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Univers Zero


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Univers Zero Uzed album cover
4.28 | 390 ratings | 17 reviews | 45% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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Studio Album, released in 1984

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Présage (9:48)
2. L'Etrange Mixture du Docteur Schwartz (3:52)
3. Célesta (for Chantal) (6:55)
4. Parade (6:37)
5. Emmanations (15:43)

Total Time: 43:04

Line-up / Musicians

- Jean-Luc Plouvier / electric & acoustic pianos, synthesizer, piano strings, percussion
- Dirk Descheemaeker / soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet
- André Mergen / cello, alto sax, voice
- Christian Genet / bass, balafon, bowed guitar, tapes, whistle
- Daniel Denis / drums, percussion, synthesizer

- Michel Delory / electric guitar (3)
- Marc Verbist / violin (3)

Releases information

Artwork: Guy Denis (photo) with Paulla Millet (graphics)

LP Cryonic Inc. ‎- MAD 3008 (1984, France)

CD Cuneiform Records ‎- Rune 15 CD (1988, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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UNIVERS ZERO Uzed ratings distribution

(390 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(45%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(35%)
Good, but non-essential (14%)
Collectors/fans only (3%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

UNIVERS ZERO Uzed reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
5 stars UZ's fourth studio album (fifth release after the short compilation Crawling Winds) is the cornerstone of UZ's career. Up to now, UZ's music had been mostly acoustic RIO, developing sinister moods and searching for human's darker instincts. But with this fourth album, Denis was to change considerably UZ's direction and this was due in no small part to the friendly competition he maintained with ex-UZ Roger Trigaux, who had formed Present (with Denis holding the drum stool), and pushing each other to explore new musical territories. By now, Daniel Denis was the last remaining original member, Berckmans devoting his effort to Von Zamla. In comes future long time collab Dirk Descheemaeker on winds, Genet on bass and assorted string instruments, Plouvier (another future central figure) on keyboards and Mergen on cello and sax.

This album, as I said above, is the start of a new direction and can be easily seen as a blueprint for all their future album until Implosion. The music had now shifted from the sinister and macabre to the sombre and mysterious ambiances, the eastern influences being much more present (pardon the pun ;-), than previously. One of the most striking results is that the album is generally more melodious than the previous three, which often flirted with dissonance and atonal music. Here, the music has mystic and grandiose aspects not previously developed. The opener Présage is probably my favourite track as the mystery of the mid-eastern dawns (with the cello strongly inducing Arab ambiances) in a yet-asleep harem (see why I think this is their best track? ;-) and the first smell ogf Green tea as you are heading for the hamam with three beautiful creatures, and the clarinet providing the drama: this almost 10-min track is flawless. The manic Doctor Schwartz is a 100 mph nightmare with Plouvier's piano providing the base for a haunting cello and clarinet. Wrapping up the first side of this wax slice, is Celeste (with two guest-musicians), a slow-developing almost 7-min track where the piano has the dominant role until the monstrous entrance of the "beast and Delory's electric guitar (sometimes reminding you of Pinhas or Fripp) is clearly its angry scream. The only flaw I can think of is that the track ends in a fade-out.

Parade is probably where Miriodor took a good deal of their inspiration and the mad breaking noise are extremely disturbing, but the insane beat is not letting you off the hook. Centrepiece Emmanations is one stunning and most convincing track, where Univers Zero is simply taking on the role of a progressive giant group, but if it is not known widely among the progheads, it is mostly because this album was recorded in 84. Had it been recorded a decade earlier, no doubt that this album would be standing with Magma's 1001° Centigrade or Henry Cow's Legend. Denis's composing powers are simply impressive and his percussions are awesomely inventive, and the oppressive but enthralling ambiances make the almost 16-min track seem too short. In the closing section, the track diverges into electronic delirium, which some twenty years later, Denis will come back to and base his Implosion album around similar themes.

Clearly the album separating the two phases of UZ, this album will serve as a template for UZ albums for two decades to come (including Denis's two solo albums). Absolutely essential music, one if not the best album in its genre.

Review by Mellotron Storm
5 stars Having started from the beginning with UNIVERS ZERO, the first thing I noticed when listening to this album was how different it sounded from the earlier ones. For me this is their first 5 star album and my second favourite from them after the next one "Heatwave". This one is more electric than the earlier ones and they have traded the harmonium, bassoon, aboe and english horn for the sax, clarinet and synths. I liked the way Sean Trane described the difference, it's like going from the macabre and sinister to the mysterious and sombre. Yes this still has lots of dark passages, but there is actually moments that feel like dusk, as opposed to being always in the night. The cello is used in place of the violin as well, although there is some guest violin and guitar on one track.

"Presage" is my favourite song on here. It opens with some beautiful piano before kicking in before a minute with drums and bass. This contrast continues. The cello before 3 minutes is nice as drums and bass pound away. A scorching cello melody as piano comes back reminding me of the intro. "L'Etrange Mixture Du Docteur Schwartz" features a lot of tempo changes. It slows right down 3 minutes in as piano and cello end it. "Celesta (For Chantal)" is a dark and slow moving song with piano and some guest violin leading the way. Heavy drums after 5 minutes as the guest guitar grinds away. Nice. Synths as well on this one.

"Parade" is lighter and more uptempo. A terrific collage of various sounds including horns, synths, piano, drums and cello as the tempo and mood continues to shift. "Emmanations" is by far the longest track at over 15 minutes. It rivals the first song as my favourite. It opens with lots of atmosphere that is tense and eerie. It starts to brighten a little before 2 minutes. The pace is stepped up a notch 4 minutes in as bass and drums deliver the goods. It becomes dark and ominous 5 1/2 minutes in as the climate continues to change. I like the section after 10 minutes. After 14 minutes we get some spooky and dark sounds to end it.

A nice change for the band, and they will continue on this path for their next record "Heatwave".

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Univers Zero might have had transitional difficulties between Heresie and Ceux Du Dehors but those changes can't even come close to the grand scale transformation that the band has undergone since then.

Out with the old and in with the new seems to be the general conclusion that can be reached after looking at the band's line-up and especially after experiencing their new musical direction on Uzed. Roger Trigaux was the first to shake the band up by his departure but here Daniel Denis decided to replace the entire band for a completely different set of musicians. For me personally it is Michel Berckmans' leave of absence that feels much more prominent that anyone else because his bassoon defined the early Univers Zero sound. Still I think that it was a good decision to not replace him with a new bassoon player and instead, once again, push things forward.

They say that "when life gives you lemons make lemonade" and this saying seems to be very appropriate here since Daniel Denis's new Univers Zero took the lack of acoustic instruments to their advantage by spicing the line-up with electric sounds among the music arrangements. Michael Delory adds an electric guitar to the overall sound which is especially memorable for the daring guitar solo on Célesta (For Chantal) that always seemed to be the main topic of discussion once this album is mentioned. Jean-Luc Plouvier is still the one who gives Uzed some of its memorable touches with his synthesizer arrangements all throughout this album.

The album opens on another highlight in a sting of wonderful Univers Zero openers although this time around the synthesizer intro of Présage might have given a shock to the fan base. Luckily this shock would probably have been followed up by an enthusiastic cheer as the piece progressed. The first track is so spectacular that I personally would have loved for the band to extend it even further, which is actually the first time I ever feel this way about a long Univers Zero composition since most of them tend to overstay their welcome by a few minutes.

The next pleasant surprise that Uzed has to offer doesn't take long to arrive and it manifests itself in the first short masterpiece that the band has so far achieved. L'Etrange Mixture Du Docteur Schwartz is a crazy piece which reminds me a bit of Dense although it is even more dense in its format.

Parade is noteworthy for the interplay between heavy sounding bass and cello which adds an unexpected layer of groove to the overall sound of this composition. Unfortunately the final piece of this album strips away one of its rating stars for being the least uninspired performance that the band has so far given to its audiences. Emmanations is not really a bad composition but it doesn't justify its almost 16 minutes of playtime. The problem arises towards the middle section where the bass starts off a new rhythmic section which pretty much keeps on repeating itself for about 4 minutes.

Although its minor flaw towards the end of the album Uzed is a fresh and exciting new take on the ever so delightful music that Univers Zero has blessed us with so far. If this was the only album that the band had ever recorded then it would still be a much better recording than what many other bands can even achieve during their best moments.

***** star songs: Présage (9:50) L'Etrange Mixture Du Docteur Schwartz (3:53) Parade (6:37)

**** star songs: Célesta (For Chantal) (6:53) Emmanations (15:41)

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This enchanting labyrinth of sound is solidly built and yet easily navigable. I loved it the first time I heard it, and each hearing since has yielded surprising shifts, like those topiaries in Stephen King's The Shining- surely that wasn't there all the other times, was it? These five instrumentals offer an incredible degree of compositional variance despite all of them sharing a common sound. Uzed is a fantastic work, and is certainly one of my favorites from this box of chocolates genre.

"Présage" The opening minute of this piece is hauntingly good. It rises out of the misty ether of silence and quickly attracts the attention of discord and volume. The main riff is dynamic and offers a great deal, chugging along underneath some brilliant lead instruments. The heavy instrumentation wizens away, leaving a lonely piano. Soon the most symphonic opportunity of the album arrives, full of vigor and wondrous melodies.

"L'Etrange Mixture du Docteur Schwartz" Working with some incredibly imaginative chord progressions, this piece alternates between a sinister rhythm section and whimsical woodwind interruptions before both collide in a frantic display. Growling, almost hungry bass is teased by the higher, capricious instruments, like insects and birds prancing around just out of a beast's reach. The concluding piano chords are very reminiscent of "Schooldays" from Gentle Giant.

"Célesta (for Chantal)" Woodwinds and piano provide more inspired music, but this time it carries on in a more reserved fashion. It is not until the two minute warning that nightmarish tones impress themselves upon the peaceful slumber of music.

"Parade" Like the titular event, this piece is at once fanciful and purposeful, moving at a brisk but stumbling pace. Eventually it becomes very graceful. Overall, I'd say the composition is interesting because like a parade, there are really no recurring parts- as it progresses down the street, there's something new and exciting to behold, and that's exactly what this piece pulls off.

"Emmanations" Hovering like an ominous UFO over a large city, the beginning of this lengthy work uses dishearteningly minimalistic atmosphere before becoming welcoming and inviting. Eventually it locks into a grim, expertly-crafted rhythm. The group extracts all conceivable mileage from that rhythm, until around eleven minutes in, when a bright cacophony bursts in, assuming command. The conclusion involves sounds straight out of a lonely and quiet science-fiction epic, with repetitive but hushed electronic and spacey noises, and what sounds like the garbled communication of some alien life form.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Excellent chamber rock album. If you like chamber rock.

Neo-classical compositions, in moments dark, very calculated, are played with great mastership. In a rock manner. Balance between chamber musical component and rock instrumentation is excellent, and possibly it is main strong point of this music. If plenty of less skilled musicians tried (and still trying) to adapt classical music to more rock audience, or just incorporate some classical parts in their rock-based music, this album's music is just naturally melted one. It is almost impossible to separate both components (ok, there is third component - some jazz elements, but far not so important as previous two).

Whenever classical part (as main component) is represented by modern chamber music, with avant elements, all mixture has strong avant-garde smell. It is almost perfect album of such musical combination. And it needs repeating listening for sure.

What is not so perfect (and it is my personal taste) - music there is REALLY chamber, very static and sterile. Even using some rock instruments and sounds, in fact this album is very far from rock atmosphere of freedom. You must wear suit to listen this music and feel yourself comfortable. Nothing strange - one of very old and liveable European tradition it is. But I really would like to open the window and let some street fresh air to come to make this music not such a philharmonic example.

Very personal evaluation - 4.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars On Uzed, Univers Zero changed towards a more rocking approach, brought about by a bigger presence of drums and bass, and even with some sparse electric guitar. The result is a good album that is commonly recognized as a highpoint in the RIO field. But in case the whole RIO idea puts you off for being too artsy and contrived, Uzed might not be the album that will put your worries at ease.

At their best, the band craft their Stravinsky inspired chamber rock into a solid and fluent listen. Not an easy-listen of course, but still with enough attention to good hooks and rocking energy. The opening Présage for example starts very fluently with a repeated theme on piano, melodic violins and energetic outbursts on drums and bass. Halfway in things get more frenzied but everything remains quite accessible and spontaneous.

L'étrange Mixture is a whole lot stranger indeed, with lots of modernist influences, weird rhythms and nervous harmonies. This is where the arty avant-garde side of this music takes over from spontaneous creativity and emotion. It doesn't really satisfy me.

Célesta is entirely different and explores a more introspective and romantic side of classic music rather then the expressionist urge that usually dominates UZ's sound. At least that is the case till they rip the calm apart with a heavily dissonant ending, even featuring some electric guitar. A masterful composition.

Parade is more up-tempo, very busy, and very nervous. As on L'étrange Mixture, my sensitive ears experience an issue with the sound on this album. I'm not a big fan of the 80's electrical piano sound here, also the thin drum sound can't charm me. Had they used a more acoustically sounding production, it might have worked better. It's something that bothers me throughout the album but especially on this track, probably because I would have liked more edge here.

Emmanations is the most difficult track on the album. It starts very appealing, thick with atmosphere, unpleasant industrial sounds and droning rhythms. Halfway in it seems to run out of fuel though. Maybe it's the clinical sound again, as I could see this working very well in a live context. However, this album version lacks the fire I would expect from this kind of music.

Some excellent tracks and some good ones, but not the UZ album that I return to most often. Something's missing and unless I found it some time, I'll leave it at 3.5 stars.

Review by EatThatPhonebook
5 stars This is my first Univers Zero albums, and, in my opinion, it's one of the best Avant Prog albums ever. The year is 1984, but it could easily come from 2084, or even better from another planet. The music is so conceptually unorthodox that it really blows your mind.

Musically this album is insane: each song has a incredible sense of dark and apocalyptic, mixed with some insanity and with bizarre elements. There are many jazz influences, as well as classical ones: in fact, all the most orthodox moments are pretty classical driven. Of course, let's not forget the avant garde feeling, and the massive experimentation used here, a real sense of new and alien music.

"Presage" starts everything. After the mysterious piano intro, it get's very very interesting: basically, it sounds like jazz played by aliens, since all the instruments are driven into a completely different level of playing. The clarinet is probably the biggest highlight, giving the sound an unusual touch of madness. "L'Extrange Mixture...." is the funnest song off the album, and the shortest one as well. Some moments it sounds almost like a joke, but actually it's so serious that it seems that way. In other moments, it's a lot more rigid, but very free at the same time. The most interesting piece of music of the album. "Celesta" is played, on the first half, without any type of percussion, giving this very tense atmosphere, sometimes creepy, that seems like it will explode and finish in any moment. In fact, after 3/4 after the song, the drums come in, and the music becomes unbelievably dark, scary, mysterious, always keeping the sense of apocalyptic. Probably the most effective song of the album. "Parade" is the most unusual song, it is though probably the weakest. Some moments are very interesting, especially because of the unusual rhythms, not only for drums but even for bass and keyboards. The least effective song, and the most forgettable one, despite having interesting moments. "Emmenations" is more than 15 minutes long, a masterpiece of avant prog, a true piece of art. After the first couple of minutes, the song explodes, creating a tense and suspended atmosphere, very enigmatic and curious. The song then goes towards another direction, being generally more calm, but still very puzzling.

In conclusion, I must say that this is one of the best RIO albums I have ever heard. Giving it five stars seems perfectly reasonable for me.

Review by The Truth
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Elegantly dark is how I like to describe this album, it contains some extremely dark music (not as dark as Heresie of course) but at the same time is very elegant.

The haunting opener Presage is a very mysterious and enigmatic track that after hearing it once you just have to hear it again. It's a thick wall of dark beauty that has many layers to peel through.

The second track is a little more light-hearted (if you can call it that) and seems to be there only for the purpose to balance out the material but it does it's job well.

Chantal (For Celesta) is very close to classical music but has that chamber-rock edge to it that makes the album great and in the end the track just seems very epic.

Parade is the most RIO-sounding song on the album, it's stellar guitar playing really makes it stick out. The track also should be noted for keeping the same atmosphere of the rest of the songs while it's still alot heavier.

Emmanations. That is what this album is. When you mix all of the sounds previously heard in the album into one this is what you would get. The track is a long, dark, dense path down the chamber rock road and it's a wild ride. The overused phrase "eargasm" definitely comes to mind when describing this track.

I'd definitely say masterpiece, much better than Heresie in my opinion, it contains more instrumentation which is a win.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Is a masterful set of songs depicting life from the point of view of the university of nothing. Dross and hard work are peppered here and there with glimmerings of joy and harmony. This album is much more melodic and familiar sounding and feeling than I expected. (My first UZ LP was "Clivages.") Composition is very cerebral and yet performances are amazingly emotional! Such a metaphor for the human condition.

The opening of 1. "Presage" (9:48) sounds like MIKE OLDFIELD's "Hergest Ridge"! What a surprise: It's not! Still, the melodies here (and, yes, people, there are melodies) are beautiful and the music far less angular, less staccato and less harsh when compared to later UZ albums. I love the Arabian-influenced electric violin playing and bass slaps wreaking havoc within the steady weave of drums, piano and woodwinds. The shift at 5:30 to more MILES-sounding jazz sounds and structures is awesome. A little MARK ISHAM minimalism mixes in around 6:40, until a stop and slow almost TON BANKS-like section establishes itself from the 7 to 8 minute mark. The song then takes up a GENESIS Canterbury theme. (I never heard it before, but there it is: proof that GENESIS was influenced by the Canterbury Scene.) (19/20) Avant garde outro bleeds right into...

2. "L'étrange mixture du Docteur Schwartz" (3:52) with it's robust bass lines (and chords) laying beat for horns. Piano chords with cello, percussion and then bassoon bass and electric piano bring the four-minute song to a rolling stop. Then the theatric (sounds appropriate for a silent film score). (8/10)

3. "Celesta (for Chantal)" (6:55) broods into our world like a provocative Chick Corea-John McLaughlin collaboration. Minor chords and oppressive periphery riffs and notes from a variety of support albeit almost incidental instruments make one wary of JONI MITCHELL getting ready to sing (ŕ la "Paprika Plains"). But then around the 5:00 mark a unified, syncopated bass & drum rhythm pounds out an obtuse beat for an ALLAN HOLDSORTH-like axe solo to bleed all over the song's last minute and a half. Wicked! (13.5/15)

4. "Parade" (6:37) has a much more upbeat (and, again, GENESIS-like) feel than I might have expected--despite its attempt at somber solemnity. The song's shift at the 3 minute mark allows drummer and clarinetist to go a bit wild for a bit before BURT BACHARACH-like piano, harpsichord & orchestral sounds reign it back onto rank and file. Percussionists break things up for a bit before the song winds down with its celebratory feel. (8.5/10)

The sixteen minute "Emmanations" (15:43) is brilliant! It feels like a rendering of the nefarious march of the human automaton in industrial (or maybe post-industrial?) society. (Lemmings, in the end.) (Are we sure that's not TONY BANKS on the piano & keys?) Interesting coda/outro playing out from the 12:30 mark. Coffee break? Sleep, haunted, restless sleep? Or perhaps the end of human life, the passive takeover of robots. (30/30)

A/five stars; an amazing listening experience--highly recommended. Truly a masterpiece of musical expression of the human spirit. Bravo, UZ!

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars There is quite a change in Univers Zero's sound between the previous album, Ceux Du Dehors and this one. That is understandable, an Daniel Denis changed the entire lineup for this album.

The change is noticable immediately. The first track, Présage, while sounding very much like a Denis composition, also has an almost jazz fusion sound at the same time. It's this sound that would carry on through the next album, the spectacular "Heatwave". The next three songs, are more chamber-like, more like what we are used to from Denis and his cohorts, albeit a little more piano- heavy.

The last piece, Emmanations, is something of a mix of the two styles. With stronger drum rhythms and more prominent bass, it seems that Univers Zero is heading closer to rock territory. "Heatwave" will continue in that direction.

3.5 stars, rounded up.

Review by Warthur
4 stars Of all the "classic-era" Univers Zero albums - that is, those released between their debut and Heatwave, after which they entered a long hiatus like Dracula returning to his tomb - Uzed is the one which took the longest to grow on me. It's clearly in a lot of respects a transitional album between the hyper-complex organic chamber rock of Ceux du Dehors and the more electronic Heldon-influenced sound of Heatwave; note, in particular, how the epic album closer Émanations ultimately disintegrates into an industrial-tinged soundscape that suggests the electronic experiments of the subsequent album.

However, whereas I previously felt that the album falls between two stools somewhat, repeated listens have teased out some more subtle aspects. Subtlety isn't exactly what you expect from the band which gave you the howling, horrific nightmare of Heresie, of course, which is arguably why I missed it the first time, but of all of Univers Zero's classic run of albums, Uzed is by far the gentlest and most peaceful. This can come across as a lack of momentum and vigour, especially since it follows the frantic complexities of Ceux du Dehors, but taken on its own terms it's a gentler, more stealthy, more quietly disconcerting take on Univers Zero's horror-RIO than their usual fare.

Review by Sinusoid
4 stars It appears as if Daniel Denis had transferred what he and ex-UZ guitarist Roger Trigaux had don in Present and took UZ into more conventional instrumentation and slightly more of an electric sound. And somehow within the context of Univers Zero, it still works. The main lesson to take from this is that Univers Zero can still summon very sinister atmospheres with the structure of the sound and band slightly different. There's no bassoon (the saxophones and clarinets can only compensate for so much), and the piano has an extremely larger role here than any other UZ album I've heard.

It's all about how tantalizing the opening motif is and how the band works with that motif throughout the song, which is exactly why the opening ''Presage'' track works so well. Take that innocent little piano line at the beginning and morph it into an explosive, fiery, throbbing piece of avant-prog that rivals Magma's most intense moments. Just listen to the intensity of ''Emmanations'' and try not to remind yourself of the most gorgeous moments in '70s Zeuhl music. And when the band does tone it down like on ''Celesta'', the moments of beauty are well orchestrated and give a convincingly serene mood until there are more explosions.

What I've learned from listening to UZED and listening to a few modern takes on RIO, I've realised one key thing about Univers Zero in general. Yes, they are very classical music based. Yes, they are avant-garde and proggy to the nth degree. Yes, they are quite anti-conventional and anti-commercial. But they don't let any of those traits get in the way of their music. Daniel Denis and company seem to know just how to write effective RIO works; there's no overcomplicating on any of the pieces nor are the pieces avant-garde clearly for the sake of being avant-garde. There has to be memorable melodies (or near out-of-body experiences, as is the case here) in order for the music to have long lasting impact. UZED handles this exceptionally, and it should be held as one of the proudest examples the RIO genre has to offer.

Review by admireArt
5 stars Chamber Rock takes a groundbreaking turn without compromising artistry or musical language in the hands of the mutable Univers Zero ensemble fourth studio album Uzed (1984).

Time in fact had passed by since their first release back in 1977. Those dark, ominous and hopeless atmospheres have cleared out and gave birth 8 years later to this version of Univers Zero where they can actually take time to get down and boogie as no one but King Crimson can do that without losing sight of the whole picture and in step.

Anyway, of course they do boggie for 20 seconds, but that is just an example of how this ensemble has evoluted since its foundation. 1313 (1977) nor Heresie (1979), had space for this kind of bright light,s yet Daniel Denis who is the mastermind behind this conceptual Chamber Rock in Opposition ensemble has always shown a knack for the visions found in the threshold between beauty and the macabre, which is like his personal fascination and music composer signature.

So, as you may have already guessed, this Univers Zero album is one of its ever changing transfigurations as far as music composition goes, but still Univers Zero at heart, even though we are talking about the 80s where most of the 70s bands found their nemesis in new technologies and their respective markets and crashed down horribly, Univers Zero found muscle in those technologies and they never payed that much attention to fashionable markets, therefore they glided through, without, as told, losing a drop of inspiration and renewing what had to be renewed and keeping their artistry intact.

Easy! A RiO & Prog masterpiece!


Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars While the small nation of Belgium was notably left out of the first wave of the progressive rock boom of the early 70s, the land between France and the Netherlands redeemed itself in the latter half of the decade with excellent bands like Cos and Aksak Maboul making a mark on the scene. Of course, no story would be complete with the most successful of the Belgian prog bands of all, namely UNIVERS ZERO which was a part of a new dense and challenging type of avant-prog chamber rock that was a vital ingredient in the ultimate antithesis to the punk and disco scenes that was called Rock In Opposition. While the band's first two albums '1313' and the even darker and scarier 'Heresie' implemented a new stylistic approach that mixed heavy rock elements with mostly acoustic instrumentation with major influence from Bart'k and Stravinsky, the band sort of developed a musical style that hit a musical cul-de-sac by reaching its logical conclusion.

Starting with the band's third album 'Ceux Du Dehors,' UNIVERS ZERO starting lightening up the gloom and doom and marked a major stylistic shift that adopted more electronic sounds, various ethnic musical scales as well as a more eclectic palette of compositional fortitude. Essentially a musical collective with a rotating cast of members led by founder / drummer / chief songwriter Daniel Denis, UZ continued to change its sound drastically without leaving behind the off-kilter angularities that made its particular brand of avant-prog so utterly unique. After 1981's 'Ceux Du Dehors,' UZ embarked on a relentless touring schedule and delayed the released of the fourth album for three years. The four track EP 'Crawling Wind' appeared in between but it wasn't until 1984 that UZ unleashed a new album in the form of UZED. The title basically refers to the initials of the band's name UNIVERS ZERO. The letter U plus ZED, another name for the letter Z in many European nations.

Denis was the only member left of the lineup fo the first three albums and therefore UZED developed a very different sound due to the emphasis on different instrumentation. Andre Mergen's cello and sax playing are emphasized as well as the more aggressive sounds of Michael Delory's electric guitar playing techniques which were a stark contrast to UZ's previous guitar sounds of former co-founder Roger Trigaux. Also new to the band was keyboardist Jean-Luc Plouvier whose role was teased out into completely new experimentations which would be further explored on the band's following album 'Heatwave.' Despite all the changes, the compositions overall are firmly rooted in the classical musical settings that earlier albums implemented. Likewise the dissonance and atonality are scattered around in abundance but not in a suffocating manner. The album seems to balance the darker mood settings of earlier albums with more moments of uplifting splendor.

Perhaps the most immediate distinction from what came before is the heavier use of rock instrumentation and bombast along with a much easier to follow melodic approach that implements not only infinitely less darkened musical scales such as the Middle Eastern influences on the opening 'Pr'sage,' but also a more focused effort on more cyclical loops that add something to latch onto rather than the long drawn out meandering passages that enshrouded the mysterious musical canvas on 'Heresie.' The shortest track of the album 'L'Etrange Mixture du Docteur Schwartz' may clock in at slightly less than four minutes but rocks the house with an incessant pummelation of the drums and an equally feisty attack of the piano stabs, clarinet assaults and rampaging time signatures run amok at reckless high tempo velocities. Likewise Christian Genet's bass slapping is off the charts as he channels his best Christ Squire and really lets loose.

'C'lesta (for Chantal)' distinguishes itself with guest musician Marc Verbist contributing haunting violin sounds and Delory providing the heaviest doses of electric guitar on the album including an unexpected solo near the end however the track starts out bereft of rock elements for the first few minutes as a choppy piano performance ekes out a lugubrious violin and occasional percussive drive. It's not until the last couple of minutes that the track turns to the dark side with an industrial sounding mechanical drive which allows the guitar off the leash and proceeds to go friggin bonkers. 'Parade' is the cheeriest track on board with a 'somewhat' less darkened approach but still performs the expected knotty angularities in a relentless stampede of time signature workouts and instrumental interplay. The track with its rock elements can remind more of King Crimson at its most energetic moments with the usual chamber rock instruments on board. The hairpin twists and turns also conspire to create one of the more dramatic tracks on UZED.

The final 'Emmanations' is not only the longest track on UZED which by clocking in at almost 16 minutes blows away the running time of the rest of the tracks, but also is clearly the highlight. Given the proper time length to slowly percolate slowly and ratchet up the tension, this closer unleashes the newly discovered use of electronic synthesizers in the UZ sound to nurture an ominous stormy cloud cover of sound while the usual chamber rock elements struggle in the dark to find the right riff to latch onto. Once a groove and a riff are found, the instrumental interplay pretty much follows a repetitive cyclical melodic construct that relies on an infinite series of variations to paint a dramatic soundscape. Not to say that twists and turns do not occur but the track is amazingly stable given its sprawling domain over the album's run. The most startling change of the entire album comes just past the 12 minute mark of 'Emmanations' where the it abruptly turns into an industrial echoey soundscape with muddied vocals whispering from the darkness while a drunken violin emerges from the backdrop. A frightening rhythmic pulse evokes more of the sounds of early Einst'rzende Neubauten than anything out of the UZ playbook and ends the album with while presaging the band's next move.

UZED may have lacked the uniformity of its predecessors (especially the first two albums) but made up for it in its sheer audacity to simultaneously explore new sonic textures in myriad directions. While generally considered a transitional album, UZED nevertheless successfully fleshes out many of the subtle aspects that the band was striving for and while not quite reaching the electronic based apex that 'Heatwave' would achieve, the brackish waters of the former acoustic chamber rock elements along with the heavier rock guitar and synthesizer sequences makes for an exciting avant-prog journey throughout the album's five diverse tracks. At this point Denis proved himself to be a master of reinventing the sound as he conducted a whole new cast of characters to bring the early Rock In Opposition sounds into the new decade. While UNIVERS ZERO would never recreate the stunning perfection of '1313' and 'Heresie,' albums like UZED only proved that the intricate creative fusion of classical, chamber music and progressive rock had hardly been exhausted at this point and that in many ways the avant-prog scene was only getting started. A tough listen for sure but ultimately worth the effort.

Latest members reviews

5 stars This is dark and moody Bartokian chamberesque rock at its finest. This differs from the first three albums in that it is ROCK, which I am not sure their first three albums are. Actually, this album ROCKS OUT much of the time, and as a result UZ takes their sinister approach towards RIO to an e ... (read more)

Report this review (#163370) | Posted by kabright | Friday, March 7, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars absolutley brilliant, the first track is a masterpiece with very dark tones and shimmering playing, the brass instruments makes it sort of evil, the last track is also completely mind blowing, the best album ive heard by univers zero till now ... (read more)

Report this review (#82866) | Posted by | Wednesday, July 5, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is my favorite UZ album. I'm not sure why this should shows them going in a different direction than the first three albums. Somewhat more melody based but no less gloomy and panic-striken than the others. Synthesizers appear here for the first time, understated but to good ef ... (read more)

Report this review (#37701) | Posted by | Sunday, June 26, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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