Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home
Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Univers Zero

Univers Zero

Review by Gary Hill

This is a reissue of the first Univers Zero album. The group was one of the originators of the Rock In Opposition (or RIO) movement, so as you can imagine this is progressive rock that doesn’t have a lot of ‘rock” in its delivery. It is dark and highly symphonic. If you can imagine taking the weirdest segments of early King Crimson and shifting them even further into strangeness – and building your whole sound around that – then you have an idea what this is like. The thing is, despite the odd textures and non-linear movement of the music there is a certain (albeit dark) beauty to it. With this reissue they have included a 28 minute live piece. This is a must have for RIO aficionados.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at

Track by Track Review
A bouncy sort of rhythmic structure leads off and classical instrumentation rises with a playful sort of sound. As this works forward more percussion is added in a rather busy arrangement. A more melodic sound rises up after a time and they work their way through a rather Crimson-like arrangement. Several changes ensue. In fact, this seems to be in a constant state of flux. More classically oriented segments are countered by jazzy portions. Weirdness sits tightly against more melodic music. This thing covers a lot of musical territory and seems to come back to revisit some of its favorite themes here and there. It is a challenging piece and not one for the casual listener. This is a fifteen plus minute free form foray through all kinds of musical exploration. It’s really hard to catalog all the varying movements because it seems like every few measures they turn wildly into something new.

At less than four minutes in length this is considerably shorter than the track that brought us into this world.  It is also far more cohesive and less dynamic. There is less cacophony in this. It has a sort of playful beauty to much of it. Parts of this call to mind the music to old school cartoons.

Docteur Petiot
This is longer than the previous number, but really only roughly half the length of the first composition. There is more of a rock (albeit like early weird King Crimson) feel to this than we’ve heard in the previous two numbers. They move this one in fairly fast and playful directions. It’s definitely more accessible than “Ronde” was, but no one would ever expect to hear this on anything close to pop radio. There is an intriguing section where they alternate between frantic jamming and sedate nearly classical textures. We only get one iteration of this, though, and the next time it drops back they take their time bringing it back up.

In some ways this is more accessible. It’s certainly not got a lot of rock instrumentation in the midst of it, but it definitely has an intriguing careening movement to it and some rather intense sounds. This is roughly the same length as the last piece. There are some interesting King Crimson-like musical concepts here. This is actually probably my favorite track on the disc. It definitely gets altered and rearranged with turns right and left very frequently.
At less than three and a half minutes in length this is the shortest track on show here. It’s definitely very classical in nature but also quite dissonant and free form.

La Faulx
This is a live bonus track that was not on the original release. At over 28 minutes it is also the longest number here. It rises gradually, but with a definite ominous texture. We get a burst of percussion dominating for a while. Then it shifts towards more textural territory again as they rise back upward. It never rises very far, but rather drops back down to textural weirdness. Some spoken words come over the top of this. It almost sounds like some sort of ritual as these textural elements build up. As this gets more and more intense it feels ever the more evil. At around the seven and a half minute mark it drops way down. Still dark and ominous this builds up gradually. The voice is back, but feeling almost like demonic snarling. This drops way back, but when it starts to come back up it is even more frightening. Terrified screams accompany a cacophonic musical texture. This ends quickly and only textural sounds remain. This eventually morphs into some more elegant, but still dark music. Weird rhythmic structures emerge to pull this onward. It becomes powerful with jabbing lines of sound. Eventually it drops back down and builds tentatively up again. They bring this up with a dissonant, louder texture. They suddenly turn this towards something rather akin to early King Crimson, but it still shifts from there in extremely short order. They shift out towards weird, unsettling textural elements after that. This holds the piece for a reasonably (at least in terms of how quickly the music here changes most the time) long period of time. Then heavier sounds emerge and this becomes more frightening in its tone. They create a more symphonic element over this, but it does nothing to ease the tension elicited by this portion of the music. Eventually this turns more textural, but then lines of sound stab upward bringing chaos. The group turn even more chaotic and then give us a false ending amidst punches of percussion. Classical elements rise up in dramatic ways from the silence left behind. They carry this upward and forward as one of the more melodic segments of this piece. It’s still ominous, but it is definitely more accessible than some of the other music here. It shifts towards more sedate mysterious sounds as it carries forward. Eventually this moves in new directions as they twist it around. We get a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

More CD Reviews
Metal/Prog Metal
Progressive Rock

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2021 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./