At its outset, Ceremony made its bones as an intense throwback to early American hardcore. But by its 2012 Matador debut Zoo, the East Bay outfit had largely outgrown its thrashy pedigree, opting for a more nuanced sound in step with Public Image Ltd and Wire. On its latest effort, The L-Shaped Man, the band more or less makes a clean break from its ferocious musical origins. Thunderous power chords have been replaced with dark, ambient post-punk sounds cribbed squarely from New Order, Bauhaus, and Nick Cave. Hardcore now feels like a distant memory.
Much of the band’s steel-nerved aggression has come to pass in favor of brooding melody, but the frustration and pain that’s always fueled Ceremony’s most volatile moments is still very much in play. It’s just that instead of chomping its way through boredom and malaise as it did on past efforts, they wrestle with a much more personal hurt on The L-Shaped Man. Informed by a few painful breakups, the record’s macabre sob rock suits frontman Ross Farrar’s wounded worldview, one clouded by darkness and doubt. “Nothing in this world is fine,” the singer cautions on “Exit Fears”. “Nothing ever feels right/ You have to tell yourself that you tried.”
There’s very little relief from heartache on The L-Shaped Man, but it’s such an emotionally naked record that its bleakness is oddly invigorating. As producer, John Reis (Rocket from the Crypt) extracts the cavernous, echoey feel of those old Joy Division and New Order records perfectly on tracks like “Your Life In France” and “Root of the World”. The frustration is as real as ever, but the band’s maturity in grappling with pain is what makes their fifth full-length their best yet. “Can you measure the loss?” Farrar asks on the catchy-as-hell single “The Separation”. Its 11 tracks arrive in the form of a truly cathartic musical statement.
Essential Tracks: “Exit Fears”, “Your Life In France”, and “The Separation”