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Music Review

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Artist: Uniform
Label: Sacred Bones Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 11 September 2020

Sacred Bones Records releases Shame, the fourth full album by Industrial/Doom/Sludge band Uniform. Hailing originally from Philadelphia, USA, the trio currently consists of Michael Berdan on vocals, Ben Greenberg on guitar and production, and new arrival Mike Sharp on drums. The combo formed in 2013, and they have honed their style over the three previous albums Perfect World (2015), Wake in Fright (2017), and The Long Walk (2018). As well as touring with the likes of Deafheaven and Boris, they have collaborated with The Body on the two studio albums Mental Wounds Not Healing (2018) and Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back (2019), and the culminating live release Live at the End of the World (2020). For Shame, Uniform has incorporated lyrics for the first time. The theme of the album is described as a hard-boiled paperback novel without a case, as the singer found himself identifying with the internal dialogues of characters such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe after reading books by Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, and Dashiell Hammet. Moreover, it could be described as a no-holds-barred look into the lyracist’s heart and soul, and how he reacts to the harshness of the outside world. There is a blend of both analogue and digital recording, using electronic and acoustic sounds to create a hybrid of synthetic and real music. Shame is available on Vinyl, CD, and for Digital Download.

The first track 'Delco' is short for Delaware County, which is where Berdan endured a tough upbringing. Reverb screamed vocals preside over a heavy but moderate-paced Industrial sound. A simple chorded theme proves effective, but the repeated vocal line does begin to grate. The chorus, such as it is, proves to be the most melodic part of the song. It breaks itself down to a drumbeat ending which is admittedly different. 'The Shadow of God’s Hand' has a Black Metal beginning with snarled vocals. It becomes a gritty and Grungy sleepy sound, before suddenly breaking from the traps at 100 mph, without much of a vocal change. It then withdraws to a slower and quieter beat, the guitar buzzing threateningly as if left leaning against the amplifier. 'Life in Remission' is the singer’s experiences of people close to him who have passed away, leaving him numb to death. The song is drenched with fear and dread. A promising start descends into a chaotic noise of sound wherein no part of the band is clear. This acts as a short galloping verse, before the track takes a turn into ultra-low grumbling, as if you are hearing a muffled sound of music coming from next door. I realise a mood is being created here, but it doesn’t work for me at all. The title track, 'Shame' starts like a recent Gary Numan song: heavy, low and Industrial/Electronic. That connection is soon torn apart, as sharp, disgruntled vocals accompany a slow Sludge format with very little melody – only the drums offering it real substance. The pace picks-up a little for the lead-out.

My first reaction to 'All We’ve Ever Wanted' is that the vocals are disappointingly almost precisely the same in every song. In this one, the guitar is initially allowed to make indiscriminate feedback noises for the verses, before a basic tone ensues for the chorus. However, most of these songs purposefully steer clear of any real melody. 'Dispatches from the Gutter' references Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke, and in particular the fine line between stability and collapse. This has more of a pace; in fact, it’s the first to display any real energy. It is much closer to the common structure of most songs. This is quite short. It could be used as a teaser, but is not representative of Uniform’s sound. 'This Won’t End Well' has a fast intro which quickly shrinks right back to a Doom-laden feel, with fluttering sounds playing around the ears as if you’re not properly tuned-in to your radio station.

We conclude with the eight-minute 'I Am the Cancer'. This adopts the perspective of The Judge from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and is partly inspired by The Twilight Zone episode 'Night of the Meek', wherein a drunk and useless department store Father Christmas strives to make a difference. There is an almost 1980s Thrash Metal opening which throws itself in your face, with the same distanced reverb railing-at-the-world vocals. The beat becomes bass-driven with only a hint of melody. An Electronica section is utilised as a break to a slower and simpler heavy mood. This works much better, although the words are lost in the noise. A whooshing and distortion take over for the outro, fading just enough to hear the repeated line: “And God will not love you forever.”

I made the mistake of listening to the first couple of tracks without headphones. When I attached the headphones and returned to the beginning, it was to discover there was a lot more going on here than I first realised. Having said that my main requirement for Rock and Metal is energy and melody. This has next to none of either. The subject matter places this music closest to Doom and Industrial, but it’s neither one or the other. This is quite obviously purposeful, intending to be depressing and a somewhat inward-facing self-analysis. I consider the premise of exploration of what is going on in a often-viewed harsh world – along with its effect on our own conscious minds, and how that reflects back on the world – to be infinitely more enticing than the music itself. I think Michael Berdan may be an interesting conversationalist. The music, whilst undeniably having some merit, is not wholly to my liking, however.


Ty Power

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