It seemed like few bands in 2006 were implementing elements of classic hardcore punk into their sound in a way that was as refreshing and brutal as the California-based outfit Ceremony.
Their 2006 debut “Violence Violence” was a calloused and absolutely devastating record that presented its 13 songs in a blistering 13 minutes. This brutality, married with a more experienced level of songwriting, set the stage for the 2008 follow-up “Still Nothing Moves You,” whose songs, albeit more refined, still possessed the ferocity of ’80s hardcore.
Taking a more artistic approach on 2010’s “Rohnert Park” LP and 2012’s “Zoo,” Ceremony began to implement elements of art-punk and post-punk into their already established sound that had landed them both success and unwavering loyalty among their fans.
In 2015, the band released “The L-Shaped Man,” a decided turn from the band’s established sound that drew from many of the favorable elements of new wave and post-punk. “The L-Shaped Man” saw Ceremony’s signature dark and moody lyrics put to ambient post-punk instrumentals that felt dissociative and oddly refreshing. It was a record that exists as a mark on Ceremony’s discography that is as weird as it is intentional.
On “In the Spirit World Now,” Ceremony savagely kicks the dead horse of post-punk as they abandon all signs of “the band Ceremony” and sacrifice creativity for a record that doesn’t seem to belong anywhere but the shelf of the closest Urban Outfitters.
White T-shirts, black boots or loafers and not-so-modestly cuffed old denim can accurately describe the aesthetic of “In the Spirit World Now.” The leading single “Turn Away the Bad Thing” opens the record with a barrage of reverb-soaked instrumentals, bass lines that would cause Peter Hook to turn and shudder and a boring vocal delivery from singer Ross Farrar. In fact, Farrar spends most of the record lazily crooning in an emotionless stupor that seems entirely directionless.
The title track, “In the Spirit World Now,” is a song that, if you’re old or hip enough to remember the ‘80s, leaves listeners with a dilemma; should I keep this up or should I just go listen to The Cars? “/” is a brief spoken-word interlude that is reminiscent of some of the artistic choices that Ceremony implemented in some of their earlier and most important works.
“Say Goodbye to Them” is a funky and frantic tune with pointless lyrics and an instrumental derivative of Devo.
“In the Spirit World Now” can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music.
“We Can Be Free” and “Years of Love” are pretty much the exact same song separated by another vague spoken-word interlude titled “//.” After another spoken word interlude, aptly titled “///,” the record finally ends with “Calming Water,” a song whose riff took every good part of The B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” and said, “Yeah, this is okay.”
It’s incredibly difficult to discern what this album is about. In many ways, its demeanor is indicative of some maturity by the band members both inside and outside of Ceremony. In just about every other way, it’s a desperate attempt to capture magic in a bottle or make a record that can stand alongside the aesthetic of “The L-Shaped Man” with a more positive attitude.
Either way, “In the Spirit World Now” is like watching your favorite band decide to break up. While the performances are tight throughout, the record suffers from a noticeable lack of authenticity found in both Ceremony’s earlier works and classic post-punk. Another aspect of “In the Spirit World Now” that puts the nail in the coffin is the record’s production. With all of the reverb, guitar and vocal effects, the mix of “In the Spirit World Now” feels incalculable and entirely flat.
What “In the Spirit World” lacks in creativity, it more than makes up for with misguided ambition. Perhaps if the execution of the somewhat well-thought-out ideas of the record were more interesting, we might have something here. “In the Spirit World Now” seems to buckle under the pressure of its own ambition and falls flat, feeling like a thoroughly medicated version of Ceremony’s previous works.
While “The L-Shaped Man” was a surprising and uncomfortable departure from the band’s sound, it still possessed the basic elements of Ceremony’s songwriting to make it an enjoyable and introspective record. “In the Spirit World” does not. Instead, there is a decided change in atmosphere that would fit better if Ceremony were to call it quits and start over.
While many bands decide to implement stylistic changes as they progress and become more mature as people and musicians, “In the Spirit World” feels like neither a progression nor regression of Ceremony’s artistic endeavors. Rather, it is a record that is more or less doomed to remain a complete departure from Ceremony’s raw, passionate and emotional demeanor that has made their music so enjoyable for over a decade.
Album Rating: 3/10
Matt Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mcampnh.