Fronted by singer Florence Welch, the band Florence + the Machine invites you into an entirely different world, of rites and charms and more immaterial things.
The leading track “Only If For a Night” invites you into this dark, dreamy world, strange, confusing, yet clear as day. This new world easily mirrors the important things in our world, with cryptic refrains hitting glorious heights. If the sci-fi genre tends to say something about modern technology, then fantasy worlds reflect back something we want, or are missing in this one. Ceremonials is charged, emotional, fraught with strikingly simple rhymes and everlasting lyrics--like the revolutionary, It’s always darkest before the dawn, in “Shake It Out”--that whatever the devil is to you, it will move you to terrible, beautiful dance.
The band projects an image that is mystical, ethereal, and very, very powerful, of someone at once hostage to higher powers, then spelling them away. Welch’s performance fully characterizes a woman, stumbling through heaven and hell, and Welch’s own haunting voice, lovely, dark, and deep, is what drives the album forward. The band isn’t afraid to dip into deeper waters of pained, anguished glory in “Seven Devils,” and “Never Let Me Go” explodes with the "arms of the ocean," at once rough and divine. “No Light, No Light” prowls on with desperateness, searching, exhilarating in its discoveries in the dark. Welch’s character is like a higher force, while still grounded in the mud and mire of our world. Returning to basic elemental imagery that never ceases to move us, like swelling waters, the traditional symbol for cleansing, Welch sings of beasts of burden, filling one’s pockets with stones, as if one would be carried off into the air otherwise.
And there is the constant motif of talking to someone who is less than the air, like in “Only If For a Night,” where Welch confronts a strangely “practical” ghost. This person could be a lost love, or even oneself, mirrored in the confines of one’s head, like Welch’s own reflection is fractured into several sad souls on the cover. As soon as you enter the album, you’re taken to another land, another atmosphere. Ceremonials is a masterpiece of sound and concept. And this flame-haired muse--Welch, or the character she has created--is endlessly engrossing, in her joys and sorrows, offering the chaos of another’s sweet, chaotic mind when you can’t make sense of your own.