Belgian band Univers Zero are the originators, and sole practitioners of a style of music that has come to be known as “chamber rock.” Combining the driving rhythms of rock with classical of an extremely dark vintage, they have come up with a sound that is incredibly unique. Since their debut, 1313 was released in 1977, Univers Zero’s personnel shuffles have been nearly constant, and they took most of the 1990’s off. But like some sort of malevolent creature from the underground, they keep coming back.
Relaps: Archives 1984-1986 captures the band onstage at a fascinating point in their career trajectory. Having exhausted the somewhat acoustic and gothic influences of their early work, Univers Zero was really into amplifying their sound in the mid-Eighties. There is also a marked progressive and fusion influence in the music.
The eight tracks contained on Relaps were recorded at various sites in Germany and Belgium from 1984-86. All of the songs come from two albums, UZED (1984) and Heatwave (1987) except for “Ligne Claire.”
Relaps opens up with three songs from UZED, recorded in Hannover, Germany in 1984. From the beginning notes of “L’Etrange Mixture Du Docteur Schwartz,” we are in for an interesting ride. The sax opening gives way to a complex arrangement with time changes galore. The combination of saxes, clarinet, and cello, with the more rock associated bass, drums and keyboards is compelling.
The ten-minute “Presage” follows, and reminds me more of King Crimson or Magma circa 1974 than anything else. The third track from this concert, “Parade” sounds like an extension of “Presage,” with the addition of a brilliant clarinet solo from Dirk Descheemaeker towards the end.
The other three-song set on Relaps was recorded in 1985 at a Belgian concert. At this show, Univers Zero previewed tracks that were to later be included on Heatwave. The song “Heatwave” begins the set, with a much more modern sound than previously heard. The drums are right up front, and the introductory sax leads into a song that would not have sounded out of place on an early Utopia album.