Uniform is the industrial metal duo of vocalist Michael Berdan and guitarist/programmer Ben Greenberg. Their fevered, relentless sophomore record is the sound of clawing for survival and sanity.
“The Killing of America”—
Uniform—the duo consisting of vocalist Michael Berdan and guitarist/programmer Ben Greenberg—started out obsessed with trying to make industrial order from punk chaos. Their debut, Perfect World, sounds like sinister master planning in its title alone; in some alternate universe even worse than ours, its cover would be a chic totalitarian symbol. In a short time, they’ve gotten angrier and let the chaos they tried to control run free. Perfect laid out what a gray dystopia would look like; their sophomore album Wake in Fright is Uniform fighting back, leaning more heavily towards their hardcore and metal heritage.
Opener “Tabloid” sounds like Big Black embracing thrash, capturing the precision of a machine coming into conflict with the immeasurable energy of bodies flying through a crowd. Their last record featured a collaboration with Coil’s Drew McDowall; this song shows their ideal touring partners may be Power Trip. Greenberg’s abrasive industrial tone sounds elastic when applied to honest-to-evilness metal riffs, finding a flexibility in rigidity. Even so, he beats you down with select riffs instead of throwing them all out. Such is the case with “Bootlicker,” where thrash gets locked into a snarling loop; if Tom Araya was on vocals, it would be the best Slayer song in years. (Greenberg also nods to Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s reckless, borderline free soloing at the end of “The Killing of America.”)
While it seems simplistic to equate “faster material” with “more urgent,” that’s Fright’s key strength. Greenberg has never sound angrier or more excited (and often, both), and the same can be said for Berdan. “The Light At the End (Cause)” is their most relentless track yet, the moment where both Greenberg and Berdan let a loss of control be their guiding force. It could be replicated by a proficient drummer, but it would sacrifice its jackhammer oppressiveness.
They haven’t abandoned their slower industrial tracks, but flipping the ratio between those and hardcore works in their favor. “Night of Fear” is most like Perfect, aided by the tension between the militaristic drums and Berdan’s shouted urges to deprogram. “The Lost” is their first attempt at warping the poppier side of their industrial influences; it is their most danceable song, loosely speaking, a dimmer take on Cold Cave’s goth-via-hardcore. In terms of club potential, it leans closer to Prurient’s “You Show Great Spirit,” more of an unforgiving blacklight shone on after-hours sleaze. It is also liberating because it allows a light of joy in, however small, which is more radical than an onslaught of persistent negativity.
Uniform couldn’t have predicted the future when they were making Fright, even though Perfect was itself a world-building exercise, but this is the kind of record we need now more than ever. They’re not more vicious by circumstance; their own uncoupling just happens to better reflect our future. Perfect was more of a reinvention for Greenberg, then fresh out of the Men, then it was for Berdan, whose screams didn’t sound much different than they did in Drunkdriver. With Fright, both have found new sides to themselves: Greenberg tapped into his inner metal kid, but Berdan has taken the self-apocalyptic energy of his past and turned it into a weapon for redemption and moving forward, much like Negative Approach did in the ’80s. Salvation may seem to be out of reach at this point, but that’s no reason to claw towards to it; the exercise may be the only thing to keep us sane in the years coming up.