NO RIPCORD - Independent Music & Film Magazine
Vicious Circle / History Of (Re-issues)
In 1970, music critic Lester Bangs wrote an exceptional, (though somewhat overlong and digressive),
essay called “A Program for Mass Liberation in the Form of a Stooges Review. Or, Who's the Fool?,”
which was basically an analysis of the times and conditions that spawned The Stooges album, Fun House.
When I’d first read the article, the following excerpt stuck with me:
“Like most authentic originals, the Stooges have endured more than their share of abuse, derision, critical
condescension and even outright hostility. Their stage act is good copy but easy grist for instant wag putdowns.
At first glance their music appears to be so simple that it seems like anyone with rudimentary training should
be able to play it (that so few can produce any reasonable facsimile, whatever their abilities, is overlooked).”
Applying that observation to the hardcore era, you realize a couple things:
1). The slew of uninteresting and uninspiring music groups that feel no shame in coining themselves “punk rawk”
in the present day, (whose members are at least somewhat skillful and capable enough with their instruments), are
unable to properly emulate the music of their supposed heroes, most of whom were non-musicians with heavy
chips resting on their studded shoulders.
2). There’s nothing simple about hardcore, because there’s nothing simple about starting over.
Yes, “loud and fast” may have been the mantra, and yes, these bands sprung up like dandelions,
leveling the playing field as it was realized ANYONE could be in a band. But, this is no longer feasible.
Punk rock has become something that works in correlation with other genres or characteristic,
something that now requires a degree of musicianship. Granted the spirit lives on, but as climates
change, we can’t help but grow. Asking a new punk band to create legitimate vintage hardcore music
is like asking a 50 year old to pick up a crayon and draw like he did when he was 5: His perception
is too influenced by structure, reality and logic to pull it off.
Bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Articles Of Faith, DRI,
Bad Religion... these guys tore down their own respective realities and allowed themselves
the freedom to start over at what appeared to be an elementary level understanding of music.
In actuality, they trimmed the fat and got back to making real rock n’ roll. It’d been done before,
but not at such an aggressive and threatening level.
Zero Boys, hardcore punk quartet from Indiana, seem anachronistic in a sense, having
possessed a musical ability that their peers seemed to find LATER once the frequency
of fist collision, spit and violence started getting old. Record label, Secretly Canadian,
saw fit to reissue their milestone LP, Vicious Circle, and their “lost” follow-up, History Of,
which includes their first 7” EP, Livin’ In The 80s. Be thankful, because music this good should
never be out of print.
An unexpected emergence from the Midwest in a genre largely ruled by the coasts, Zero Boys,
(vocalist, Paul “Z” Mahern, guitarist, Terry “Hollywood” Howe, bassist, David “Tufty” Clough
and drummer, Mark Cutsinger), are basically a rock band disguised as a hardcore powerhouse.
Loud and fast, but ridiculously tight, Vicious Circle counters its abrasive surface with almost
blues-rock level climbing bass lines (Forced Entry) and experimentation with tempo
(the lightning fast Manic Depression rush of Charles’ Place), varying the formula with outstanding ease.
The aggression of its opening title track is matched throughout the album, though following track,
Amphetamine Addiction, already showcases Howe’s ability to blend his buzzsaw rhythm guitar
with polished rock solos, similar to Jealous Again era Black Flag. Anthemic New Generation,
pits Mahern against.... well, everybody:
“People put us down/Sayin’ we’re too loud/Loud and proud of the new generation…
People think they’re cool/I think there all fools/They don’t know the new generation…”
There’s speed and fury throughout the grooves of Vicious Circle that almost obscures the
band’s attention to melody, though the over-sanitized production keeps their instruments
clearly discernible. Mahern, delivering the typical degree of snot and snarl, sounds off about
near assassinations with the dire Civilization’s Dying (“With the Pope/And the President/And
the big rockstar who made a lot of money…All got one thing in common/They know it ain't no
fun to get shot with a gun”) and baby boomer nostalgia over the rockabilly bounce of
Livin’ In The 80s (“I have no heeee-roes/Just havin’ a gooood taaahhm/
Don’t remember The Beeeeh-tles/I don’t like the Stah-ooooans”).
It’s standard punk ‘tude but Mahern interestingly couples adolescent snobbery
with well-written perspective.
The uneven History Of shows a musical progression that seemingly accelerates the vitriol (Drive In),
introduces Minor Threat inspired tempo changes (Black News Network), flirts with Descendents
comparable bouts of Milo-speak (Splish Splash, Inergy) and DRI breakneck repetitions involving
objects of disaffection (Dingy Bars Suck). For as much as History Of shows Zero Boys working
with a new set of twisted mechanics, it’s interesting how derivations seem more prevalent.
Even so, the classic build up that leads into Johnny Better Get, the muddy opening of
Seen That Movie Before and the surf percussion of Bloods Good make for some worthy
rock moments. History Of’s inclusion of The Living In The 80s 7” offers some rough draft
versions of Vicious Circle’s prime cuts, making it more of a coherent retrospective than actual album.
With hardcore quickly hurtling towards 30, and copycats seemingly unable to capture its intensity,
it’s good that attention is being invested into making sure the gems from this era remain accessible.
Vicious Circle and History Of are two of hardcore’s finest artifacts, screaming out from the genre’s periphery.
The Midwest apparently rocked, too.
8 January, 2009 - 09:16 — Sean Caldwell