off "Dingy Bars Suck" lack the focus of Vicious Circle's best moments. Others, like "Mom's Wallet," only remind of punk's latent puerility. But the collection also boasts "Amerika," "I'm Bored," and "Seen That Movie Before," which hint at explorations and growth the band never quite realized, yet still constitute welcome additions to hardcore discography. And halfway through History comes "Human Body," which bellyaches about being "stuck inside a human body / with a stupid human face... with a stupid human brain," distilling an angry ethos into its bodily extreme, making hardcore seem the necessary response to the damning fallibility of livin' in—and through—the '80s.

Listen to or download Zero Boys' "Civilization's Dying" from Vicious Circle here