It’s been 30 years since the original incarnation of Belgium’s Univers Zero birthed its well-crafted and powerful version of chamber rock. To commemorate the milestone, Cuneiform Records, long-time supporters of the UZ institution, reissued their debut album with a 16-page booklet, a 28-minute bonus live track, and remastered sound. Many labels claim “Remastered!” only to disappoint; the reissue rarely differs from the original. Here, the refurbishing could not be more obvious, and constitutes quite an improvement.
The 2008 version of Univers Zero (often known for its catalog number, 1313) is radically remixed. The stereo effects that pervade the original CD version from 1989 are gone, in favor of what I take to be a sound more akin to the 1977 band performing live. Whether or not this is true, the many interwoven lines of counterpoint are now much more discernible when such instruments as guitar, violin, cello, spinet and bassoon support and vie for prominence with bass and drums. Indeed, it is bassist Christian Genet and guitarist Roger Trigaux who benefit most in this new mix, their playing as prominent and full as it must have been in performance. All balances are different, and many rough edits and distortions on the 1989 issue have been smoothed out. Some light stereo reverb has been added too much of the proceedings, enhancing the image of musicians playing together in a single environment.
There was a certain alien gestalt about the 1989 issue that’s now lost, but probably for the better. The only casualties are Michel Berckmans’ claustrophobic bassoon lines on “Malaise,” once larger than life, now rendered natural – and almost too normal. But this is a minor quibble, as Daniel Dennis’ drumming is magnified throughout, rumbling in powerful accord with Genet’s bass to give the album new depth at almost every turn.
After the original album’s 38 minutes, the disc is augmented by a live version of “Faulx,” the brooding roaring monster that infested the first side of the band’s 1979 offering, Heresy. It moans and writhes its way into uneasy life, alternately meditative and explosive, hinting at the visceralgia to come in Roger Trigaux’s offshoot band Present. A shocker that nicely complements the disc’s myriad subtle surprises.