Univers Zero - The Hard Quest

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalog Number: Rune 120
Format: CD
Total Time: 54:04:00

The Hard Quest by Belgium's Univers Zero is a very cinematic release, beginning with the dark, slow-march like "Vieux-Manants." Of course, one often gets a "soundtrack" feeling from an instrumental album of this kind -- nevermind that many movie soundtracks these days are put together with pop/rock hits rather than an original score. But there is something extra that really makes this seem cinematic in that classic movie sense. Univers Zero are lead by Daniel Denis on drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica and, on one track, voice. On bassoon, oboe, English horn, melodica, and piano is Michel Berckmans; on clarinet and bass clarinet, Dirk Descheemaeker; on violin, Igor Semenoff; and on electric bass (and voice and acoustic guitar on one track), Reginald Trigaux.

The music for the most part is mellow and proceeds along at a measured pace. Described as a being a "chamber rock" band, the rock aspect is what you might think. Well, it is, and it isn't. I mean, it not a rock music with bassoon and violin elements, its chamber music with rock elements. Most of what gives it the rock aspect is the drumming of Denis. The "rockiest" track is "Xenantya." Still mellow rock to be sure, a little less "chamber" and little more "rock." Of course, the "chamber" aspects aren't absent totally, but they are a less prominent part of the mix. As on this piece, there are at times a bit of an eastern feel to the some of the arrangements of others, but it is brief. Overall, the feel is decidedly European, old world and classical throughout. Although there is a certain darkness to most of the music, a bit gothic in atmosphere at times, there are a few moments that are instrumentally light.

"Civic Circus" is a lighter track, the arrangement upbeat, cheerful almost (something that can be said also of "R?bus," but in a different way). The use of English horn in the mix adds that upbeatness, the bassoon adding a "comic" effect. I'm sure there is a play on words here, too, as circus is not only an event with performers, but a term relating to a circular shape. On the one hand, it could be a commentary on society, how it become like a circus (e.g., a joke), but also how we keep coming back to the same idea. By the way, this idea, at least the latter part, is reflected in the image of the snake eating his own tail that appears on the back cover of the booklet and the outside of the tray liner. Of course, another track is called "Rouages" - or in English "Cogwheels" - another circular shape. This piece begins with some interesting percussion from Denis, as if he is drumming on sheets of aluminum, pulled taut (I'm thinking kettle drums), accompanied by a crying violin. It's a piece that also features a nice piano-like keyboard lead passage backed by the full band. "R?bus" is subtitled "(To All Children)" which would be the perfect score to a gothic children's film? I see some dark, ironic tale?

"News From The Outside" is a dark, swirling piece? a chaotic yet subdued mix of sound, the choatic feel amplified by Denis' percussion. Though there are vocals on this piece, they are back in the mix. In this case, deliberately placed as to be part of the chaos. It ends with a particularly squeeky violin or sax (I'm not sure which) that just adds a bit of acidic feel to the piece.

I was extremely impressed with this CD upon first hearing it, and having now listened to it a dozen times or more (and I'm leaning towards the more), I find I'm more impressed with it. The production is excellent, revealing every little nuance of the CD, down to the subtlest percussion accent. The sound is warm, the instruments are perfectly arranged in the mix? in fact, this might possibly be the best mixed CD I've heard in a while. There's a depth to both the arrangements and production that gives you a three- dimensional effect - if you try to visualize it - that makes you feel you could step right into the milieu. That you can stand in the dark forest of sound, seeing and feeling every tree, every branch, every leaf? in fact, every vein of every leaf.

Anyone who loves music as art, as an expressive art form will no doubt fall in love with this album? I look forward to exploring this band's music more.

Vieux-Manants (2:50) / Civic Circus (4:38) / Affinit&ecaute; (5:52) / Rouages (5:50) / News From Outside (3:24) / R?bus (To All Children) (2:46) / Kermesse Atomique (5:33) / Succ?s Damn? (4:18) / L'Impasse Du Chol?ra (1:48) / Xenantaya (10:34) / L'Oubli (1:46)

Michel Berckmans - bassoon, oboe, English horn, melodica, piano
Daniel Denis - drums, keyboards, percussion, melodica; voice (5)
Dirk Descheemaeker - clarinet, bass clarinet
Igor Semenoff - violin
Reginald Trigaux - electric bass, voice, acoustic guitar

1313 (1977)
Heresie (1979)
Ceux De Duhors (1981)
Crawling Wind (1983/2001)
UZED (1984)
Heatwave (1986)
The Hard Quest (1999)
Rhythmix (2002)
Implosion (2004)
Live (2005)

Genre: RIO

Origin BE

Added: August 1st 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.univers-zero.com
Hits: 933
Language: english


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