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Univers Zero - Univers Zero [Aka: 1313] CD (album) cover


Univers Zero



4.19 | 218 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars So You Say You're Ready for Some Challenging Music???

The music that Belgian band Univers Zero makes sounds more like "classical" music than rock, even though it is neither. The term "modern chamber music" is most fitting though that still does not quite capture the strange creature we have here. Two violins, a bassoon, and a medieval keyboardist playing harmonium and spinet combine with a rock rhythm section and an occasional clean guitar to create a music that sounds most like works of 20th century composers Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky. Even then, the rock rhythm section transforms the sound into something that really exists nowhere else. On their debut album (initially a self titled "Black Album" but later renamed 1313), the band seems most rooted in their classical roots. Later albums will see them push the limits of their strange niche, especially under the influence of other RIO and avant-prog bands. But for me, it is this first, least rock-n-roll, album that is the best of them all.

The music of Univers Zero is dominated by melodic and rhythmic figures that first lead and then support, alternating between near unison and polyphonic sounds. The opener "Ronde" is an over 15 minute piece that is unquestionably dark, but also somewhat jubilant. It's almost if a group battle hardened alligators were having a drunken party. That is, we're listening to some weighty characters who are a bit lumpy around the edges but are still very dangerous. This sense of contrast is everywhere. The drum rhythms are repetitive, but extremely syncopated and complex. The melodic instruments pull weird, dissonant sounds from their back pockets but every note seems intentional. In comparison, the darkest moments of KC's LARK'S TONGUES seem like appetizers for this intricate main course.

1313's strength lies in the variety of emotional scenes portrayed (HERESIE, for instance, is so constantly dark that it loses a little of its emotive power for me) and in the ability of the compositions to transcend the repetition of melodic themes (something I hear on the band's more modern albums.) Like the best classical music, there is essentially nowhere on this album where I think to myself as a musician "Maybe that wasn't the best choice." Instead, I get to be a pure listener, absorbed in the mood and scene created by the composer and players. This is what music, or in fact, art in general, is at its absolute best. It transports you to another place. I do not stand back and observe this music. I hop aboard and it carries me on adventures of the imagination.

As a prog fan, one of my favorite UZ songs ever is the track "Docteur Petiot." The song is based on cyclical falling riff in 7 that would even work in a (prog) metal context. Again, the song opens with this riff as a lead element and then it is later used as the backbone for the rest of the song. Similarly, subsequent melodic themes turn and twist in variations before returning. If one song ever truly embodied classical and rock ideals simultaneously, it would be this one. Incidentally, the visual I get from this song is a middle aged woman lost in a strange large house, getting progressively confused and frantic as she tries to get out. Finally she lays down in a deserted room, resigned to both her capture and her lunacy. (I did mention that UZ is a little dark, didn't I?)

I also appreciate very much that 1313 employs almost none of the clanging, abrupt transitioning that is very much in vogue now, not only in avant-garde music but prog in general. Certainly sections move in tonality, instrumentation, and rhythm, but I never feel the clang of the dead stops and turns that seems to be an artistic element used not only in music but recent cinema and visual art as well.

The only hesitation I have in giving this album a masterpiece rating is that I feel like I should be judging it on a completely different scale than virtually anything else on this site. Before writing this review, I bought the new CLIVAGES, listened to some Stravinsky, and had some serious thought about what I enjoyed in this music. In the end, while it is undoubtedly complex, pushes on the outer boundaries of musical genre, and dares to moods far darker than teenage Goths even know exist, this music is good because it allows my inner critic to fall away. It creates scenes into which I am immersed, my imagination alive and absorbed.

Among the best of the best. 5/5

Negoba | 5/5 |


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