Their rapid-fire, asymmetrical minor-key themes are not only executed flawlessly, but...
Bill Tilland 2002-11-20
A worthy (and final) addition to Cuneiform's reissue of the Univers Zero back catalogue, Crawling Wind was initially released in 1983 by the Japanese division of Recommended Records as a limited edition EP. On this reissue, the three original tracks have been supplemented by two unreleased live pieces, plus another excellent studio track, "Influences," which originally appeared on ReR's "Rock in Opposition" sampler. Chronologically, five of the six tracks on the CD came after the three landmark Univers Zero LPs originally issued on the French Atem label -- 1313, Heresie and Ceux Du Dehors. As such, Crawling Wind displays UZ at a creative peak, playing in a mature chamber rock style and featuring their unique mixture of stringed instruments (cello, viola, violin), woodwinds (bassoon, oboe, clarinet), keyboards (organ, harmonium, piano, synths) -- all propelled by the powerhouse, Magma-inspired rhythm section of Guy Seger on bass and Daniel Denis on drums.
The three live tracks are rather loosely structured, concentrating more on texture and mood, without the ferocious precision of the typical studio material. Cellist Andre Mergenthaler does a remarkable turn on "Triumph de Mouches," evoking a soul in torment or some malign emissary from the spirit world. It's a sound guaranteed to make the flesh crawl, if not the wind.
"Toujours plus a l'est" and "Influences" are classic Univers Zero, filled with slashing runs, unexpected melodic turns and jagged, relentlessly percussive pulses. Their rapid-fire, asymmetrical minor-key themes are not only executed flawlessly, but the music has a rugged vitality lacking in most of its later art rock equivalents where cleverness and virtuosity came to be valued over substance. Univers Zero's music may be relatively tough to play, but complexity or virtuosity is never the point. And while the morbid gloom of the original album cover art (together with drummer Denis's well-known enthusiasm for pulp horror writer H.P.Lovecraft) may create expectations of generic Gothic kitsch, Univers Zero's music is commendably free of posturing or affectation. This dedicated and tightly disciplined group really did listen carefully to Bartok and Stravinsky, not to mention Shostokovich, Prokofiev, and earlier Russian orientalists such as Rimsky-Korsakov. And their music really does integrate rock and 20th century classical music, rather than just making a few superficial grandstand moves (I won't mention any names) in the direction of high culture.
Listeners unacquainted with Univers Zero should probably pick up one or more of their first three releases prior to obtaining this one. On the other hand, Crawling Wind could conceivably serve as a representative UZ primer for the novice listener, as its mixture of live and studio dates provides a rich and varied musical feast. UZ completists, of course, will simply have to have this CD -- and they won't be disappointed.