February 20, 2012

Album Review: Ceremony's Zoo

As 2011 proved, hardcore punk's reemergence and evolution continues on the incline, making for one of the more exciting recent ongoings in the independent scene. Perhaps no band has been more effectively forthcoming with transcending hardcore ideals into uncharted territories than Fucked Up, whose latest release (and list-topping Best Album here on AS) David Comes to Life can be considered the tipping point for the "artsy" breed of hardcore. Of course, their rise has been magnified thanks to support from venerable indie powerhouse Matador Records, a label whose success is directly correlated to their ability to capitalize on innovation before it happens. That's why it wasn't such a huge surprise last summer when Matador announced Bay Area act Ceremony had joined their roster. Darlings of Boston hardcore imprint Bridge Nine, the mostly-straight edge band had a breakthrough with their third LP (and 2nd best of 2012 overall) Rohnert Park, a progressive effort that showcased their obvious potential to be the genre's next game changing band. On their Matador debut Zoo, Ceremony lives up to these expectations by using punk's past as a blueprint to forge its future.

Matador signing taken into account, Ceremony is one of the few bands who've achieved this level of success without compromising a DIY aesthetic that permeates their craft, whether it be shunning all forms of social media or booking cheap ticket shows solely at independent venues. As last year's 6 Cover Songs EP also brought to light, they're a band whose admiration for their predecessors is both diverse and unapologetically open-minded despite a core audience unlikely to embrace music outside the realms of a circle pit. Unfortunately for them, recent interviews with frontman Ross Farrar had him suggesting Zoo was "going to be weirder," and ominously stating to Alternative Press in January that he wasn't "doing his homework as to what's happening in the (hardcore) scene." Those few words speak volumes about the final results, as Zoo really isn't so much a standard hardcore album as it is a modern depiction of how evolved the genre has become.

Zoo marks a first for Ceremony in that its the first time the quintet has worked alongside a producer. Here, it's John Goodmanson (credits includes Blood Brothers' Crimes as well as albums by Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Unwound) whose fine-tuned presence is felt within seconds of Zoo's start. The shredded first single "Hysteria" is the LP's catchiest listen, throttled by layers of riffs that punctuate the track's call-and-response chorus. Alongside other similar thrashing tracks ("World Blue," "Adult," "Ordinary People,") the clean crisped layers of guitars give Ceremony an accessible intensity. It may be the band in their simplest form and an invitation to snarky criticisms about sounding less visceral, but Farrar's sinister snarl and the band's natural aggression are remarkable enough to keep Ceremony's originality in tact despite the obvious influence of '80s hardcore revivalism and post-punk that's scattered somewhere between OFF!, The Buzzcocks and Wire. When Zoo isn't sounding rebuffed by studio time, then it has Ceremony reevaluating the suburban claustrophobia as depicted by the Bay Area's late '70s garage scene ("Citizen," "Quarantine," "Brace Yourself") or glamorized by brooding SoCal surf rock noir ("Repeating the Circle," "Hotel" and "Video," a track that hints to the unlikely XX influence guitarist Anthony Alnzaldo Jr. reportedly cited during Zoo's creation.)

There's a line in "Adult" that sums up Ceremony's direction on Zoo in a few words: "We have to give up on things we love sometime." For a lack of better words, "maturity" has cooperatively forced the reformed hardcore act to re-think their art, and as it turns out, there's more that can be done with punk rock than just rebellion and anarchy. Genre purists be damned if they're unwilling to embrace the cosmetic changes Ceremony have steadily made to achieve the sound culminating here on Zoo. As their fourth LP brilliantly demonstrates, the punkest bands this day in age are the ones which can grow up without breaking up and dive headfirst into finding out what's on the other side of the light once they reach the point of no return.

Ceremony's Zoo will be released March 6, 2012 on Matador Records.


  1. I keep revisiting this review to further my interpretation of this album and I have a couple points that came to me through my listenings. (I'm not very good at music criticism, critical thinking and writing in general so bare (Bear?) with me.) 1. My favorite track on the album is Repeating the Circle because it reminded me so much of The Fall (the bass line, guitar melody, hell even the lead singer has an affectation similar to Mark E. Smith, though a more coherent, less inebriated but equally brilliant one and maybe I just made the connection because my knowledge of punk doesn't stretch much past that... (heh there I go again, tearing myself down.) but also kinda like The Fall's album this album is really fun - to listen to, to dance to, and it sounds like the guys making it were having fun - which is a big factor to me because one of my main criticisms of hardcore punk (and metal) is that its too self-serious and doesn't sound fun, maybe I hold that opinion because I'm not very educated in either of those genres? and this blog is actually kinda helping me get deeper into appreciating modern hardcore. So Thanks. This comment was awful huh, you probably won't even see it, lol.

    With Embarrassment,


  2. The important thing is that you're pushing yourself to analyze the music, so your comment was A+ as far as I'm concerned! And I agree -- Hardcore tends to take itself too seriously at times, but Ceremony are doing their best to change that assumption.