Uniform‘s music feels like a particularly intense form of therapy. Their songs are loud and punishing, unapologetically so—though the band has expanded to a trio, retiring the pummeling industrial beats of early releases in favor of a full-time drummer, their aural assault has lost none of its sting in the transaction. Amid Ben Greenberg’s thrash metal guitar riffs and the brutal impact of Mike Sharp’s drums, no element of Uniform’s sound cuts as deep as Michael Berdan’s manic primal scream. Whether reckoning with his own complicated faith, unpacking trauma or simply serving up reminders of the fucked-up America in which we live, Berdan always sounds like he’s physically tearing at pieces from his own soul.
In the past three years, Berdan and Greenberg have released five albums—including two collaborations with The Body—that have seen them refine their industrial machinepunk from a raw, direct form of catharsis into a more sophisticated form of soul shredding. Their 2018 album The Long Walk, featuring drummer Greg Fox (Liturgy, Ex Eye), revealed more textural variance and nuance in their seemingly subtlety-free approach, providing a greater degree of depth inside their urgent rippers. Shame, their first with Sharp, takes that even further, tracing the outline of trauma’s tattoos through their best and most varied set of songs to date.
On past albums, Uniform would begin with a squeal of feedback and a bombastic rush of noise-caked guitars, Shame immediately feels different. Leadoff track “Delco” immediately settles into a groove, Sharp playing at about half the BPMs most listeners are probably used to from this band, but the open space gives Berdan the opportunity to repeat a mantra of, “You are what you’ve done/You are what’s been done to you,” reflecting on the imprint that childhood violence leaves on a person. The unexpected consequence isn’t that of a mellower, less aggressive Uniform, but one whose songs have the real estate to build out something bigger and far more ominous. With Berdan’s scream of, “I dream of blood/So much blood,” during the song’s chorus, it puts a pin in the moment that Uniform became their most terrifying selves.
The degree to which Shame assaults the ears hasn’t waned—Uniform are still as loud as ever, still frequently making space for piercing frequencies and sonic discomfort. They give themselves more room to work with, however, and between those shrill peaks and guttural valleys is a surprising array of ear candy. During the chorus of “The Shadow of God’s Hand,” Greenberg layers his typical power-chord crunch with a shimmering arpeggio riff reminiscent of The Stooges’ “Gimme Danger.” The title track is more of an oozing slow burn than a concrete brick to the face, Greenberg’s guitars employing more of a shoegazing mist than the jagged edges of thrash, Berdan narrating a cycle of self-destructive behavior (“That’s why I drink/That’s why I weep“) inside of hypnotic layers of distortion. It’s still nice to get a reminder in “Dispatches form the Gutter” that the building blocks of Uniform’s music are structurally sound even without the added production layers, with Berdan going full nihilism against the straight-up hardcore beatdown: “I know what I’m missing/I just don’t care.”
Discussing Uniform’s Shame as their most nuanced album requires an understanding that the New York trio will never deliver a set of ballads or slowcore dirges. This album is meant to be played loud, because Uniform, themselves, play really fucking loud. Yet there’s a level of depth in both the arrangements and in Berdan’s examinations of psychic wounds that reveal how much growth the band has undergone in half a decade and half a dozen albums. Play this album while running a few miles or sparring with a punching bag and you’ll find it provides the necessary fuel to keep going. But take a moment to catch your breath and don’t be surprised of just how remarkable everything sounds between those moments of impact.
Label: Sacred Bones
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.