Univers Zero

Heatwave

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For years after its release, Heatwave was presumed to be the Univers Zero group finale, until the band re-emerged over a decade later with The Hard Quest in 1999. On Heatwave, the transition from acoustic chamber music to electric rock is complete, and the somewhat uncertain steps of Uzed, Univers Zero's previous release, have become purposeful and confident. Almost all the Uzed musicians have returned for this date, together with Andy Kirk on keyboards and original Univers Zero violist/violinist Patrick Hanappier. Perhaps the only criticism that could be levied against the first three tracks on the CD is that they fall a little too comfortably into the prog rock genre, although they compare favorably to the best (and darkest) of King Crimson. However, Andy Kirk's long final track, "The Funeral Plain," is something else altogether, and demonstrates that the band was still capable of stunning originality. Kirk opens with some eerie alien raspings on synth, followed by high-pitched drones and then a quiet but relentless two-note piano pattern. Hanappier joins in with a pensive viola melody, as does Dirk Descheemaeker on clarinet and then Hanappier on violin. Daniel Denis and Christian Genet weigh in with some ponderous unison drum and bass work, tension builds, the tempo increases, and then everything stops. The original alien scrabbling returns, except this time with a relentless, clock-like rhythm, new themes are introduced, and tension builds once more through the skilled use of unresolved chord progressions, continually changing key signatures, and the ultimate wild wailing of synths and electric guitar. The tempo changes to a dirge, then staccato bursts, and finally subsides with the desolate sound of dripping water. Kirk dedicates this piece to "all living hardships that lead into self-awareness," and like the best of Univers Zero elsewhere, it transcends prog rock or any other known musical form, occupying a unique niche all by itself.

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