First a curse, second a novel, third a film and now an album, the phrase ‘wake in fright’ has seen its fair share of use in various forms of media. “May you dream of the devil and wake in fright” is an ancient curse of uncertain origin that inspired the debut novel from budding author Kenneth Cook in 1961, which was subsequently adapted into a motion picture thriller a decade later. Given the phrase’s eerie beginnings and its recent appropriation into art with themes of isolation, trepidation, misanthropy, savagery and death, any album to bear the title ‘Wake in Fright’ is sure to strive to create a dark and disturbing experience for the listener. Uniform’s Wake in Fright certainly pursues such harrowing themes, and there are notable thematic parallels between the lyrics delivered on this record and the undercurrents in the narrative of Cook’s novel. The themes of war on this sophomore record from the New York-based duo resemble the post-societal violence in Cook’s debut. What’s more, Uniform vocalist Michael Berdan describes the distress conveyed on this record as coming from “a place of stagnation and monotony”, which reflects the protagonist’s despair as a result of his seclusion in a desolate town in Cook’s Wake in Fright. Such bleak themes set to the abrasive noises of Uniform’s approach to metal music, largely taking inspiration from industrial and thrash metal, is bound to result in an unsettling listen, but the duo nonetheless have the burdensome task of effectively capturing and conveying these concepts to the listener. They succeed with this in certain regards, however the way in which they exhibit such an audacious concept feels somewhat wanting at some points.
Many of the pieces appear to be in place to allow for Uniform to enact their vision for Wake in Fright. Berdan’s unrelenting yells, the abrasive power electronics, the cacophonous clangs, the heavy drumming which is at some points created by using samples of bomb explosions for the bass drum and gunfire for the snare drum, the muddy palm-muted guitar work; this all adds up to a very promising musical exploration of such themes as war, desolation and insanity. Whilst the destructive and discordant noises produced by the duo on Wake in Fright are often as hypnotising as they are distressing, they often feel somewhat insular or underwritten. At times, it feels as if this record’s conceptual styling would be more suited for just one or two tracks on a record with broader themes, as Uniform resort to similar tricks and gimmicks across a lot of this album, leaving it feeling slightly tired despite its average 37-minute runtime. That’s not to say that there aren’t stand-out moments on Wake in Fright, and I find that the majority of the album is rather enjoyable on the surface, but perhaps more so in moderation, given the recurring formula that appears on a lot of these tracks.
Tabloid starts the record out forcefully, with a simple but disgustingly dirty fifth chord progression courtesy of Ben Greenberg, Uniform’s guitarist and producer. The straight booming drumming is absolutely punishing, especially when paired with the electronic screeches and Berdan’s deranged shouting over the top. Whilst this track’s alarming atmosphere is a chilling mission statement for Wake in Fright, it does highlight some of the reservations I have for this project. The approach to this song’s vibe is spot-on and it sounds as fierce as Uniform likely wanted it to, but unfortunately, the lack of advancement leaves it feeling slightly wanting. For a record that is so daring in concept, I would have hoped for more of these tracks to be bolder in their structure, with the duo approaching these compositions with a similar sense of audacity and determination to confuse and shock the listener that the concept exudes. Certain cuts around the middle of the tracklisting feature an incredibly similar approach to that displayed on the opening track, such as on The Light at the End (Cause), The Killing of America and Bootlicker, but the ways in which these pieces progress the sound featured on Tabloid are fairly limited. Out of these tracks, The Killing of America arguably conveys this biting brutality most effectively, with the muddy chugging guitar sounding less jarring than on some other cuts on Wake in Fright whilst still retaining the distorted ferocity needed for these songs to properly articulate the record’s themes. Moreover, the rhythm on here demonstrates the band’s influences a lot more noticeably, with the tone of the percussion being clearly industrial-inspired, whilst the booming blastbeats evoke a distinct thrash metal vibe. The Killing of America also exhibits a more tangible and satisfying structure than other cuts on this record, although it is still rather limited and predictable.
Habit is a prominent song on Wake in Fright given its more subtle and meditative approach to utilising the aspects drawn from harsh noise and power electronics on this record. The low, pulsating rumbles accompany the heavy tom-tom drumming well, leaving more than enough room in the mix for Berdan to come through with one of his most ominous vocal performances on the album, which reflects the lyrical examination of self-medication fantastically. This piece also develops rather well, with the electronic squealing that is introduced at some points in the cut providing great counterpoint to the song’s booming foundation. The thrashy jam that the guitar and drums break out into halfway through the cut goes down well, but it would have had a much greater impact if it weren’t let down by the production, which is lo-fi to the point of sounding flat and distracting here. For the most part, the production on Wake in Fright is what one would expect from an industrial metal record, but occasionally, the band’s exploration of other ideas falls short of what they could have achieved as a result of such cluttered and indistinct production value.
Wake in Fright is an album with a strong concept, but its execution is sometimes unfulfilled. The general vibe of the record is as brutal as it needs to be, but this doesn’t mask the areas in which Uniform leave a little to be desired, such as with the development of many of these pieces and the occasionally lacklustre production that hinders some of the good ideas that the band seek to realise. Nonetheless, the duo demonstrate some very good ideas on their sophomore LP, and, although these ideas could have been conveyed with a much greater degree of intuitiveness as to maximise the impact of Wake in Fright‘s narrative, the band have shown that with more focus, they could certainly pull together something very special.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10