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Rock in Opposition: Ahvak, Guapo, Univers Zero

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AHVAK: Ahvak (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This debut release from 2004 offers 53 minutes of chamber rock.

Ahvak is: Yehuda Kotton on guitars, Ishay Sommer on bass, Udi Susser on keyboards, woodwinds, vocals, baglama and darbooka, Roy Yarkoni on keyboards and piano, Udi Koomran on computer, and Dave Kerman (from 5uu's and U-Totem) on drums and percussion. Ahvak, one of the newest bands to emerge from Israel's blossoming progressive music scene, derives their name from the Hebrew word for "dust".

Only two of the seven tracks feature vocals, and those lyrics are brief and recondite. The majority of the CD offers resolutely instrumental compositions.

Passionate percussion swarms like a flock of forceful birds, harbingers for intricate keyboard riffs and cerebral piano interludes that are melded into the thick mix. Searing guitar blazes amid a bevy of eerie computer effects, while the bass thunders along like a foundation of vibrating concrete. Woodwinds filter like jovial songbirds, uncharacteristic amid the intense frenzy, yet apropos for that very out-of-place reason, lending a pastoral edge to the wasteland milieu evoked by the rest of the music.

These instruments surge and explode, compressed by human direction into a fervent outcry of serious melodies that pound away at the standards of commercial pop, eroding those templates with every determined resonance. More sedate passages exist as breathing points for the audience, who are swiftly plunged back into the relentless dark abyss created by Ahvak.

As with most Rock-in-Opposition, the structure of the compositions are stringently immersed in classic and baroque dispositions, ignoring conventional modern styles and pop sensibilities. Ahvak's music reaches out with spiny talons and clutches at more than just the listener's attention, viscerally grabbing hold and refusing to let go.

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GUAPO: Five Suns (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This CD from 2003 features 63 minutes of intense progrock.

Guapo is: David O'Sullivan on keyboards guitar and electronics, Dave Smith on drums and percussion, and Matt Thompson on bass, guitar, and electronics.

Intensity drips from this music like sweat from an equatorial worker at high noon. Guitars squeal and grind, accomplishing edgy zeniths with cavalier enthusiasm and continuing on, heedless of the reached peak in a fervor to achieve the next teeth-grinding pinnacle. Monumental drumming only increases the dizzying altitude, propelling the tunes to more exhausting heights.

Meanwhile, the keyboards deliver a desperate sanity to the overall zeal with their rolling chords. Their melodies flow amid the anxiety like cool succor in a sea of pain, providing satisfying relief and deliverance from the ruthless vigor. This blend of soft and toothful results in engaging compositions that tingle with as much illumination as they ooze with shadow.

A percentage of Guapo's arcane sound derives from their use of vintage equipment, like Fender Rhodes piano, mellotron and Moogs. In conjunction with the band's hardcore rock energy and application of trance-inducing repetition, these retro instruments make for a wild excursion into demented harmonics.

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UNIVERS ZERO: Implosion (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This CD from 2004 features 49 minutes of dark-side electrified chamber music.

Univers Zero is: Michel Berckmans on oboe, English horn and bassoon, Serge Bertocchi on saxophones and tubax, Aurelia Boven on cello, Daniel Denis on drums, percussion, keyboards, samplers, accordion and cheap guitar, Dirk Descheemaeker on clarinet, Bart Maris on trumpet and flugelhorn, Eric Plantain on electric bass, Christophe Pons on acoustic guitar, Bart Quartier on marimba and glockenspiel, and Igor Semenoff on violin.

Take a plethora of horns and woodwinds and strings (the stuff one would normally associate with "orchestration") and put them in shadow--really ominous murk, the kind of shadow that frightens battle-seasoned adults. Add some frenetic percussion, drums that echo from deep pits and various tempos generated far underground. Inject a flurry of spooky sound effects, tiny sounds that agitate the hairs on the back of your neck and keep you constantly peering over your shoulder in dread anticipation. Don't forget--there's eerie guitar buried in that mix, stirring up psychological trouble, while the subterranean bass is doing awful things to your peace of mind.

Now you've got the basic feel of this music. Graveyards would benefit from this type of frivolity. But what does this do to the average audience? Well, "average" audiences shouldn't be exposed to these melodies (even though a few passages do express a sense of pastoral fun, but they're just there to confuse the scared humans); this music is crafted for the seriously angst-ridden. For them, Univers Zero exists as a celebration of all that's unsettling and unnerving. Those kind of neurotics find music like this to be uplifting, a reaffirmation that everything is just an inch away from collapse (or implosion).

Average audiences beware: this music could induce melancholy. While more discerning listeners, though, will find the somber tones and terse melodies engaging, even inspiring, for there is more than just despondency oozing between the trembling chords. This music will focus the thoughts behind your furrowed brow, stimulating cynicism into calculated analysis. And those who survive this valley of melodrama will face the world refreshed, their fears met and purged. Some might even be eager for a second dose.

Belgian band Univers Zero has been producing dark-side chamber music for thirty years, and "Implosion" shows that they've not lost their focus or fire.

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