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Universal Totem Orchestra - The Magus CD (album) cover


Universal Totem Orchestra



4.14 | 119 ratings

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5 stars Whenever I am asked to explain the essence of "Zeuhl", I always revert to that one word that seems to define this odd prog sub-genre, OBSESSIVE! I remember hearing Magma the first time back in 1973 and being puzzled, befuddled and, upon regaining my balance, ultimately dazzled! We all heard the somewhat corny "it sounds like Carmina Burana with manic drums, harsh guitars and electric pianos" shtick and there is some truth to it. Stunning also to hear that Latin (French, Italian) blood seems to marshal Teutonic operatics better than say Germanic or Saxon musical breeds. Perhaps one needs a little Machiavelli to better understand the abstract absurdities of such "demonic" music.

I was totally blown away by UTO's previous Rituale Alieno and reviewed it glowingly, still believing it to be among the best ever prog albums of the new era. I am relieved also to be among a convoy of respected PA reviewers (sinkadotentree, finnforest and incredibly, sean trane of all people!) who concur and attest to this band's genius, so when I saw the unimpeachable ratings for this masterful follow up, I had to go out and get a facsimile. First the artwork and packaging are positively sumptuous, as befitting the grand heavy-jazz-opera that exudes from the grooves. There have been some personnel changes but the crew is still directed by (no big guess!) drummer extraordinaire Uto Golin, saxman Antonio Fedeli and the marvelous voice of Ana Torres Fraile (who wins the most beautiful woman in prog award, both hands and feet down by a galactic mile! WOW!). The whopping opener "De Astrologia" is a simmering 19 minute + that manages luminously to encompass the intricacies of this band's craft, within the first seconds " La Signora" is machine-gunned with phosphoric euphoria , in an OBSESSIVE barrage that pounds unforgivingly into submission, swift tempo changes loaded with hyper-complex exaltations, the drums, guitar and bass uniting in a mean bulldozer advance, with Ana wailing hysterically in the foreground, the piano (yeah, I know!) growling menacingly and the delirious Daniele Valle guitar blitzing like a krieg. The jazzy mid-section proposes some deep piano meandering within the overt opera context , some harsh Holdsworthian blasts accentuate the volcanic brew, constantly by the seat of the pants, along the ledge, teetering on the brink (call it what you will!) of some unrepentant frenzy. Mindblastingly great music, this is! Imagine a ruthless cross between Magma's Köhntarkösz and Soft Machine's Bundles, you get the playfully insane idea! The monstrous bass guitar is another key figure in zeuhl (have you heard the Magma/Weidorje boys?) and here it is competently handled by young newcomer Yanick Andreatta with scintillating ease, roaming, brooding, grooving, swooning and pulsating with intricate assurance. Fedeli's warm sax adds a sexy romantic contrasts that never appears on the Magma menu so it is quite refreshing, while Fabrizio Mattuzzi (another kid) sprinkles some fascinating jazz piano flourishes. Gosh, I am exhausted already, after only one track! So what do UTO propose? Another monolith 17 minute hyper velocity job, that finds Mach 2 levels right off the bat, lifting off the tarmac at heart stopping speed , with a slew of G pressures to boot (play this while on the highway and get arrested for speeding). "Coerenza delle Percentuali" is a severely dissonant flight, gruesomely concentrated and seriously compulsive, demanding great effort from the listener in trying to follow the path. When the fluid guitar rides the mellotron clouds openly inviting the rage to chase, you suddenly enter the calm eye of the storm (swirling synthesizer fluffs, delicate Syd Barrett-ish Eastern guitar picks and Ana intoning an almost operatic lullaby/aria), wondering where in heaven or hell am I? Disorienting to say the least and well within avant-garde opera stylistics! The last third leaps back into the fulminating fire with more reckless abandon, the instrumentalists raging anxiously as they smilingly plummet into a groove illuminated corridor that leads into some unfathomable musical vortex. Stunning, really! A reprieve, you dare ask? "Les Plantes Magiques" revolves around a subtle piano rambling full of ornate elegance and the swooning French vocals courtesy of the ravishing Signorina Fraile. This is a hot duet that I find irresistible in its simple sophistication, a welcome saxophone making a mournful entrance as if to add some romantic insight into the proceedings and really a chance to catch once breath. Spellbinding, original and soothing until halfway in, when the massed male vocals duel with Ana's wailings and the ultra-classical arrangements thrust into the fray. The colossal 15 minute "Ato Paradime" reverts to the brooding jazz-infested mania but with a softer touch as the sax seems to lead the way, the others gladly following into an organized breezy jam-fest where Valle's guitar gets to stretch out and refute his "unknown" status and moniker. The electric piano then decides to take over, laying down the basic foundation and applying some echoing timbres to the dolefully expressive sax and the woeful aria now sung in Spanish by the irresistible Miss Fraile (anytime, anywhere, cara mia!). I am hooked big time (or is it love?), what a listening experience this is! In fine UTO tradition, the dense riff-laden vehemence returns to take this one to bed, more neurotic guitar and infatuated drumming coalescing in gleeful menace. "Mors, Ultima Linea Rerum" finds the musical volcano erupting again, a sweet saxophone blurt only temporarily acquiring the serenity , as the tortured guitar ceremoniously twirls phrasing wisps into the sky. This is a strange brew of contrasting moods and styles, probably the most incoherent of all the tracks here, demanding the most effort and understanding. The finale is "Vento Madre", a 13 minute slice of psychiatrically disordered music that culminates all the intrinsic elements that make UTO so original and appealing. It also features a sprawling guitar solo that flirts cattily with greatness, swift and seductive.

Obsessive, demented, fixated, somewhat unhinged yet bizarrely also ultra -controlled, "The Magus" is a combination of musical heaven and hell, of right and wrong and of good and evil. Certainly not for the faint of heart, the pop-queen or even the prog newbie, the dominating UTO requests and failing that, demands servitude and respect. This is an incomprehensibly perfect disc. Right behind and in full support of my PA cronies. 5 Gallactic Carvings

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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