On a side street of Hackney's Mare Street, the noisier end of Visions Festival is concealed in the basement of The Laundry – it's an unlit space, cluttered with pillars reminiscent to an underground car park with a small stage on one side. Despite appearing half way into the day, Ceremony has been functional for about as long as the previous three bands put together. A decade of playing music has seen them settle as people, despite a nurtured progression from hardcore punk to layered post-punk that laid bare the lyrical nature of their recent record.
Ceremony's last album, The L Shaped Man, is an album that ceased the fury towards the outside to trade it for a more releasing portrait of vocalist Ross Farrar's break up. It’s about the fragile aspects that come with loss, emptiness and the intricate complexities of acceptance and moving on. "These were all conversations that he was having with himself and yeah, it's our first sort of conceptual album," guitarist Anthony Anzaldo explains. "It kind of has one strong, underlying theme all the way about loss. I feel like all of the songs can relate to anyone who’s gone through loss in their life. The lyrics aren’t very poetic either in the sense that they’re very abstract, to the point and stark." One very noticeable trait is that all 36 minutes are notably narrated in the second person throughout. Initially, I gathered it was an attempt to give a fair and balanced report as to how a relationship had finished, but Anthony explains that the characters in the album are just anonymous figures that anyone can ally with. This isn't an album that has a conclusion albeit a very loose orientation on timescale – most moments are the sketches of fractures that happen over and over where time holds no bearing. In low periods, it doesn't matter how long reality is when the mind makes it seem perpetual.
The first two lines of the opening track 'Hibernation' tells us that writing didn't come easy. Depression is a state that only the dangerously ignorant romanticize. When rehearsals did get going, musically it was an intense shift. “John Reese produced our album. He began on tearing the band apart about a week into rehearsals. We practiced the songs with him in the rehearsal room for about ten hours a day for four days. We changed the songs a lot – it affected every song. Structurally, it changed a lot, but we knew what it would sound like and it really helped us.”
Heavier bands are treated on the same foundations; straying away from their roots to dabble in lighter music is the sign of development or "growing up". Ceremony may have followed this path, but there seems to be no plan to return to their previous mould as Anthony explains: "If we started to make music that's heavier and louder now, I feel we'd be going backwards. It would make the music that we've made since those albums sound dishonest."
The night before Visions, I went to the opening of The Moth Club to see Ceremony – this was an increasingly rare case of a venue being opened in a council with a notoriously hostile attitude towards live music. The set is carefully balanced between the fast and the slow, the ferocious and the thoughtful. Three songs into the set, the drum beat for Rohnert Park's opening track 'Sick' starts. It's the first song of their set that isn't from their new album and it goes off. The contrast between both sets of songs is jarring at first. It's not that the songs aren't appreciated – far from it. But for some songs to amass dozens of people on stage to grab Ross' mic followed by a shift to gentle head nodding was an interesting dynamic. "[Songs from The L Shaped Man] They don’t exhume or require the same type of crowd participation. If people were doing what they were doing to ‘Sick’ to ‘The Understanding’ – the last song off the album – it would be weird."
It all plays into the divergence that this band brings. The unusual twists and turns of growing up uncomfortable makes Ceremony all the more rounded. "Ceremony has always been this weird kind of anomaly where at the beginning we were too punk for some of the strict hardcore kids and too hardcore for some of the strict punk kids. Ceremony fans and people who like the band have just seen us turn into this weirdo band – a band of misfits that come to our shows; all sorts of outcasts and weirdos.”
So then comes the question: what next? They've lived ten years of not having a plan for each album and the next one hasn't even been discussed. "The plan doesn't really start until we're already writing. When we start writing we don't really know where it's gonna go until we have a frame of reference. We've never been like ‘oh, this is going to be a punk record’ or ‘this is going to be garage’. That's how the band has always operated. These are our next six months – what are the next six going to be like? And it will probably be different; a progression. But it will be good."
Words by Niall Cunningham