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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Univers Zero

Clivages

Review by Gary Hill

Univers Zero is considered progressive rock. At times they fit that definition. Well, depending on your angle of what is and isn’t progressive rock, they might always fit the definition. The real question is where the rock comes in sometimes. Often, their music is more an amalgamation of chamber music and jazz with some RIO thrown in for good measure. They do rock out here and there and often without the use of traditional rock instruments. Sometimes they can get a little too “out there” for my tastes, but that never happens on this new album. Either my tastes have changed from continued exposure or this is one of their more accessible releases. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still Univers Zero and it’s not about to be on the radio. It’s just that it seems to be fairly easy to latch onto melodies and something resembling a hook throughout the disc. I like this a lot and it might have two of my all time favorite Univers Zero tracks on it.


This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Les Kobolds

To my ear there is an almost Yes-like feel to a lot of the musical progressions here. Yet, they are delivered with instrumentation that comes closer to classic, jazz and chamber music, all rolled into one. There are other musical elements here, too, but really with a different set of instruments playing this piece, I would bet that this would sound a lot like Yes.

Warrior
This rises up tentatively and more symphonic. It grows slowly and gradually. After taking it organically upward for a time, it burst out to a new motif that is both very classical and symphonic, but also contains some dark crunch akin to King Crimson’s Red era. This is a real scorcher and one my favorites of all time from the group. It works out to a more jazz like movement that reminds me of Henry Mancini goes RIO. This takes us in a new, more rocking direction later. The King Crimson elements are reintroduced into this mix later and we are taken into some soundtrack like music before they finish.
Vacillements
This piece is very much a playful sort of classical treatment. There is no rock at all here. At times it does resemble soundtrack music. 
Earth Scream
More like found sounds than music, there are instruments here, but this feels like the sounds of some creepy factory somewhere.
Soubresauts
Another with progressions that at times make me think of Yes, this works through a number of changes. It’s got a definite symphonic texture to it, but is also quite jazz-like. We get some intriguing changes and alterations as this moves onward. It has some soundtrack like moments and much of this is quite classical. As it continues I can hear more Yesisms in terms of little pieces of music here and there. Yet it’s delivered with a sound that seems merged between fusion and classical music. It gets quite bombastic. 
Apesanteur
Starting with mellow chamber music, this grows out into a jam that is more prog rock in terms of its musical progression, but still based on the same type of instrumentation. It’s a cool tune that again makes me think of Henry Mancini a bit. There are some intriguing shifts and changes in the course of this run. 
Three Days
The opening motif here has a drama to it, but is also playful. This is quite classical in nature. It shifts after a while to a darker and more demanding sound. The music during this section makes me think of the soundtrack to the movie “Reanimator.” It works back out to what feels like a variant of the opening themes later. 
Straight Edge
This comes in with a symphonic solo that crosses at times into jazz. After a while keyboards join and bring in a drama and beauty, but also a sense of fear. The track works out from there into a motif that’s not fearful at all, but rather melodic and almost tranquil, despite a more powered up presence. Even so, the elements that created that sense of fear still remain. It gets more of a rock texture after a time and then shifts to something akin to King Crimson. Then a 1970’s funk sound is introduced as they take us into a new high energy jam. This is quite a dynamic and powerful piece of music that has jazz, funk, classical and pure prog all woven into it. There are some cool bits of retro keyboards here and there. After working its way around a number of alterations and new movements it drops way down to a rather ambient segment with bits of conversation woven into it. From there it moves to some real weirdness with instruments sounding like animals in torment. This could fit well into a movie soundtrack and despite its strangeness is quite compelling. We’re taken into a rather operatic movement from there that again would fit well in the format of a movie soundtrack. Still as this turns more noisy on its way to a crescendo there are bits of crazed sounding voices. From there we’re deposited back into the killer fusion jam that we heard earlier. They take us in some new directions from there. This composition is definitely another highlight of the disc, and another that qualifies as one of my favorite Univers Zero tracks.
Retour De Foire
Somewhat dark and insistent, this track has a lot of classical and soundtrack music built into it. It’s not very rock oriented at all, staying instead in the musical realm of a chamber music. We get some tasty melodic music later in the piece that I like quite a bit. That movement takes it out. 
Les Cercles D'Horus
Coming in with a pounding, dark and ominous sort of tone, this grows up from there in very classical ways. It continues onward and is quite accessible and tasty.
 
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