History Of, along with the re-release of their debut, Vicious Circle, represents the sum total of the recorded output of the original line-up of Indianapolis hardcore group the Zero Boys (they reunited for two albums in the early ‘90s). And while Vicious Circle serves as a document of non-coastal hardcore for backward-looking fans, History Of is an odds-and-sods collection that doesn’t offer much insight into the band beyond providing every thing they put to tape in the early ‘80s.
A lot of the tracks on History Of play like gestating demos, and to a large extent they were. The band was cutting their sophomore album when they called it quits, and they opted to put out History Of, a 14-track post-break-up tape, as is. A certain vibe permeates the set — it’s as if they said, “Hey, we have a studio for three hours. Let’s throw every riff we have on tape, even if the only lyrics are stuff I’m making up before the song starts” — especially on “Dingy Bars Suck,” “High Places,” “Mom’s Wallet,” and “Seen That Movie Before.”
But there are some more experimental moments here that capture the Zero Boys in the midst of a maturation process that was never completed. The gloomy “Black Network News” ripsaws between a prickly percussive bridge and a blasting chorus, “Splish Splash” sounds like the Minutemen’s drummer (George Hurley) fronted by Dead Kennedys, and “Amerika” is as close to classic rock as the Boys got — its hazy guitars evoke Steppenwolf more than any of their hardcore cohorts.
History Of ends with the five-track Livin’ in the ‘80s, arguably the band’s most complete and articulate release, even though it was the first songs the four-piece wrote together. If they had continued on the trajectory laid out there, they could have been the Midwest’s answer to the Ramones, blending fast punk riffs with early ’60s rock, but with considerably more aggression. Instead, the band went even more “punk” — falling in with the hardcore set.
As far as rarities collections go, History Of is better than most, but it still reeks of incompletion and discordance. But given that the band itself called it quits with a sense of incompletion, it’s a fitting, if sloppy, set.