“May you dream of the devil and wake in fright.” This old curse serves as the inspiration for the novel and later film adaptation Wake in Fright, a harrowing descent into madness that tells the tale of an English school teacher in a remote Australian town who wrestles with conformity, misery and the innate self-destruction that clings to man like a shadow. It’s not clear if New York duo Uniform took inspiration from the saying or the book/film for their sophomore album Wake in Fright, but considering that the music presented here speaks of isolation, misanthropy, and post-societal violence, it’s undeniable that they bathe in similar waters. This begs the question: Can Wake in Fright (the album) with its blend of industrial, thrash and noise be as effective in conveying the cloying horror and desolation of its namesake or is it no more than a pallid bugbear?
Uniform have certainly chosen the right style to articulate their pessimism. Clanging metal-on-metal, palm-muted riffs and unrelenting drum beats are ample tools to fashion a machine of apocalyptic torment. Plenty of metal bands have flirted with industrial influences in the past, from Killing Joke’s influential “Millennium” through to Nailbomb, Fear Factory, and Ministry, but in these cases the music is typically carried by a tight and catchy rhythm section hewn from granite. Not here. Divest yourself of any hopes for a sonically salubrious experience with Wake in Fright because Uniform offers none. Pleasing melodies and lilting tunes are given no quarter and in their place lurks a throbbing, atonal cacophony.
“Habit” is a squealing, pulsing horror show, using reams of cold feedback, anemic percussion and vocalist Mike Berden’s bitter, hardcore-tinged shouts to create the musical equivalent of hallucinogenic sleep-deprivation. “The Lost” is subtly textured with many electronic blurbs, beats and a rusty lead that drunkenly weaves between foreground and background while Berden continually and monotonously disgorges a diatribe that is equal parts irritating and hypnotic. “The Killing of America” opens with a positively filthy riff that buzzes like a swarm of vituperative wasps and a dogged percussion but it’s the unexpected, manic solo towards the end that shows that the band is capable of surprising you when you least expect it. The auditory output presented by Uniform on Wake in Fright is complete deconstruction, the systematic reduction of musical elements into their base forms, lashed together out of sequence and designed to paint a grim landscape flensed clean of warmth and salvation.
It’s a pity then that the album is painfully hobbled by a very poor production. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition a delicately hand-crafted audiophile recording from industrial/noise-influenced music, especially when abject terror is the soup of the day, but when an album is mixed and mastered in such a way as to leave the music sounding insipidly flat you have a problem on your hands. Riff after riff, beat after beat, too much is lost in an indistinct malaise shorn of dynamics and detail. What’s worse is this diffusion led to portions of songs disengaging me entirely, letting my mind drift with nary any recollection of what had transpired. I should be sitting bolt upright by the end of these tracks, short of breath, nostrils flared and my pupils reduced to pinpricks in anticipation of some calamity ready to befall me, not struggling to stifle a yawn. Anaal Nathrakh have been pilloried for their ear-bleeding mixes but it doesn’t prevent them from conveying their brand of incendiary animosity.
Wake in Fright (the film) succeeds in its ability to unnerve and unsettle, delving deep under the skin and leaving you in a cold sweat at its conclusion. Uniform, while capable of presenting a suffocating vision of violence and despair with Wake in Fright, is all too often undermined by a muted production that not only robs the music of engagement and immediacy but actively weakens the hellish darkness they are so eager to unleash into the world.