Paint It Black...Fucked Up...and now...Ceremony...um... Are we in the middle of a hardcore renaissance? While detractors from both inside the scene and out declared that "hardcore was stale" pretty much as soon as Black Flag slapped the "As a parent...I found it an anti-parent record" on Damaged in 1981, it seems lately that we've got a new crop of bands going in fascinating new directions. These newer bands are taking the body of hardcore, sandblasting away every cliché, overused pattern and cheap trick, leaving the identifiable skeleton, and injecting surprising and clever elements, creating a creature that is definitely still hardcore, but is also fresh.
After dropping the teaser single "Sick" earlier this year, Bay Area-based Ceremony has just released Rohnert Park, an album that celebrates the best parts of the classic hardcore sound while tying in some adventurous and unexpected material, making an album that is downright hardcore and also downright...exciting.
Throughout Rohnert Park, Ceremony keeps throwing curveballs that don't feel like curveballs at all--they drop in unusual elements, but these strange pieces feel completely natural alongside their more traditional material. The album opens with "Into the Wayside," an almost mellow surf rock instrumental, which remains a recurring thread throughout both sides of the LP. But, as soon as you coast in onto the shores, Ceremony snaps into attack mode with the vicious "Sick," where Ross Farrar just vomits out what's been bugging him--which is pretty much everything. But, while repetition can be the death of a lot of hardcore, Ceremony builds upon the recurring structure, increasing the intensity with each refrain, until the song basically collapses in upon itself, echoing both the simplicity and pure genius of early Black Flag.
Plus, it helps that the band sounds so damn unique. While a lot of extreme music uses the instrument to create a wall of muddled chaos, Rohnert Park is filled with killer hooks that if slowed down, cleaned up and dressed in a respectable suit would fit at home on a Nuggets compilation. But of course, they don't clean them up, which gives the band the appearance that they might shatter at any second.
But, just when you think that Rohnert Park will be a relentless pummeling, it snaps back into the "Into the Wayside" theme, and drops in a vocal clip where an audibly shaken man talks about his confrontation with death at an early age. What makes the album so inviting is that while the band uses traditional minute-thirty screamers as guideposts, they also drop in some slow-paced hypnotic numbers that recall Nirvana as much as Joy Division.
Through all the chaos and calm, Farrar (sounding somewhat like a cross between Perry Farrell and Stza) spouts some intensely personal lyrics that tell a story much bigger than just what concerns the subjects. Take for instance on "'Back in '84" where Farrar recounts a tale of a messy birth (I think) that seems to be as much a cry of desperation as one of victory: "Back in '84 I nearly choked on the u-cord / until my dad came and cut me loose / he said, 'the pain you felt today, it will never go away' / and 'the best way out is always through.'"
Is hardcore stale and constrained by its own rules? Maybe from where you are, brother, but I'm over here listening to Ceremony's Rohnert Park, and what they're doing would knock Mona Lisa's teeth out.