It might be a little misleading to say Ceremony is getting soft in its old age. For one thing, the Bay Area band is hardly old. More importantly, its fourth full-length, Zoo, still positions the band as louder and nastier than most of its compatriots in the punk underground. When placed up against the act’s previous albums of confrontational, Black Flag-indebted hardcore, though, Zoo’s take on thrashing seems downright serene in comparison.
Ceremony doesn’t disavow its ferocious past as much as acknowledge broader ambitions. With a new respect for slower rock tempos, Ceremony emphasizes the love for shadowy, almost gothic elements that always lurked in the background of its songs. “Hysteria” uses gang vocals and grainy guitar tones to strip the sterility from the simple, mechanical precision of Joy Division’s blueprint. “Nosebleed” ventures further into the darkness, riding a deliberate, plodding beat as Ross Farrar’s vocals—wrapped in distortion as everywhere on Zoo—work alongside swells of crash cymbal and meaty guitars to haunt rather than trounce listeners.
Despite the horrors that lurk at the edges of Zoo’s songs, Ceremony is still primarily a punk band. Primordial hooks dominate several songs, as “Adult” hinges on a swinging riff several generations removed from trashy R&B licks. “Community Service” champions a springy, elastic bassline that’d be right at home in the garage. Zoo isn’t as expressly violent as Ceremony’s prior work, but a sense of barely restrained brutality looms large on the album.
That brutality is enough to ensure Ceremony holds onto all of its punk credibility as it grows out of the blueprint that defined its earlier albums. Hardcore bands rarely age gracefully, but Ceremony’s found a way to accentuate its broadest influences without losing touch with its younger, rowdier days.