Sometimes the hardest albums to review are the disappointing ones, the ones that you sincerely wished could be better than they actually are. Sometimes you can’t even put your finger on why something disappoints you like it does. But on occasion you can demonstrate exactly what makes a record such a letdown. The issue in Ceremony’s new album Zoo is pretty easy to pinpoint.
Ceremony made its name playing the heaviest, fastest hardcore around. 2006’s breakout album Violence Violence featured 13 songs in as many minutes, and three of those were fewer than 30 seconds long. But importantly, the band always grasped for something more, trying to evolve its sound from its hardcore roots. Their last two albums have showcased an entirely original brand of punk, fusing sludgy metal and blistering screamo into something entirely new and different.
But this isn’t meant to be a “they used to sound like this, and now they sound like this” kind of review. The reason Zoo is such a disappointment has nothing to do with Ceremony changing its sound; after all, they always were a thoroughly progressive hardcore band. Instead, they’ve arguably regressed, tossing out the memorable lyrics and diverse influences of old, and choosing only stale bits of punk history to replace them.
Ross Farrar’s vocals used to range from a ferocious bark to a melodic warble. But on tracks like “World Blue” he seems stuck in a Johnny Rotten sneer, mimicking rather than leading.
That’s an apt description of the songs, which, at the best of times, mine the dregs of classic garage-punk like MC5 and the Ramones. “Repeating the Circle” is driven by a single repeating bass riff, and features an atonal anti-solo at the end; in my book, this should be an A-plus. But even “Hysteria” with its “woah-oh-oh” chant-along chorus fails to excite.
Ceremony’s worship for their forebears belies one fact that listening to Zoo makes abundantly clear: Punk really has improved since the Sex Pistols exploded on to the world stage in the 1970s. And perhaps this is what makes it so disappointing: I’d rather just listen to any of the many other bands doing something new and interesting with the same tools (i.e., loud guitars and a love of Black Flag) that Ceremony used to harness with such power, but seems to have neglected here. Here’s to hoping the band is more exciting in the future.