“Shame” On You: Inside Uniform’s Noisy Industrial Concept Album
I first discovered Uniform, oddly enough, through the soundtrack to the 2017 season of Twin Peaks. One of their songs was playing in the background during a scene in which two would-be thieves die in a car bomb explosion -- it was a fitting match, as the brutish abrasion of Uniform works as a natural auditory complement to depictions of violence, crime, and other grimy shenanigans. Jumping at the trio’s past and subsequent discography from there, I found it chock full of noisy industrial bangers that left me more than satisfied. But it’s this year's effort Shame that easily represents the band’s finest fusion of their various styles to date, leaving one hell of a lasting impression in the process.
Uniform have three main songwriting approaches that have been explored on their past releases, to varying degrees: riff-heavy/downtempo industrial metal, breakneck hardcore, and lastly (though to a lesser extent than the other two) a gritty noise delivery replete with all kinds of swirly electronic effects. Shame distinctly blends these deliveries together with balance, resulting in a more multifaceted sound for Uniform that offers a little something for everyone.
This tighter sense of stylistic combination is felt between as well as within the individual tracks on Shame. Songs like "The Shadow of God’s Hand" or "All We’ve Ever Wanted" sit squarely in the downtempo industrial area, whereas opener "Delco" and "Dispatches from the Gutter" bring more of the uptempo hardcore angle. Still others see Uniform merging one or more of their primary songwriting techniques: take "Life In Remission" for example, which begins with slowly encroaching industrial riffage before escalating into the more pummeling hardcore aggression about mid-way, and finally collapsing into an electronic noise whirlwind as it finishes.
Another thoroughly enjoyable aspect of Uniform’s sound: their distinct production sense, a trend that pleasantly continues with Shame. Lacking a bassist, the band inevitably utilize less low-end than might be typical, resulting in an approach that rings and smothers things in a bright layer of static-laden feedback. This makes Uniform's approach even more gritty and mechanical, reinforcing the industrial aesthetic with a treble-heavy atmosphere that evokes thoughts of grinding metallic equipment.
This touch also extends to the vocals of front man Mike Berdan, doused with a noticeable hint of reverb that gives them an interesting muffled character, as if Berdan is doing them with a thick piece of cloth over his mouth."
Shame is also something of a concept album, exploring the idea of an antihero who never sees redemption, remaining stagnant and walking "a Sisyphean circle of existential malaise." The music thus serves as a commendable complement to this theme, maintaining a bleak, nihilistic atmosphere throughout and painting pictures of an individual bogged down by the weight of contemporary urban society. The slower, more plodding moments create a mental image of a man sitting in isolation in a dark room, mulling over his life’s worth (or the lack thereof, rather) while the sounds of a dystopian hellscape roar all around him.
Uniform look back while also looking forward, tapping into the groove and catchiness of their past material while also processing that approach through a much more dynamic, noise-heavy filter. The presentation as a concept album makes the package more cohesive, achieving symmetry between music and lyrics at a previously untapped level for the band. While Uniform have offered up some emotive, high-impact albums before, Shame comes off as a more mature encapsulation of the various elements that comprise their identity than ever.
Shame released September 11th, 2020 via Sacred Bones Records.
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