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Zoo Tom Watson , March 9th, 2012 12:11

Just under two years ago punk vocalist Ross Farrar spat out the shocking idiom: "Sick of Black Flag. Sick of Cro Mags." The throwaway jibe echoed around basement venues, provoking rapturous hysteria. At that moment, Farrar seemed to have spin-kicked through the door to the third dimension, propelling Ceremony from hardcore impersonators to punk rock libertines. In fact, their 2010 offering, Rohnert Park, left two-stepping, straight edge pitters scratching their temples and awkwardly hugging their XL, black-on-black, Trash Talk tees. Its staggered pace made for their slowest (but angriest) record to date, copying the sounds of Husker Du and leaving the blast beat for the more sprightly HxC acts.

Yet, on reflection, Ceremony's genre perving has mutated faster than the length of debut release, Violence Violence (a cavalcade of 20 songs lasting on average a minute each, giving Circle Jerks a run for their money). Their band is aging, and with age comes a slower reaction to movement and a general lack of tolerance towards everything. So yes, old man Farrar has every right to shout "sick of Black Flag, sick of Cro Mags." They're growing up, more bitter and nostalgic than ever.

With that, their debut with Matador is another progressive step towards maturity. Just like Fucked Up's David Comes to Life, Ceremony's Zoo hails elements of Bauhaus art-punk experimentation - twelve songs desperately exploring the limitations of anger. And while the spirit of hardcore still grasps like a stubborn parasite, Zoo embraces the evolution of punk and all its elusive subcategories.

The record begins with 'Hysteria': a recurring theme throughout Ceremony's career. At heart, the single is familiar Rohnert Park territory. Crunchy power chords claw the throat of Farrar as he dazedly wails like a drunk Danzig. However, differences are instantly recognizable - one is the lack of growl in Farrar's projection. In its stead is a contemptuous Mark E Smith slur. He apathetically hollers his way through songs such as 'Repeating the Circle' and 'Nosebleed' as they doggedly rumble with Melvins-esque humour and Wipers-style energy. The other obvious change is the fine-tuned production standard courtesy of John Goodmanson (previous works include Blood Brothers, Unwound and Bikini Kill).

Despite the rapid move away from thrash, Goodmanson has helped Ceremony sound harder and heavier than ever. The ballsiness of 'Citizen', the Siouxsie Sioux-ness of 'Hotel', the pogo rousing punchiness of 'Brace Yourself': all have been approached with militant precision and professionalism.

Zoo, however, will not appeal to Ceremony purists still jamming to 'Still Nothing Moves You'. It's an LP with unfathomable depth and thought. Lyrically, it hurdles over predictability. Farrar becomes more introverted and reflective on 'Quarantine' and 'Adult' as he uncontrollably repeats phrases over and over with psychopathic finesse. And with this depth comes a diatribe of influences stranding light years outside of the incestuous hardcore scene. Most notably is the finale track, Video. Its empty, vacuous melancholy wafts a potent scent of The xx indie gloom.

Before Zoo was released, hardcore bands were overheard saying "I hear it's an indie album." But it's more than that: Ceremony's fourth LP is their most solid demonstration of punk awareness. They have smashed through the delicate sheath that protects punk from the rest of alternative music. It's an album that analyses the genre as a launching pad to other things, and while Farrar insists in 'Adult' that "We have to give up on things we love sometimes," Ceremony's misanthropy has never sounded more genuinely punk.