Shame, the fourth studio album from New York underground darlings Uniform, is a concept album of sorts. The record’s essence resonates with the theme of the unresolved anti-hero who exists in a narrative sphere of no repentance or reconciliation. It’s a film noir-esque, pulp novel approach to industrial noise rock that only really comes to the fore from time to time, obscured behind an almighty beauteous racket.
This is the first album to feature Mike Sharp on drums, and his inclusion adds a more human, emotive feel to the tracks in place of the clattering drum machine of previous releases. Michael Berdan’s vocals retain the metallic feel we have become accustomed to – like a super pissed Dalek – and the vocal effects and his delivery make for an almost Brechtian sense of alienation on the record as a whole, as the nuances of the voice are lost behind the grating distortion.
“Delco” kicks the album off and is more anthemic and slower-paced than the usual blur of noise that Uniform produce as their signature sound. Maybe hanging out with the magnificent The Body and releasing two collaborative albums with them over the last couple of years has rubbed off on Uniform. Shame as a whole is a less frantic record than much of the band’s previous output, though it’s still wildly frenetic in places. An album this raucous and feral can’t really be described as accessible, but you do get the feeling that Shame could and should open up the band to a wider audience, albeit still a fairly niche one.
The lyrical refrain of “You are what you’ve done / You are what’s been done to you,” on “Delco” gets more manic on each repeat, a motif of ever-increasing frustration in the face of semantic limitations. The song centres on ideas of the psychological effects of childhood violence and settles at a relentless BPM that adds a sense of all-encompassing oppression from which the listener finds it hard to escape. Squeals of feedback slip into focus in the space between the notes, and the trio manage to sound like a whole army. Berdan’s screams at the end sound like The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow in his chaotic prime, and there is much on Shame to bring to mind early 90s juggernauts such as Helmet, Big Black and Cherubs.
Second track “The Shadow of God’s Hand” follows the tone set by “Delco” in being a slower-than-usual behemoth, but the venom and intensity of the playing is still there. Uniform keep it slow until the halfway point, when the coiled spring of tension built up on the record is released in an almighty rush of riffs and double-timed drums. It’s a cathartic, heady rush, and just as you settle into the new chaos on offer the band slip back to the languid tempo from the beginning. By this point in the record you start to realise that even though you think you know Uniform from previous releases they are never the same band twice. Quite a feat, to be sure.
This is an album that needs to be played loud. To do otherwise would be to do it a disservice. The slower-paced tracks like “This Won’t End Well” don’t let up on the energy and anguish – there is no respite here. When Uniform get their heads down to play more straightforward riff-heavy songs they sound like the bastard offspring of Steve Albini and Al Jourgensen, with “Dispatches From the Gutter” being the most obvious example of this surprising, though not unwelcome, addition to the Uniform canon.
The album’s title track comes at the halfway point and is a brooding, clattering and stomping slice of goth introspection with more than a smattering of Alien Sex Fiend influence at its core. One of the best things about Uniform is that they seem to draw inspiration from a wide range of sources that also makes them both chameleonic to an extent but also hard to classify in themselves. Their identity is at once fixed, yet with a genuine sense of positive transience and a need to not settle.
“I Am The Cancer” closes things off in tense fashion with a riff that is restrained before a buzz-saw guitar breaks the wall of sound and veers the track into punk territory. Then it switches again with a throbbing, industrial synth bass line, before the band come back in and lurch off in another tonal direction with a stoner-rock leaning. Uniform are shape-shifters, the resulting post-modern bricolage of a million bands who exist within the confines of this three piece, yet never in a derivative manner. They are, at their heart, fans of loud music.
Shame is another great record from Uniform. Slightly more mature, perhaps even more confident, than some of the visceral slabs of pure adrenaline that marked their earlier releases, it’s a record that plays with extremes but with a command over the noise created. The overarching thematic intent of the record gets lost, truth be told, as the rush of sounds overwhelm the lyrics but this just gives you more reason to go back to it to pick those narrative elements apart. Shame truly is a wonderful thing.