Florence + the Machine gets biblical on Ceremonials

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      Ceremonials (Island)

      Few bands manage an epic sophomore album. And by epic, we do indeed mean epic—as in biblical—which leaves Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials virtually peerless.

      The 12-track release is a musical representation of singer Florence Welch’s inner battle between good and evil, light and darkness, rapture and perdition. And with such ambitious subject matter, Ceremonials’ goals prove too lofty, even for the immensely gifted vocalist.

      “Only If for a Night” kicks off the album with throbbing drums and grandiose aspirations, but in the end comes off as garish; Welch’s soaring croon seems to struggle against the music, making the tune more cacophonous than calming.

      Hints of church-style organ on “Shake It Out” lend to the album’s spiritual theme, with a mid-song buildup that parallels a church-choir hymn. Elsewhere, a cosmically mystical-sounding “What the Water Gave Me” features arpeggiated harps with well-crafted, melodic hooks and moments of quiet. The tune highlights Welch’s knack for lyricism, as her voice rings clear. Unfortunately, this is a rare occurrence on Ceremonials.

      “No Light, No Light” and “Seven Devils” assert the album’s ethereal themes, echoed by tribal drums as Welch wails behind layers of orchestral sound. This part of the record sounds like an exorcism, both lyrically and vocally. Which is why it makes sense that “All This and Heaven Too” and “Leave My Body” end the album on a slightly quieter note, with subterranean piano breaks and calmed-down vocals.

      In the end, Ceremonials’ exhaustingly ambitious nature is, well, an exhausting listen.