Ceremony – Zoo

Matador Records

What does it mean to be an adult? This is a question I ask my self almost daily. After all at 35, I look more like a kid then ever. I suspect I act more like a kid now then I did when I was at an age where most people still wouldn’t have considered me an adult.

Adulthood. Blech. I’ve fought joining along with it my entire life. It seemed soft and full of compromise for the sake of others and not for what was right. And sure, I grew fat and slow physically, but I look at the pictures of my friends on facebook, and I don’t see faces I relate to anymore a lot of the times. And it doesn’t always have to do with marriage and jobs and kids. Those things change you, sure. Family should change you. But it shouldn’t transform you into something unrecognizable to the people you grew up with. Neither should jobs or relationships. And while I’d like to think I’ve grown and progressed, I am fairly certain I have never devolved into some shell of a human being.

This is what Ceremony wants us to believe on its controversial new album Zoo. The world of adults is nothing but boredom, failure, ugliness and monotony. And in so many ways, this is a convincing record carrying that message. Unfortunately, even I have to admit now that their legacy as a hardcore band complicates the effectiveness of their message. Zoo is one of those albums where the messengers’ own story gets in the way of the art.

I should first say, that I enjoy this album. From start to finish, it’s a great punk record, pulling on a great number of influences and finally adopting that Joy Division worship into something familiar. Zoo is a gritty, garage punk album with tastes of the genre that spans its existence. The guitars are sharp and cutting as Ceremony has always been known for and Russ Farrar still sounds like damaged goods, though he’s clearly changed the cadence of his voice.

What’s hard to swallow, as a fan of this band though, is the radical change in sound. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s fantastic. But this is not the Ceremony I have grown to know and love over the last two years. It is an entirely new band, with only scant aspects of their former, face splitting, floor rolling, spit, piss and blood identity. This album, unlike anything they’ve done previously is palpable. Even their contract required covers EP, which was horrid, was at least unlistenable and grotesque. And for a band of Ceremony’s history, with a carnal nature hell-bent on self-destruction rather than introspection, this feels like a safe bet. Especially considering the theme of the album is all about growing up.

Here’s where I get tripped up. They have this great anthem at the center of the album called “Adult” and it literally asks “How did we get so old?”. But is that question of its audience or of the band itself that seems to have “slowed down”? Farrar even goes so far as to suggest that being an adult means giving up the things we love, suggesting that passion will always lose out to comfort and security. And I’m not going to lie, comfort and security are two things I too am looking for. But not at the expense of myself, of doing the things I love, of expressing myself, even when that expression seems immature and juvenile to my peers who used to stand in solidarity with me.

And so, to my ears, Zoo is a safe bet because it sounds like a safe bet. Everything is crisp and clear and clean. I don’t want to smash my head through a window as Ceremony has nearly inspired of me. It doesn’t inspire me to yell, not in the same fashion as past efforts, but it does bother me at a certain level. Because I want people to age and get increasingly angry, upset and invested, because they should be engaged in the world around them. Because as an adult I have learned that those who occupy the financial power in this world, they want you to be excluded, to feel content and relaxed, but not engaged. And I have never felt more alienated by the world around me then I do as an adult. Which isn’t to say I don’t have awesome friends my age that chose to live in opposition of a world that makes it increasingly more difficult just to get by. But again, I’ve seen so many faces from my past, and I don’t recognize them that much anymore. It’s not because they’ve changed physically as they’ve aged, but that reckless abandonment where they were willing to fight and love is gone. Zoo feels like that kind of resign, that kind of containment. Maybe that’s the point I am missing, but it’s not easy to see.

Liberteer – Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees

Better to Die On Your Fee Than Live On Your Knees
Relapse Records/Band Camp

If you asked me sincerely if I ever thought something truly brilliant could come out of the combination of Anarchism and Grindcore, I would probably say no. I have a soft spot for the political theories of Anarchism. In the realm of the theoretical a world in which people provide for each other sounds might fine to me. But Anarchism forgoes the ego of the individual and the ego is not something that can be eradicated.  Of all the models of political and social organization that I have been presented, Anarchism makes the most sense if it can be achieved through non-violence, but the tradition of anarchism will always be mired in roots of violent theory, making it scary to the masses. Ultimately it is Anarchy that all revolutions are built from, when the masses finally get fed up with their governors and rise, but nothing sustainable ever comes of it. It usually just devolves into some form of lazy democracy. The recent uprise in Egypt comes to mind as we watched beautiful anarchy erupt against fascism only to settle itself into representation for all by others. That’s ego of a few hijacking a movement. It’s gonna happen every time.

As for Grindcore, I love grindcore. The older I get, the more I love grindcore. Somehow as a youth I was passed up on this genre. It was the underground of the underground.Part punk, part metal, Grindcore is crushing, fast, furious and mostly unlistenable to anyone who was not kicked in the head at a Butthole Surfer’s concert. You have to be brain-damaged, just a bit to enjoy the unrelenting pounding of drums, drenched in overdrive guitar and growling, barking vocals. Me, I know I am brain-damaged from the shots to the head, the inhalation of photo chemicals in my twenties, the use of pharmaceuticals, the illnesses, the alcohol and ten years in corporate America. That shit fucked me up, so it’s not really a surprise that I like grindcore. Would I even attempt to get most people I know to listen to this music? Not a chance in hell. Not until today.

I read this interview with Matthew Widener, the one man genius behind Liberteer and I got really excited to go hear his latest album Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees, under new moniker Liberteer. Matt’s not just your run of the mill punk rock fuck up, like me. Matt’s actually got a lot of brains in his head and he knows how to use them, rather than just abuse them. This is actually pretty typical of grindcore musicians. Even when seeped in violence and gore, grindcore attracts readers and wordsmiths. Dudes who spent too much time with Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the VCR and Philip K. Dick in their backpack. It’s a tribe of outcasts smarter than anyone around them, but generally ignored by society around them. Unlike Liberteer though, most of this genius is expressed in clinically explained violence or some kind of fantasy/sci-fi genius that it’s all just mostly fun and silly. And I like fun and silly.

So what is it about Liberteer that I think is important enough to come out of a five month writing slumber? This is an album of research, of poetry acting as a call to political action. One of the strongest points Widener made in his Show No Mercy interview about anarchism was ” before a vanguard can engage in the hard, nasty business of revolt, they need the support of the people. Violence can’t be legitimized, but culturally we can have a context for it. And even then I have issues, since you deny someone their freedom when you hurt them, which is a breach of the only real dictate we have as beings: Be culpable for your freedom and make no act that denies someone theirs.” It is here, the crux of Anarchism where it’s dream and it’s reality meet and must somehow be reconciled in order to legitimize itself. Widener, on his album reflects on this not just by bone crushing grind, but the utilization of musical cues that for American’s sum up patriotism. But the context of his bugle blasts here are not some Fourth of July over a pit of hotdogs blind love, instead they are the former calls of independence. Dude even get’s mad symphonic on the instrumental “Sweat for Blood” where it builds from a Neurosis like jut to a full on battle cry one might find in an epic fantasy where the down trodden are finally about to conquer the oppressors. What this says to me though, as a long time fan of the grind, of the political punk, of the upset the set up mentality is that we have to question not only that which opposes us but the means and calls in which we lean on to guide us towards what we want.

Patriotism has never meant blind acceptance of anything, anyone, anywhere says. But I have found that revolution is not as easy as a brick through a window either. The context of violence, should that be the means of revolution is one that has to be considered. But further than that, we have to look long-term, we can’t have a revolution for the sake of revolution, though I think Widener might disagree. Liberteer is a more complex look at Anarchism and one that needs to be considered, not just by the crusty punks but by those that suffer in what is now a post Occupy movement. Will we move beyond a system that doesn’t care about us, that does only and will only cater to the 1%? It’s hard to say, but perhaps some insight could be found if we sit down, let the grind movements rile us up while reading along to the lyric sheet. If the adrenaline of the music and the poetry of the writing on Better to Die On Your Fee Than Live On Your Knees doesn’t move you, chances are you will suffer at the hands of those you are feeding.