[sic] Magazine

Ceremony – Zoo

You can’t be full of teenage vitriol for ever, at least not convincingly, but this isn’t news to Bay Area band Ceremony (former “power-violence” pioneers named after a Joy Division track, rather than Skywave / A Place To Bury Strangers affiliates of the same name). Having already evolved from super-charged hardcore through breathless thrash and dark sludge-punk to EPs full of covers including Wire ‘s seminal “Pink Flag” and 2010’s garage-indebted Rohnert Park LP, it’s with little surprise that Zoo now runs amok with quasi-commercial appeal.

Now calling Matador home for the first time (equally the stable of fellow punks Fucked Up ), Ceremony not only find themselves at a commercial crossroads, but also now stood on a launch-pad capable of casting them under the gaze of the greater alternative crowd for the first time. And, for fresh ears in particular, there’s much to recommend here – the poppy skip and jangling concessions of tracks like “Quarantine”, which, perhaps, belies schooling in pre-stadium Green Day , ought to win the band new sales for example.

Yet, depending on where you’re coming from, that same sound could easily be written off as some strain of MOR. What’s certain is that there’s a sense of the quintet holding back on Zoo . Never before, for example, would there have been such a clean guitar solo as on “Citizen”, and a nagging sense of what-could-have-been pervades when one substitutes in instead an explosion of sneering guitar noise. Similarly the choppy chug of “Brace Yourself” would previously have been a gateway to some bruising onslaught and the catalogue of sleepy bedding and generic echo that comes in the way of compensation isn’t entirely satisfactory.

Saving the show, however, are sufficient silver linings. Not a million miles from the guitar structure of Cerebral Ballzy ‘s hipster-hardcore anthem “Don’t Tell Me What To Do”, the caustic opener “Hysteria”, though slowed and less snotty, remains a powerful garage-punk statement rife with fuzz and shout-along vocals. Sandwiched between a couple of non-events, “Nosebleed” more than makes itself heard via a menacing bass line, waves of crashing cymbal and siren-like peels of guitar during its bridge.

Redolent of the clanging post-punk of The Fall , “Repeating The Circle” makes full use of a ponderous bass line and some squalling feedback – a sound the charging “Adult” betters, allowing its guitar to ring out beneath Ross Farrar ‘s frayed vocal, the track building to an impressive and frenetic blowout comprised of decades-old dissonance.

Bands age. Bands grow up. Inevitably they’ll lose some of their intensity. Typically, you’ve then got to diversify or die. Ceremony’s hits still gloss over their misses and that’s can’t be ignored. Matador may have a job on their hands finding sufficient new fans to float Ceremony indefinitely, but there’s life in them yet.

Advised downloads: “Hysteria” and “Adult”.

~Zoo is out now on Matador .~