Vicious Circle – Technical PrecisionWednesday, 19th September 2018
During the 1980’s, if you wanted deeper understanding of heavy metal – it wasn’t necessarily that easy to find at your fingertips. You relied on friends, magazines, radio shows if you had a strong enough signal to get them in, and the burgeoning development of music programming like Headbangers Ball. And if you were fortunate enough and craved more, you started tape trading. What does this have to do with the following band Vicious Circle you ask? Well – they developed in the late 80’s, releasing three demos and eventually signing a deal with JL America for their debut album Cryptic Void – pummeling listeners with an intense exercise in technical thrash with death nuances.
As you’ll discover in this interview with founding guitarist Vinny DiBianca, there have been many twists and turns in the decades since within the VC camp. You’ll understand why there have been long gaps between recordings, the numerous vocalist changes, and also why the band have returned to crush the world through their latest EP Unearthed Precision.
Dead Rhetoric: Vicious Circle originally started in the late 80’s. Take us back into those early days – how did the lineup come together, and did you know right away the type of music you wanted to play or was it a trial and error, feeling out process?
Vinny DiBianca: Previous to Vicious Circle, I had been in a few bands with Brian Chicano. One was in 1984 when I was in high school. I guess this is when the heavy music was just starting to come around. We were just experimenting back then around 1984-85. They were always short lived. I was in another band in 1987 called Denial. We were almost doing crossover, it was a mix between the aggressive, hardcore feel and thrash that was coming in. That only lasted about a year, and myself and Dave (Surran), drummer of Vicious Circle as well were in that band – we wanted to experiment more with the technical side, I wanted to get a lot more technical with the guitar instead of just all bar chords. For two months we were on our own writing material, Denial went on to do a demo and that broke up – Brian came back to us and was ready to venture into the heavy stuff. We put together Vicious Circle at the very end of 1987, and started going in 1988- we knew what kind of music we wanted to do. It was finding its way back then – we were just as much a part of the experimentation in South New Jersey, no one was doing this – the only other band from our part of Jersey that was doing anything heavy was Faith or Fear – and they were very much like Overkill on steroids.
Dead Rhetoric: You recorded three demos prior to signing with JL America for your debut full-length Cryptic Void. How do you look back upon the three demos as far as strengths, weaknesses, and overall impact through the media and public?
DiBianca: The very first demo was very close to the way Denial was, but still a little more technical on the guitar. But there was no joking about it, it was very serious, heavy vocals. We didn’t do anything much with that, we used that first demo to get out and start playing. Back in the day, we had a studio bassist – we got to know Dave DiGiacomo and he was like if we wanted to start playing out live, he’ll be our bass player. In 1989 that happened because we started to play out. By the time we started writing for Mutated Form, it was a lot heavier than the first demo. I was always that type of person that wanted things a little bit more crazy, a little bit more heavy. Whenever a band came out that was heavier than the next, I just loved them. I was never really drawn to the vocals, more to the music- I’m more of an instrumental type of person. I used to like bands that didn’t have vocals at all – but that’s kind of not the way you put a band together you know?
We went forward with that- the last song we wrote on that was “Mutated Form”. And Mel (Leach) was a big part of that on bass. I like the way this is starting to go. By the time Fist of God came out- the final demo- we were feeling our own sound. We weren’t confused on where we wanted to go- we knew what we were capable of doing. That caught the attention of JL America. The material got better, and a lot closer of where we wanted to be by the time our debut album came out.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you come to gain a deal with JL America, and how do you feel overall regarding Cryptic Void as far as the songwriting, production, and outcome? Were there any specific obstacles or surprises that came up during this process?
DiBianca: The way we got onto JL America – between the Mutated Form and Fist of God demos, we ended up retaining a manager. A local fella… John Finberg. He ended up getting pretty big in the booking world. He lived in Philly and he used to manage us. He was the one that took the demo and brought the deal to us. It’s a new label, they are taking on a lot of new bands with a touch of death and heaviness. We said, hell yeah- let’s do it. We were starting to dabble a bit into the deathier style. We took that on a little bit.
The obstacles. On the recording, we were rushed as far as that- we had to have the finished product to the label on a certain day and I remember John just hammering us to get this done. We really rushed mixing and the mastering – we did it with Bill Berends at Wide Range Sound in Mount Holly. It was where a local glam band used to practice. We went to this nice studio, the recording process was fine, but we were rushed for the mixing/mastering. It gives the album a little character, so I wouldn’t change anything about it. It’s raw as hell, I’m pretty happy with it. Just trying to beat time.
Dead Rhetoric: Were you able to do any touring to support the record?
DiBianca: We did, but it was all funded by us. JL America didn’t really give us any tour support. We ended up taking John with us- we toured with Fear of God for a little while. We went down to the south, a two-week tour with them. We played with Deceased at the Bayou in Washington, D.C. as well. They jumped in on that package- that was our last show with Fear of God. We played so many shows and drove everywhere. At that time most of us were still working full-time jobs, but Wednesdays- Sundays we would have shows. We would drive to Connecticut to play the El N Gee Club, with Bolt Thrower, and I would drop the guys off, sleep in the van for half an hour, and then go to work. We did the weekend warrior thing – almost a half week warrior thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What took place during the late 90’s and early 2000’s before your follow up album The Art of Agony in 2004? Were there points in time where activity slowed down or you possibly thought of putting Vicious Circle to bed?
DiBianca: Vicious Circle has been a very love/hate relationship with me. It’s my baby, I founded it and I’m the main songwriter and all that. I’ve always had problems with vocalists- in 1993 we had the opportunity to do more before JL America folded but we had an issue between the band and the singer, and he quit. We had a lot of down time trying to find our second singer, the music wasn’t as popular in South Jersey back then doing the death/thrash thing. We tried people out, we still kept writing, but we didn’t have a full band yet. We ended up finding Brian Cook, he came from a band called Corruption – he came in and knew the whole album. He was a completely different style, he reminded me of Max from Sepultura with Phil from Pantera. We put out another demo with Brian Cook in 1994- we played like crazy. We played with everyone we wanted to play with – the Cell Block was booming back then, we would end up as one of the openers on all these tour packages. We played with Death, Disincarnate, a million other bands we played with.
We parted ways with Brian in 1998 just after the Live Long and Suffer demo came out. We spent a little bit of time looking for a vocalist- and we ended up getting Darrell Rapp. He was in Grunt with Brian Chicano anyway. It was weird because back then nobody played in multiple bands- now you have people jamming in two or three bands. We re-wrote some old songs for The Art of Agony – Darrell had some better ideas. That album was the most deathy album that we have ever done. We never put out the same album because we always had a different vocalist.
Now that we have Brian Cook back, he’s doing really good. I can work a lot better with Brian’s style – he has more than one style. He has hardcore, death, and thrash in his feel – I can do a lot more. So what was holding us back was the vocalist losses. We had tours lined up on Crash Music for The Art of Agony – they were willing to put some money into us if we were going to work. We ended up losing Darrell, and we pissed the label and booking agent off, it came crashing down on us.
Dead Rhetoric: Unearthed Precision is your first release since a demo in 2007 – can you inform the readers of the goings-on between band members in the decade plus long absence, and how recent did the songwriting and performances develop for this four-song EP?
DiBianca: We had that material ready, and we went in and demoed it. It really wasn’t supposed to get out, it was just for us to hear the music. We were going to be putting together this EP, we recorded with a good local friend of ours. We had a lot of down time because of that whole Crash deal going down, losing our booking agent, it held us back. We needed to get out of our mental rut. Meanwhile in 2009 I ran into Jed Simon from Strapping Young Lad. I’ve never ventured away from Vicious Circle ever- he and I were talking at the Kreator/Exodus show over at the Trocadero. He started living in Philly, and he wanted to put a band together on the East Coast. He asked me if I would be interested in jamming, and I said yes. It was a no-brainer. It’s not that I was impatient with Vicious Circle, but everything happens for a reason. I’d be a completely idiot if I said no. We’ve gone through a whole bunch of musician changes, but it’s finally where we have what we need.
From 2009-11 we had another two years of playing out, putting time into writing material for this new project. I took Mel to play bass with me – Jed liked him. There would be arguments going around, and I needed to put Vicious Circle down for a little while. Through that whole time, we tried out a lot of drummers. There were some big names, but they didn’t work out. Then Jed ended up joining Scar the Martyr with Joey Jordison. He spent time getting that to work, so I was sitting around not doing much. I needed a break – I haven’t stop when Vicious Circle started. I know the industry is tough – disappointment after disappointment. I needed to recalculate what is important to me at this point in my life. Scar the Martyr split, and it got recorded but we hadn’t put the final touches on the new Vicious Circle EP. Brian finished the vocals, I finished the guitars – and I listened to how good this sounds. It’s amazing how much I missed VC. We decided to put VC back together- and Jed is a little bit busy so that other band is still around.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s obvious that the band possess technical prowess and adept skills in shifting through thrash and death metal pastures. What qualities does Vicious Circle look for out of each song – is there ever a point where you worry about going too overboard or over the heads of your listeners?
DiBianca: I’ve definitely matured- and we’ve all matured as musicians. We are always learning, you are never ever good enough, and you always can be learning. I’m not looking into reinventing the wheel, but the riffs are going to be more intense because of my influences. I’m very jazz-oriented – I really like that intense and busy stuff, but not so much to where you couldn’t put a vocal line to it. If you can’t, then just let the music play – I have always told every vocalist we’ve ever had, if you can’t think of something – don’t put anything there. The music can be fine at times by itself. I’ve never set out to write a song based around lyrics at all. I wanted the music to be interesting, and I didn’t want to base it around a vocal pattern.
I mess around with a riff, and bring it to the table. We’ll come up with stuff – but I’ve never set out… the technical thing is, I need to be happy with the music. Because it’s me, and Vicious Circle I am the last original guy. I wrote the songs to how I wanted them to be. We would modify things from how I would hear things in my head. In my mind, a guitar solo is just another replacement for your vocalist. It’s another spot for the guitar to take over and have the spotlight instead of the singer.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention your dislike for waiting until the final moments of old Headbangers Ball episodes to see/hear the upcoming and latest thrash videos on Facebook. Do you feel metal consumers are at an advantage in today’s scene to access content because of the numerous social media/streaming sites at their fingertips – or could this be information overload where it’s tougher than ever for new music to stand up to the classics?
DiBianca: Well, yes. If I understand your question – back then you would always have to wait until late at night, there would be a Metalshop radio show. The music wasn’t as popular, and I always liked stuff that nobody else liked. I’ve been a huge horror fan – when I was a kid I grew up watching the horror movies. It was scary and eerie, I was drawn to the obscure music where it would make your mother grab her rosary beads. I still don’t listen to regular free radio. It’s not something that interests me.
When it came to Headbangers Ball, I had to go through a whole bunch of glam stuff to listen to the new Kreator. Or Coroner would come out, and one or two videos at the end of the night. Even with Metalshop – a lot of the heavier stuff came up at the end of the shows. Maybe they wanted to keep their listeners – it is technically a business. I always had to go through some obscure outlet to get my fix of metal. Just to hear Metallica when I was in high school, you had to wait.
Now with the internet, it’s amazing. You don’t even need regular radio anymore. Somebody can put together a website, make their own radio station. You can stream whatever you want, its your channel and your thing. People will pay attention to what you are playing as long as you let them know. There are now so many sub-genres of metal – in the past you were either heavy, or you were not. Now you have death metal, black metal, dark metal, I don’t even know the names that people make up for what they do. I think maybe it is (hard to get noticed), because there is so many bands that are considered metal that I wouldn’t say are metal. When I want to listen to a metal show, sometimes they’ll throw you a bone – but they mix in the mainstream metal of nowadays.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between old school and new school metal bands? How are you handling the changing business model of social media/instant communication promotion versus the days of tape trading, flyering, and word of mouth action?
DiBianca: It’s a lot easier to get your message out with social media- but it makes you a lot lazier. Jed was one of those guys, he heard of Vicious Circle because it passed his desk a couple of times when he was a tape trader. I thought that was really cool – he’s old school like me. People really got into it a lot more because you felt like you were a part of something that no one else was a part of. The tape trading thing was great, it’s how I heard of a lot of bands. There was a kid in my high school, he would sell $2 cassette tapes that had albums on it. I don’t know where he got the albums from – he turned me onto W.A.S.P., Metallica, all kinds of different bands that I didn’t hear of.
I remember making flyers, going to local shows and handing out flyers for another local show. A lot of clubs didn’t like you doing that, but if you talk to them and say that you were just trying to promote the band. I would catch people in the parking lot – or we would have a big radio and I would play our demo and have a box of demos outside the mall. We had to go out and physically show up to shows- that’s where all the metalheads were. It’s so easy to type in a couple of texted words – and boom, you now present yourselves. We spent so much money on stamps sending out flyers for our mailing list for shows. I remember getting letters and reviews from Russia, and I would have to get things translated to understand what they would say.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the game plan for Vicious Circle over the rest of 2018 into 2019 as far as live shows, promotion, videos, future output?
DiBianca: I definitely want to shoot a video for one of the songs. That’s one of those things that I can go with the same guy who did the “Live Long and Suffer” video – or get ahold of someone around here. We are definitely going to keep playing – I want to keep this going. We want to see how people respond to us – do people really care about Vicious Circle. At this point, everybody seems to be really loving it. I definitely want to write more material – our new drummer Brian is a little bit different so I can look forward to the experimentation. I’m looking forward to seeing how the new material goes. It brings the hunger back. Something about bringing Vicious Circle back feels good- I’m not under any kind of pressure. We can do what we want to do – let’s see how far we can take it.