Back in 2012 I reviewed Pangaea Proxima, the first album from French avant-rock band Unit Wail, formed by a founder member of and by then ex-Shub Niggurath guitarist Franck Fromy. Shub Niggurath were a seminal band in the progression of RIO and Zeuhl sounds, and a band even further out on the fringes than Franck’s current troupe.
Equally, if not more central to Unit Wail is keyboard player Vincent Sicot-Vantalon who writes all the tunes, and monstrous beasties they are, too. Of course, no band with a foot in the Zeuhl camp can cut rugs with any great authority without a thundering rhythm section, and Unit Wail do not disappoint in that regard. The marvellously monikered bass player Adrian Luna forms the sonic shoulders upon which this band rest their not inconsiderable weight, putting his basses, both fretted and fretless from what my ears tell me, through all manner of effects, displaying a particular fondness for distortion, flanging and wah-wah. Jannick Top would be proud. Underneath a monster like that you need a solid drummer, and Philippe Haxaire is that man. Deliberate and unfussy he whacks the life out of his toms just to keep his head above the mix.
Beyond Space Edges is the band’s third album, coming two years after 2013’s Retort. Vincent Sicot-Vantalon builds layers of textural keyboard washes on this sci-fi-themed album, producing a thick sticky carpet of sound, and above that synth twiddler Emmanuel Pothier makes like a protégé of Wümme Studios with his off-kilter knob-twiddling. Always, Adrian’s bass, firing off against or in unison with Franck’s spiky guitar, will attempt to make your sub-woofers disappear through the floor, and the whole sound is reminiscent of Crimson and Magma sans operatics combining in their darkest moments. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the pounding Through The Wormholes, and while derivative in places there is no denying the power Unit Wail have, taking those obvious influences somewhere else on the back of Franck’s angular guitar and Adrian’s bass, both charging through the cosmic wastes with an unfettered glee.
A highly detailed and open mix benefits the dense soundscape allowing the listener air to breathe. Guitars grind and explode, occasionally utilising very Fripp-like effects, the bass growls and funks like a beast as the keyboards pilot the Mothership to the next inter-galactic stop-off, fuelled by synth embellishments.
Adrian is not all “beat it to death and then beat it some more” as his sinuously funky lines on Psychoactive Atmosphere illustrate, and indeed the whole band are highly skilled in their craft. Franck comes to the fore on Deep Inside Megalopolis, a tune that highlights his sonic palette without him ever succumbing to traditional soloing, similar in a way to Roger Trigaux’s moves with the mighty Present. Franck even manages a conventional riff or two now and again!
Polymorphous The Wise sees the sole inclusion of vocals on the album, Sam Benzo singing in a peculiar alien language through an atmosphere of thick tar fumes. Polyrhythms entwine with piano and bass counter melodies on Teralithic Spaceship, which is a title Julian Cope would have killed for back in the day!
Ana Carla Maza’s cello is central to the swirling sonic mists, establishing a sense of foreboding from the very first track. Extra layers of nightmare are added by her cello on album closer See Earth, sawing away in discontent with Emmanuel’s synth swooping around in sentinel fashion, the tune eventually resolving into a chamber-rock scat with added menace.
Any fan of the Zeuhl backwater, and of very heavy (but not metal, I hasten to add) prog should love this wonderfully unholy racket!
01. Imminent Take Off (1:35)
02. Ziggurat On The Moon (4:15)
03. Through The Wormholes (3:48)
04. Psychoactive Atmosphere (3:27)
05. Deep Inside Megalopolis (4:11)
06. Polymorphous The Wise (5:36)
07. Crash On Planet X (3:18)
08. Teralithic Spaceship (4:05)
09. D.N.A.A.T.M. (Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid Synchronous Transfer Mode) (6:42)
10. Engage Mutation (4:53)
11. I See Earth (5:56)
Total time – 47:47
Vincent Sicot-Vantalon – Keyboards, Guitar
Philippe Haxaire – Drums
Adrian Luna – Bass
Emmanuel Pothier – Synthesisers
Franck Fromy – Guitar
Ana Carla Maza – Cello
Sam Benzo – Voice
Record Label: Soleil Zeuhl
Catalogue#: Soleil Mutant 46
Year Of Release: 2015