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While Zero Boys have never received the same amount of fanfare as bands like the Dead Kennedys or Minor Threat, the impact and influence the Indianapolis quartet made on the punk and hardcore scene should not be underestimated. The band's 1982 debut Vicious Circle unleashed a snotty blend of fiery choruses and intelligent lyrics — with frontman Paul Mahern's straightforward tenor cruising through quick blasts of punk — making it an essential listening experience. And now, 32 years later, Zero Boys are back with their fourth full length, Monkey (the band's first release since 1993's The Heimlich Maneuver), and they've barely missed a beat.
Any doubt that the 20-plus years between releases might have softened Mahern and company (now Dave Lawson, Scott Kellogg, Mark Cutsinger) vanishes within the first ten seconds of opening track, "Anti-Breakdown," with the snarl of Lawson's guitar setting the tone. Mahern's vocals have always carried a particular swagger and it's stronger than ever throughout the album's fifteen tracks. The riot-inducing "Static Casket" features the vocalist at his brattiest best, injecting the sort of ear worm that won't leave your head for weeks. The one-two punch of "Someone To Blame" and "Upload" showcases the band's precise musicianship, while the furious "Monkey Meat" utilizes a scuffling drum loop courtesy of Cutsinger alongside Lawson's hard-charging riffs, resulting in one of Monkey's finest cuts. And even though the majority of Monkey advances sonically from Vicious Circle, it's not all hardcore – "White Face" and "Almost Cried" conjure up some pre-punk noise.
Much like Zero Boys' previous releases, Mahern's lyrical themes provide the substance; he cruises through topics like gender dysphoria (the blistering "Sex Change"), political corruption ("Someone To Blame") and the angst of everyday living (pick any of Monkey's 15 tracks). The message Zero Boys have incorporated into each release — no matter how far apart — is why the band has persevered as one of the genre's most influential acts for punks young and old. Combined that with the album's varying degrees of intensity and Mahern's still-incredible tenor, and it's easy to see why Zero Boys continue to resonate 20 years later.