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Ceremony, the very well celebrated punk band of Northern California (Rohnert Park to be specific) has put out their fifth studio album “The L-Shaped Man” on Matador Records. I must say, I was really impressed by this album especially in relation to how much of a departure “The L-Shaped Man” seems from their previous album “Zoo”.

Ceremony, is a punk band that originally formed in 2005 and had their first release on bay-area based Deathwish Records with their modern hardcore masterpiece “Violence Violence”. Clocking in at a whole of 20 minutes and 31 seconds, Ceremony really explored how to build up intensity in songs and really mastered the punk ideology of the short and sweet song. Ceremony, at this point, felt more in line with bands like the Minutemen or even the Descendents with making short fast songs that still explored past their own hardcore boundaries.

In 2008, the band released their second album, “Still Nothing Moves You”, on Bridge Nine Records. Although this album shared a lot in common with their first album, Ceremony seemed to have mastered their fast-slow dynamic at this point in their musical career. The band’s use of slower beats and tempos existed past fast songs with build-up and felt like more of a cohesive whole. Also, Ceremony started showing their more non-hardcore side with songs that sound more like black metal tracks at times, and really good ones too.

With the band’s third album, “Rohnert Park LP”, their was a very noticeable shift in the bands sound that reflected their more modern influences. No longer did the band fall fully in line with hardcore, but instead more resembled a modern interpretation of British post-punk. Where there was once the Suicidal Tendencies, Minor Threat, and the Circle Jerks seemed to be replaced with Wire, Joy Division, and Public Image Ltd. Songs like “The Doldrums” and “Terminal Addiction” really helped to bridge the gap in between all of these scattered influences and helped to create probably the best punk record of 2010.

After the “Rohnert Park LP”, Ceremony moved from Bridge Nine Records to the iconic Matador Records to release their fourth album “Zoo”. I’ll be completely honest with this, I felt “Zoo” was a bit of a let down. The recording quality to so lo-fi to the point where it negatively impacted the final mix and most of the songs seemed to be a band that wanted to be Wire just a little too much. Also, song writing on the album was a bit lackluster with very generic distorted garage guitars a la Black Lips and very boring lyrics. Although this was the band’s most accessible release, by no means is it their best.

This finally brings us to “The L-Shaped Man” which is not only a musical departure from the band’s previous album but almost a musical departure from their entire discography. The once hardcore band still holds on to their hardcore ideals, but hardcore themes now show up very little on this album.

Ceremony, on this album, sound more like an 1980s era post-punk/goth band along the lines of Bauhaus, early Cure, or Echo and the Bunnymen. Tracks like “Bleeder” and “The Separation” really show a more modern take on this very well explored gothic style that’s still emulated by bands even today in countries around the world, but ceremony still adds their own flavor into the mix adding a breath of fresh air to a genre once turned stale in the darkened corners of high school stairwells across the US. The bass and guitar on this album are very stripped back and the guitar isn’t even present at some points of the album and it’s fantastic. The album essentially builds upon the base line set by the bands rhythm section and then the band very delicately add guitar and vocals as if they were cherries on an ice cream sundae. I do really love how the band really builds up intensity on some of these tracks as well, a personal favorite being “Your Life In France” where the song starts with a very stripped back rhythm and then adds upon it to create an unsettling eerie atmosphere that not only build up the song, but build up your emotions.

If somebody were to give me this album 3 months ago and tell me that this would be Ceremony’s next release, I’m not sure if I would believe them. “The L-Shaped Man” is definitely not the young hardcore punk Ceremony I originally fell in love with. Instead, this is a more matured Ceremony that doesn’t care about genre pressure or musical boundaries. It is clearly obvious from this album, that Ceremony just wants to make good music and I’m all for it. In a similar musical departure from Joy Division’s “An Ideal for Living” EP to “Unknown Pleasures” a punk style was fully replaced with some completely different, yet something completely better.

TL;DR Get this album