Beyond the tritely stereotypical definitions (“gothic chamber rock”) and associations (Stravinsky and Bartok) read everywhere for over three decades, the importance of Univers Zero lies somewhere else. For starters, they were — together with “brothers in arms” Art Zoyd — the first group to try and make people trained on Western banality accept the fact that riffs and vamps can also be conceived in odd signatures such as 11/8 or 17/16, better if executed by a bassoon in its lowest registers accompanied by an equally ominous viola (Michel Berckmans and Patrick Hanappier were two masters at that). But there has always been a suspect here about a sense of humor underlying the tenebrous façade of the Belgian ensemble, confirmed in the accompanying booklet by Daniel Denis’ recount of their repressed laughing while posing for Heresie‘s gloomy cover.
Yet there’s no denying that the splendid artistic adventurousness of all the components, including the ones who just touched and went, is at the basis of one of the most inimitable collectives to appear in the last forty years. This reissue, containing a meticulously re-mastered version of this matchless album, once again gives us the occasion of enjoying a band whose playing was (is) technically impeccable, characterized by a perceptible passion and by the will of looking for different ways to express the combination of dissatisfaction for what the musical scene offered at that time and the fondness for sonic intricacy that made UZ the best selling entity among RIO aficionados. This writer remembers the times when finding this item in his depressed native area was considered a lucky strike: the delusion generated by a friend who came back from London with a sole copy (obviously kept for himself) is still tangible in the memory.
Luckily, besides many other virtues, Cuneiform specializes in the aural relief of old farts like yours truly. So prepare yourselves to renew the slightly morbid pleasure of listening to the threatening reciting voices (in an invented jargon) of the epic “La Faulx”, licking your lips as the complicated juxtapositions of rhythms and obsessive vamps of “Jack The Ripper” unfold, closing eyes and smiling approvingly when Roger Trigaux’s “Vous Le Saurez En Temps Voulu” starts clutching the nape of the neck, forcing you to consider orchestral solutions that do not imply idiot optimism or Mozart-ish molasses. Even without the bonus track “Chaos Hermetique” — decidedly under average as opposed to the original masterpiece — this re-edition is a must.
A new and entirely intriguing chapter in an apparently endless story, this work will satisfy the whole lot of Univers Zero fans. Those who affirm that Heatwave was a pinnacle; others who think that there’s nothing comparable to 1313 or Heresie. And even the ones, including this reviewer, who believe that Crawling Wind might snatch the top prize. Friendly advice: do your best to listen to the complete discography.