Review Summary: Living in the doldrums, walking in the doldrums, floating through the doldrums, wandering the doldrums all day.
Rohnert Park hardcore troupe Ceremony seems determined to avoid being pigeonholed. Since 2005 they have been persistent in their quest to find new and interesting ways to display their tangible, exurban frustrations. Initially, they seemed to be one of the better purveyors of the inexplicably angry, borderline-melodramatic hardcore that is becoming increasingly commonplace in today’s scene. Most recently, despite their claims of being “sick of Black Flag, sick of Cro Mags”, their debts to 1980’s hardcore were unapologetically displayed on 2010’s ‘Rohnert Park’. ‘Zoo’, however, finds Ceremony attempting to (gasp) tone down their characteristically unbridled aggression in favour of a more varied sonic pallet that borrows from both 1970’s punk and contemporary garage punk.
On paper, this curious hybrid of genres and scenes seems to promise to produce an enjoyable, excitingly varied album, regardless of its muted sense of anger. Unfortunately, however, their former aggression is replaced by an anaemic disposition that neither excites or inspires, and instead languishes amidst a wave of effect-ridden guitars and a dully thudding rhythm section. Thus, any energy or hint of a spark the album had is reduced to a pedestrian stomp. That ‘Zoo’ was hyped as “capturing the frustrations of exurban living” could not be more apt. However, it seems that the album achieves this unintentionally: ‘Zoo’ is purgatorial, caught between the excitement of the city and the mundane, lifeless middle-ground of the exurban setting it seeks to denounce and escape. The angst that created ‘Zoo’ could have birthed something relatable and cathartic, instead, what we’re left with is a frustrating wait for something much more vital and meaningful.
This being said, it is not all tedium, for when Ceremony allow more time and space for their tracks to develop the results are much more pleasing. ‘Hotel’
s fractured interplay creates a compellingly unnerving ambiance; ‘Video’
is a sprawling finale, repeatedly swelling from a drone to a liberating wall of sound; the brooding bass line that lurks beneath bright, yet brash guitars on ‘Adult’
gives the track the sense of abandonment Ceremony ache to bestow elsewhere. However, the vast majority of ‘Zoo’ is made up of awkward, plodding tracks with a common lack of direction owing to their short running time and pithy structures. The simplicity of the guitars owes much to some of the big names of 1970’s punk, while their vacuousness is unsuccessfully masked by layer after layer of hollow guitar effects. The end product is ultimately a unsatisfying blend of temporally anachronistic, garage-influenced hardcore punk that fails to provide relief from the doldrums it seeks to escape.
If there’s one thing Ceremony is to be commended for on ‘Zoo’ it’s that they are certainly not afraid to experiment. After all, their transition from sub-minute, exaggerated outbursts of hardcore fury to effect-ridden punk that nods to both garage and classic punk, via 80’s-influenced hardcore is a bold move. However, it could be that their perpetual skin-shedding reflects an identity crisis – especially when ‘Zoo’ is as disaffectedly vacant as it is. Their attempts to channel the frustration of exurban living results only in a bewildering lack of direction, meaning and enjoyability, and so ultimately, they fail. Overall, ‘Zoo’ is nowhere near the primal force its title connotes, nor is it the expression of angst it is trying to be. Instead, it is an incomprehensible, unclear and humdrum experiment from a band much more suited to simpler, angrier brushstrokes. Perhaps Ceremony were being serious when they claimed to be sick of hardcore.