I’m going to say it right off the bat: anytime a hardcore band does something that isn’t the stereotypical hardcore sound, it gets automatically bumped up at least one full letter grade for ingenuity in its genre. That may be unfair, but it is one of those things that can’t be fully understood until you’ve actually listened to hardcore bands and the albums they put out. The genre is famously limited by its constraints and often times, when good hardcore bands find their formula, they stick with it.
Oakland’s Ceremony is not one of those bands. Ceremony have pretty much thumbed their nose and shoved a few middle fingers up in the air with every single album they’ve put out. And stepping back reveals a certain degree of musical progression happening throughout their career – so it wasn’t much of a surprise when Matador Records picked up Ceremony to release the band’s new album, Zoo. After all, Ceremony had become a band that was done making hardcore music. Or at least, that is what vocalist Ross Farrar had alluded to in a few interviews within the past year. And he wasn’t exactly lying. Exaggerating, maybe.
Zoo is lacking the extreme amounts of vitriol and spit that swamped the band’s previous albums, but at the heart of Zoo‘s sound, it is still clearly a hardcore album. Just take a listen to the opening track. “Hysteria” follows a very simple musical beat and a very simple musical progression; pretty much the only thing missing from Ceremony of old is the angry, seething vocals. This is a big departure. On previous Ceremony records, Farrar’s vocals yelped like a strangled dog and he fired off lyrics like a machine gun. This time around, there is a slight wash to them, though the lyrics tie in nicely with the hardcore realm. There is still a heavy jaded tone throughout the album, but they are often the weakest spot on Zoo. Farrar is often reduced to repeating phrases repeatedly for emphasis, but the emphasis is lost when such repetition carries on for multiple songs (see: “Hysteria”, “Citizen”, and “Quarantine”).
Ceremony is putting out an old school effort here, but it’s less vintage in the hardcore genre. Although the influences are present, this isn’t a Black Flag rip-off or a Circle Jerks cover album. Ceremony are pulling more from an NYC punk rock vibe here, and it wouldn’t be surprising if further down this road they end up with a New York Dolls-produced album. The issue at heart, though, is that what Ceremony is doing here has already been done. So while the band receives props for breaking out of the hardcore realm that is lorded over by heavy breakdowns and mosh riffs, Ceremony – like most hardcore bands straying from the given formula – are hardly breaking new ground here. If anything, like previous Ceremony albums, they are angering an equal amount of old fans as they are gaining new ones. Though seeing as how this has been the band’s formula throughout its career, it doesn’t appear to be much of an issue.