CEREMONY doesn't much like justifying the sonic sea change found on their new album Zoo. And they're pretty sick of defending their new label, indie monolith Matador Records, as if Matador were some puppet master hell-bent on taming the ferocious ghost of Ceremony's past.
"I don't like having to explain my motives a lot and justify myself or the band," explains guitarist Anthony Anzaldo. "I know where we came from. I know where our heart is, and I know that what we've done is honest. To me, that comes across bright as day in the record, but to have to keep explaining that gets a little tiring."
For your edification: The Rohnert Park, California, quintet's origins as a punishing, pissed-off glob of growling aggression in the fertile fields of NorCal's hardcore scene lies in pretty stark contrast with Ceremony's evolution to a jangly post-punk outfit. Frontman Ross Farrar has swapped his typically vicious vocal attack for a more modest—but still aggressive—delivery. The guitars are still big, meaty, and riff heavy, but instead of relying on the relentless injection of breakneck beats and minor-chord chaos, the band now builds songs around a single chord, or even a single note. It's a point of interest that has inspired unwitting listeners to delve into the band's back catalog for copies of their first full-length, Violence Violence, with its brief intense blasts of hardcore sound.
Farrar has noted that Zoo is actually Ceremony's most comprehensive record to date, especially in terms of continuity—something that Anzaldo agrees with. But weighing artistic evolution against fan loyalty is a relative quagmire to agonize over for any band.
"There are a lot of opinions regarding our new album," Anzaldo says. "The people who have already been into us have a completely different perception of the record than those people who are just hearing about us now. It's really comprehensive, but it kind of [depends on] who's listening."
For Ceremony neophytes—or just discerning listeners—Zoo is a fantastic capsule of a band hitting its stride, melding the urgency of bottom-heavy punk with the measured stoicism of maturing rock 'n' roll devotees. The single "Hysteria" opens with an echo of their hardcore heritage, with menacing open chords and a driving kick drum. But it quickly blooms through that heaviness to pave the way for Zoo's Pixies-esque compositions, like "Repeating the Circle," "Hotel," and "Nosebleed"—explosions of bass-anchored, eddying guitar trippers that stand out as the album's high-water marks.
What Zoo delivers is something of an extension of the hardcore exile Ceremony flirted with on their 2010 LP Rohnert Park. The devolving trilogy of tunes on that album—together dubbed "Into the Wayside"—prophesied an about-face of sorts, specifically on its first installment, "Into the Wayside Part 1/Sick," which featured the lyrics "Sick of Black Flag/sick of Cro-Mags... sick of hardcore," among many other things that Farrar was totally sick of (including "trying" and "starting over"). The writing was on the wall even then; a point Anzaldo is reticent in admitting.
"We just went into the practice space and wrote what sounded good to us," says Anzaldo. "There was no discussion like, 'We need to not use these parts anymore,' or 'We need to sound this way.' We were always evolving as people and as musicians. Zoo is just a reflection upon that."