The dark, churning maelstron that is Belgium's Univers Zero returns with Live, a powerful set that was recorded in June of 2005 from two shows, one in Brussels, and one in LesLilas, France. Having seen this band live once myself, I can only say that the intense sounds captured in the studio take on new life on a concert stage. Univers Zero's dark, brooding, yet far reaching musical explorations create caverns of sounds rarely heard in the realm of rock music, and the band launch into eight examples of prime chamber rock, or RIO (rock in opposition), that hints at classical, jazz, avant-garde, and prog rock, all at the same time.
Led by drummer extraordinaire Daniel Denis, the band plows through an incredible rendition of "Xenantaya", highlighted by the fusion styled keyboard work of Peter Van Den Berghe, the soaring oboe and clarinet work of Michel Berckmans and Kurt Bude, Martin Lauwers ripping violin, and the rock solid bass of Eric Plantain. At just under 13-minutes in length, it is the longest piece in the set, and takes you on a journey through a myriad of styles and moods, as well as one complex twist after another. "Civic Circus" is a more quirky and jazzy tune, with nimble and weaving reeds courtesy of Berckmans & Bude, plus a gorgeous piano solo from Ven Den Berghe. Bude's sax explorations cut through the otherwise ominous and avant-garde sounds of "Electronika Mambo Musette", which also sees some fantastic stick work from Denis as he flails away with plenty of impressive rhythms and fills. The tension filled and foreboding drama of "Kermesse Atomique" might remind you of mid-70's King Crimson or even Present, but there's a strong classical and jazz tug-of-war going on here that is quite compelling and really adds a different element to the piece.
You can't go wrong with the manic sounds of "Bonjour Chez Vous ", which is classical chamber rock at its finest, with Denis and his gymnastic drums leading complex lines featuring bassoon, clarinet, violin, and keyboards through a rigorous exercise of precision ensemble arrangements. Simply wonderful stuff. Next up is one of the strongest cuts from the Implosion album, called "Meandres", a creepy avant-garde number that sees the entire band delivering all sorts of odd noises, especially the reeds, bass, and violin, until the whole unit starts grooving as one and delivering at a frantic pace. Denis performs a nimble and virtuoso drum solo on the beginning to "Falling Rain Dance", another winner from the Implosion album, that is actually very jazzy in nature, with Plantain's popping bass lines and Lauwers stabbing lead violin. The CD is rounded out by the majestic and symphonic sounds of "Toujours Plus A L'Est", a real workout for violin, oboe, and clarinet, and song that gets more and more complex with dizzying unison lines as each minute passes. As the song comes to a close, it slows down to an almost pastoral feel, sounding almost like the classic band Oregon.
If you didn't know better, you would swear that this was a perfectly crafted studio album that took years to record. Nope. This is as good as it gets folks, a live album from six superb musicians, playing music that is so far removed from mainstream culture, yet so accessible and enjoyable to anyone willing to give their complex yet rich style a chance. Highly, highly recommended!
1. Xenantaya (12:53)
2. Civic Circus (7:33)
3. Electronika Mambo Musette (7:20)
4. Kermesse Atomique (6:04)
5. Bonjour Chez Vous (5:00)
6. Meandres (10:33)
7. Falling Rain Dance (8:53)
8. Toujours Plus A L'Est (8:21)