In the race to recognize and deify unknown new bands, another trend has emerged: the rush to find obscure bands from the post-punk era that can be used (and sold) as notches on the bedpost of tastemakers’ crate digging. This has led to bands like Crispy Ambulance (totally not worth it) and Liquid Liquid (worth it at least for “Cavern”) and many, many others having their paltry back catalogues re-released in better packages and in larger quantities than they ever were when the band were still plugging in.
Which explains this Secretly Canadian reissue of Vicious Circle, the debut LP from Indianapolis hardcore band the Zero Boys. The Zero Boys were victims of both geography (hardcore tended to be most popular on the coasts, with smaller enclaves in bigger metro areas) and a glut of hardcore punk that was released at the time (the wave for hardcore was cresting in 1982, when Vicious Circle was released). So it makes sense that a hardcore album as proficient as this would see re-release (given the recent documentary American Hardcore). But is it more random hardcore curio or undiscovered masterpiece?
Vicious Circle is a little bit of both. The album, recorded in two days in 1981, is a 14-song (plus two bonus tracks included for the reissue) domineering blast of punk aggression, with the guitar riffs of Terry “Hollywood” Howe blowing holes in the proceedings like a quarter stick of dynamite. All the hardcore touchstones are here: songs about civilization dying (“Civilizations Dying”) and America generally blowing in the ‘80s (“Livin’ in the 80’s”), wrapped up in svelte, power-packed songs that rarely touch the two-minute mark. But while their contemporaries were trying to lob the heads off the moshers in their crowds, the Zero Boys were more melodic, striking a delicate balance between the Descendants and the Minutemen.
But there’s nothing on Vicious Circle to cause total reevaluation of the current hardcore deities (Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, etc.). For hardcore completists looking for proof that hardcore existed between New York and L.A. in the 1980s, it’s a must have. For everyone else, it’s a competent hardcore album that deserves more attention than it received in the early ‘80s, but not deification.