Wake In Fright
, February 10th, 2017 13:26
‘The Light at the End (Effect)’, the final track on Wake In Fright – the third record by New York duo Uniform – opens with a sample from Philip Ridley’s 1990 film The Reflecting Skin. ‘It's all so horrible you know, the nightmare of childhood,’ an abusive mother intones. ‘And it only gets worse. One day you'll wake up, and you'll be past it.’
That film might have been about pubescent horror in the Midwest, but for all intents and purposes Wake In Fright is the sound of a band snapping unhappily into life. It’s been widely noted that the album was released on Trump’s inauguration day, and while Uniform’s acerbic, end-of-times blend of electronic noise, hardcore and industrial rock is an apt soundtrack to the systematic dismantling of decency – there’s a song on here called ‘The Killing of America’ after all – it’s merely an (un)happy coincidence. Still, it’s hard to dismiss the prescience of it all.
That’s not to say vocalist Michael Berdan and guitarist/producer Ben Greenberg (the former of such rollicking grime merchants as Drunkdriver and Believer/Law, the latter late of noise punk darlings The Men) aren’t angry. Wake in Fright is an extremely – even joyfully – bleak record, dealing with the lobotomised gloom of addiction, caustic ennui and existential grind. It’s concerned, says Berdan in the record’s PR, with “psychic transition… This is what happens when old ways of thinking become exhausted and old ways of coping prove ineffective. Something must change or it will break.” Concept and craft align in unbroken symbiosis.
At its core, Wake in Fright isn’t much removed from the duo’s previous records. Blown-red synthetic kicks and cracks pummel away, while Greenberg’s guitars scrape and pound with a grindcore intensity, rudimentary bass droning underneath and Berdan gargling unintelligibly over the top. His snotty vocal is Uniform’s secret weapon; while Greenberg’s programming is dense and surprisingly nuanced, Berdan’s corrosive howling – part hardcore sage, part swivel-eyed harsh noise ranter – is what really ups the bile to corrosive levels.
But where Perfect World (released on Altar in 2015) revelled in ascetic construction, Wake in Fright, as with its Sacred Bones precursor Ghosthouse, is an expanded proposition. Apart from the incrementally higher-fi sonics, the musical palate here is broader, encompassing more choppy Big Black-isms, thrash solos and, in the form of album standout ‘The Lost’, a smattering of honest-to-god melody. The percussion comprises samples of gunshots and explosions drawn from foley packs and action films; nihilistic found sounds for the Bush generation.
Still, oppressive miserablism is the dish of the day and from its first moments – a split-second of feedback tipping into a mechanically overdriven groove and a scream – Wake in Fright wraps a hand round the throat and tightens its grip. The effect is cumulative. ‘Habit’ is as blunt as its title, a martial beat underpinning Berdan’s strained paeans to compulsive dependency, only released by Greenberg’s brief deployment of some genuinely effusive riffing.
The aforementioned ‘The Killing of America’ – taking aim at gun crime, replete with a video that lists and maps, one by one, shootings across the US in 2016 – opens with a discordant chug, the drum machine building momentum until the plateau is upended by a splattery, whinnying metal solo, the kicks tumbling into a smoosh of white noise and a voice intoning Bukowski’s ‘The Genius of the Crowd’: ‘There’s enough genius in their hatred to kill you, to kill anybody.’ It’s thrilling stuff. So it continues: from the unrelenting grind of ‘Bootlicker’ to the exhausted spoken-word drone of ‘The Light at the End (Effect)’, via the relative restraint of ‘Night of Fear’ a claustrophobic slow-burner and the track in which the military samples are most easily identified.
Standing alone, aesthetically, is ‘The Lost’. It’s by far Uniform’s best track to date; a fat-free sub-five minutes of NIN-indebted synth pulse, shuddering distortion and anthemic choruses (all despite Berdan’s best efforts, and that’s a compliment). That it’s followed by ‘The Light At The End (Cause)’ – the album’s most punishing track, segueing from a Converge-esque onslaught into tinny, static feedback – simply serves to emphasise this. A whole record of this would be a breathless proposition. As it stands, Wake In Fright is a misanthropic social/personal/political blank cheque as bleak in outlook as it is righteously harrowing in sound. It’s 2017, and life’s a chasm. Uniform are staring right in.