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Univers Zero - 2010 - "Clivages"

(66:27, Cuneiform Records)



1.  Les Kobolds 4:15
2.  Warrior 12:10
3.  Vacillements 3:35
4.  Earth Stream 3:11
5.  Sobresauts 7:59
6.  Apesanteur 3:40
7.  Three Days 5:53
8.  Straight Edge 13:57
9.  Retour de Foire 7:42
10. Les Cercles d’Horus 3:45


Daniel Denis – drums, percussion; sampling
Pierre Chevalier – keyboards; glockenspiel 
Michel Berckmans – bassoon, oboe, horn
Kurt Bude – clarinets, saxophone
Martin Lauwers – violin
Dimitry Evers – basses
Andy Kirk – guitar
Philippe Thuriot – accordion (1, 10)
Aurelia Boven – violoncello (10)
Nicolas Denis – drums (10)

Prolusion. A follow-up to “Implosion” from 2004, “Clivages” is the ninth studio album by the originators of the Belgian chamber rock school, Belgium’s very own UNIVERS ZERO (UZ hereinafter), released early in 2010. Being unacquainted with the band’s previous three outings, i.e. those it has issued after reforming back in the second half of ‘90s, I only can use its first six creations for comparisons here.

Analysis. Made up of ten tracks, ranging from 3 to 14 minutes in length, this latest outing by Univers Zero is surprisingly long, and would have represented a double LP if it had been released sometime in the ‘70s or the ‘80s. Overall, the album shows that Daniel Denis and his cohorts are still quite faithful to their once chosen (created!) style, but most of the compositions aren’t as strikingly intricate as those from their early and mid period of work. Besides, the customary darkness seems not to be a dominant feature of their music’s emotional palette anymore, the CD opener Les Kobolds being light in mood throughout, and even has a jovial feeling within its first third, where UZ additionally deploys Southern European folk motifs. This piece is not the first to reveal stylings that I haven’t met in the ensemble’s work before, nor is it the first one to bring to mind the term Neo RIO (which I previously used regarding U Totem and some other modern chamber rock outfits as well). Its follow-up, the epic Warrior, is in turn full of dark, Wagnerian colorations, waxing with distinct nostalgia for the ‘classic’ UZ days. This is my favorite track here. Maybe, it doesn’t quite deliver on the brutal force and impetuous energy found in the band’s first phase of work, but anyhow, it has all of the other symbols of UZ at its summit, including the assonant harmonic progressions, shifting measures, singular rhythms (some of which, though, instantly evoke those in Magma) and outstanding arrangements, especially in the woodwinds, courtesy of Michel Berckmans. The other three chamber rock pieces, Sobresauts, Apesanteur and – another epic – Straight Edge, each on all levels come across as a synthesis of the first two described ones (minus folk motifs), although one of the middle sections of the latter track suggests jazz ambient in style, exceeding 3 minutes in length. Still, all of these are challenging compositions, in which there are enough clever musical constructions and assonant melodies to please any connoisseur of the genre. Albeit emotionally lighter than even most of Art Zoyd, Vacillements and Apesanteur are both excellent from top to toe, so to speak. These are pieces of neoclassical music with only chamber instruments in the arrangement. Retour de Foire seems to steer in the same direction overall, but isn’t too impressive, mainly because it is slow-paced throughout. Finally, Earth Stream and Les Cercles d’Horus, both come across as merely makeweights, the former being particularly poor in ideas. The melody that is played by the violin over a strange noise (resembling some sort of machinery) seems to be almost frozen, and the instrument itself often sounds like a sampled one. Is this ambient industrial or vice versa? Either way, it’s very atypical of the band and is disappointing. I didn’t expect UZ to be affected by the notorious CD syndrome.

Conclusion. While I haven’t heard UZ’s previous three outings, my workmates on the site have, besides which I’ve read some reviews of those. If the band’s decision to move from the chamber rock style it pioneered, turning towards a more light sound, has really coincided with the time of its reincarnation, I think I can say for sure that they still continue following that direction. Although “Clivages” is a very good album (and would’ve been excellent without the two makeweights), I won’t equate it to the ones I’ve heard before – to either of those. On the other hand, I can heartily recommend it as a guide to the genre for neophytes – as an excellent one, I must add. Top-20-2010

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: April 16, 2011
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Cuneiform Records
Univers Zero


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