Home > Music > Univers Zero – Heresie (1979)

Univers Zero – Heresie (1979)

Once upon a time, in a magical land known only to humankind as France, there lived a man named Daniel Denis. He was a musician in the increasingly notable and popular band Magma…
…but only for a few months. Apparently, Denis’s musical approach didn’t jive with Vander’s, and he ended up leaving the band after a few months and no studio recordings. Then, he became one of the founding members of Univers Zero, who began as a similarly “freaky” prog-rock/jazz band, but steadily incorporated elements of classical music into their sound until to those who had followed their evolution from the beginning, they must’ve been utterly unrecognizable. Regardless, this got them into the short lived “Rock in Opposition” movement with several other particularly challenging progressive rock bands, and as a result, Univers Zero is another one of those bands that has put out albums for decades and has a reasonably large underground following.

Heresie may or may not be their best work, but it is definitely one of their most famous recordings, and by my appraisal, where they drifted furthest away from rock music and into the rarefied realms of contemporary classical. It’s in contrast to their debut, which often relies on a King Crimson flavored style (there are many, the mentioned one is most prevalent on Red and Discipline) involving repeating riff cycles in odd time signatures with heavy dissonance. The latter two elements are obviously still here and perhaps in greater quantities, but there’s less emphasis on repetition, and more ‘movement’ within songs. In classical terms, there are fewer sections of recapitulation, where themes introduced near the beginning return, generally with some embellishment or variation. The more elaborate song structures are obviously a result of the lengthier songs on Heresie compared to its predecessor.

Now, the obvious difference between those two albums is that Heresie is a lot darker and “scarier” in its aesthetic. The band’s early period is often described as this, but generally it explores a greater variety of moods. This, on the other hand, just broods and shrieks in agony and is generally intended to evoke more negative images. The first track (25 minute epic “La Faulx”) is a perfect example of this – the first few minutes  are almost atonal, without much rhythm, and showcase some vocals (rare for this band); a short incantation in French, followed by ghastly screaming. Perhaps those screams have very little on the constant biologically distorted vocals of extreme metal, but the intended effect is clear. The other two tracks are shorter, faster, and are far more modal and melodic; they also contain some of those King Crimson-esque passages. They still wouldn’t fit on the band’s debut, though, because they remain ‘dark’ in their mood.

Honestly, what can I say? I just like this album, and not because it’s got the ‘dark’ aspect. In fact, I am often loathe to describe things as ‘dark’ because my standards for it are slightly inflated by my usual listening habits. This could be described as ‘horror film’ music, clearly capable of working with psychological, suspense driven horror. However, I really don’t think this could be applied to any other whole album in Univers Zero’s discography; listening to this could give you the wrong impression of the band’s work. As previously mentioned, other albums by this band explore a greater variety of moods; their 2010 album Clivages in fact showcases some very upbeat material, although one song on it (“Warrior”) is a match for the sort of content on here. Given the frequent lineup changes the band went through, one could hypothesize that the greater variety on later albums was an attempt to avoid becoming repetitive; whether that’s true or whether they succeeded in avoiding that is a topic for another time.
Highlights – Everything. I probably wouldn’t give this a 100% rating, since some of the sections in “La Faulx” do lose focus, but it’s still essential to fans of this sort of music, and recommended listening for humanity.

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