Univers Zero – Heatwave

This may just be the greatest prog album released in the 1980s. It is certainly a highpoint for this Belgian band. For 1986, there wasn’t much better or more progressive than Heatwave. If you thought Neo was the only kind of prog around in the ’80s, then you are very mistaken. You are also denying yourself some great music from that decade. This album is so good it actually rivals some prog albums from the 1970s! Heatwave is an album from the 1980s, recorded by a avant-prog band who started in the 1970s. But it does the unthinkable: the music is just as good as anything from the ’70s, but does not sound like dated ’80s music.

Keyboardist Andy Kirk returns for this album, and brings some of his songs with him. Some of my favourite UZ songs were written by Kirk. Here he writes both the title track and the 20- minute epic “The Funeral Plain”. Yep, UZ decided to do a side-long epic in the mid-80s. There are seven musicians on Heatwave, including a full-time guitarist. This album features UZ at their most electronic and guitar-oriented yet. It sounds like drummer/founder Daniel Denis & co. was being influenced by the industrial music scene of the ’80s. Another Belgian band, Front 242, were one of the more important bands of that scene. Although, UZ don’t sound like them, but nonetheless seemed to add an industrial edge here.

The digital synthesizers used on the album are used to create great sounds. They don’t sound instantly dated like other music from this time period. Well done. The music is the chamber prog you would expect from UZ but with more piano and synths, due to having two keyboardists on board. The guitar adds some great extra textures to the sound. The bass, sax and violin are also important as well. It’s a wonderful thing to hear music this great being created in the mid-1980s.

The title track starts with an almost bagpipe type sound with electronic percussion. Synths and sax then play for awhile. Some echoed acoustic guitar and hi-hat before some bass and modified sax. Military style drumming before bass and drums start next section. Some electric guitar later on. Around 6 minutes starts the best part of the song with dramatic violin and evil sounding synth. After Denis almost plays a funky beat. Ends with some more traditional chamber-prog with good drumming. “Chinavox” has digital synths playing icy cold, vaguely far eastern sounding music. Then some sax. Changes to a different section with violin and sax. Nice synth work here. Later some guitar and clarinet. Goes back to the beginning part.

“Bruit dans les murs” begins with electronic sounds and synth bass before you hear talking with some piano and drums. The synth sounds are awesome in this song. Both an eerie and a spacey vibe to the track. Over halfway through starts to get more dissonant and atonal. After a long section with mostly keyboards. If the first three songs were not great enough, along comes an epic to make them look like filler. “The Funeral Plain” is one of the greatest prog epics ever and should be more widely known. It opens with spacey weird synth sounds. Sometimes it sounds like bells and other times like a bee or some kind of insect. Some organ-like synth joins in. Then piano. Later on the piano plays a simple chord sequence while the viola solos. Then bass clarinet solo. Viola and bass clarinet then duel.

The piano playing alternates between being soft and loud. Then drums enter filling space. You hear some kind of altered voice at one point. Music slowly builds and gets more intense. The music then releases in a slower tempo; builds up again and then stops. Next, at the halfway point, starts some of the best music on the album. Metallic electronic sounds go back and forth in the stereo spectrum. Additional synth noises can be heard. The effect is hypnotic. Then bass clarinet comes in with atmospheric synths. Later military style drumming along with violin and bass. Then more synths and guitar. Builds to a great climax, then music calms down. Gets dramatic again briefly and then ends with some synth generated water drops. Incredible!

This would be the last UZ album for over ten years. I think they reached a peak here. I believe the first album was the weakest of the first five and they only got better. Denis had to dissolve the group after this due to financial problems. Having seven members in the group probably didn’t help. Quite literally, Univers Zero was making music for a world that didn’t care. I think the only reason their contemporaries Art Zoyd survived was because of that group’s affiliation with film soundtracks and ballet productions. The MTV & Top 40 radio loving crowd let this great band die(temporarily). I don’t think Heatwave gets enough love. It’s certainly a masterpiece of progressive rock. You won’t hear much prog from the 1980s sounding better than this.

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