Ceremony (Photo: Shawn Brackbill)

Ceremony doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks it should sound like. Over the course of its four full-length albums, the band has routinely smashed expectations. Starting as a powerviolence band, then slowly working its way back through hardcore’s history, it’s as if Ceremony progressed through historically regressing. On 2012’s Zoo, the band was at a crossroads, with one foot still in hardcore and the other attempting to embrace the Joy Division influences that its name always implied. Though that hardcore pedigree will always undercut whatever sounds the California quintet is making, The L-Shaped Man is the band’s first album to act as if hardcore never happened. Instead, the LP is more like the best album Ian Curtis never made.

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Where singer Ross Farrar’s vocals used to sound like a gnarling junkyard dog, on The L-Shaped Man he’s taken to singing in his best baritone. A bit of his grit surfaces here and there, like on the agitated “Root Of The World,” but for the bulk of the album he’s showing that he can make the jump from screaming to singing without losing his personality. Even on tracks like “Bleeder,” where Farrar’s voice sounds the most distant, plenty of emotion punctuates his phrases.

That juxtaposition becomes only more pronounced over the course of the record. As the band settles into hypnotic, post-punk grooves, Farrar’s lyrics see him wrestling with the dissolution of a relationship that lasted for half a decade. The L-Shaped Man may contain elements indicative of a concept album—song titles like “The Separation” and “The Understanding” suggest as much—but it’s a concept record insomuch that it’s based around a singular set of circumstances, not a cast of characters and fabricated actions.

Though it’s been trendy for punk and hardcore bands to skew toward post-punk in recent years, none have made it feel less like an affectation than Ceremony. The L-Shaped Man adds context to Zoo’s post-punk/hardcore hybrid, showing it for the transitional step that it was all along. On The L-Shaped Man, there’s no question of Ceremony’s intent or authenticity. After all, it was five years ago that Farrar claimed he was sick of Black Flag, and with The L-Shaped Man it appears he’s found a cure.

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