Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Universal Totem Orchestra - The Magus CD (album) cover


Universal Totem Orchestra



4.14 | 119 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
5 stars A band which releases only two albums in ten years and both are masterpieces is a real rarity. This "Magus" is the follow-up in terms of concept of the first "Rituale Alieno"(Alien Ritual). The two albums are part of a Trilogy of which the first part was composed by never released and a boxset with all the three parts would be a milestone of Zeuhl (and not only) music.

This album takes a little more to grow respect to Rituale Alieno, probably because the first was opened by a very good song but also easier than what you can usually find in a Zeuhl album, so getting into it was probably easier.

This album instead is opened by "De Astrologia" (Latin: About Astrology) that after few initial noise enters suddenly into the Zeuhl realm but wuth a strong medieval influence. It's a sort of hymn to a Lady (the Death maybe) queen of the twelve signs of the Zodiac with a musical theme that can remind to Branduardi or to Blackmore's Night even being very hard. For the first three minutes only. Then guitar and keyboard start a jazzy riff that can appeal the fans of ELP with a metal-like guitar. Just an interlude to a more "avantgarde" section made of vocalisms first and melodic piano later alternated several times. The vocal work of the singers, first of all Ana Torres Fraille is excellent. At minute 6 we have the first full immersion in Magma like Zeuhl with piano and drums leading the section together with Ana. However this section contains also some good guitar and brasses. This long instrumental part even being 100% Zeuhl has also symphonic and fusion elements. Which the signature is it's impossible to say... At minute 14 there's a pause. Piano alone first, joined by distorted bass and drums and we are in another section featuring the excellent soprano voice of Ana. The main uptime theme is reprised at the end until a sudden end.

"Coerenza Delle Percentuali" (Percentages' coherence) starts uptime with keyoboards, guitar and drums. Imagine ELP doing Zeuhl. This exciting intro with the addition of guitar lasts for 2:40 minutes, then a guy cries something in a language that may be Kobaian or German and a different section, darker, begins. The lyrics are about "powder accumulating above us". The part introduced by those lyrics is more symphonic with a guitar fusion-oriented but with a little Floydian flavor. The soprano is back in a dialogue with a baritone man. Operistic singing in the best Zeuhl tradition that's followed by a slow bass riff over keyboards. Have you present "Set The Controls For The heart Of The Sun?". Only more classically oriented. I'm not sure, but what seems an acoustic guitar is probably a bass played on its highest notes. The soprano vocals over this slow and peaceful music are one of the best things of this excellent album. And it's only the second track! This symphonic piece ends at minute 12:30 and is replaced by an instrumental part that even with the usual Zeuhl darkness would be suitable to be played by the YES. I think Steve Howe could have a lot of fun playing it. The singing has something of "Gregorian" in the melody but the heavy guitar and the rhythm remind to the avant fusion of bands like AREA. A "pizzicato" closes the last 30 seconds of the track. Second track, second Epic.

Piano and soprano for a track with a French title and a "Chansonnier" flavor: "Les Plantes Magique"(The Magic Plants) has a sad melody enhanced by the alto sax. At about minute 3 ithe melody changes but not the song's mood. The French lyrics mitigate the newage mood provided by the piano. At minute 4:50 the choir enters and the rhythm goes up. Back into Zeuhl. What is very impressive of this band is the strength of the compositions. There are no fillers of any kind. Any second has its meaning and there's nothing that appear improvised. The last minute has a strong connection with Orff's Carmina Burana.

"Ato Piradime" is apparently sung in Spanish but I can't find the title's meaning. After 1 minute and half of keyboards soundscape and soprano vocals the distorted bass and the guitar introduce an odd signature which leads to a melodic piece lead by sax then back to the odd signature. If about the first track I have written "imagine ELP playing Zeuhl", now "imagine the YES of 90125 playing Zeuhl" is more appropriate. At minute 3 it becomes more jazzy and male vocals sing "poor poors" alternated with sax. A new section lead by Fender piano starts at minute 5:30. A soft sax plays over the piano then Ana restarts singing on a theme similar to the initial but not the same. An exciting interlude of symphonic prog. This part could be considered radio-friendly but it's very functional to the whole track, and most of all, is very good. UTO is a band that I have discovered very late but their two albums are the best thing that I have heard in the last year. At minute 10 there's another jazzy section still lead by the Fender piano. It sounds of classic prog, between King Crimson and early fusion bands like Weather Report, but ut never goes too distant from Zeuhl. The traclk proceeds in this direction until the last minute when the radio-friendly sax part is reprised for the conclusion, again with the splendid vocals of Ana. The third epic of the album.

"Mors, Ultima Linea Rerum"(Latin: Death, Last Line of the Things) is opened by a grotesque moment, then the initial theme is reprised by a heavy guitar. The drums seems to be metal oriented but the melody is even Floydian, until the sax emerges again in a jazzy landscape that reminds to Soft Machine's Land of Cockayne. Later it becomes a little darker until the piano starts a syncopated section which features an excellent guitar solo followed by a keyboard solo but unfortunately this is not a double album and this track is faded out. The only reason, I think is to stick into an 80 minutes CD. A pity.

"Vento Madre" (Mother Wind) is the last track. It starts very "Magmatic" and proceeds in this way for 4 minutes, then the Fender piano remains alone with a lot of reverb and gives birth to the second section that's very jazzy. The Zeuhl ambience is guaranteed by some dissonances in the chords but most of all is the duo of Ana and one of the male vocalists that gives that operistic touch. The instrumental part which follows is excellent. Room is given to all the instrumentists to show their skills but is the guitar solo the most exciting in my opinion. At minute 8 there's another short duo of Ana and Adriano Vianilli then the drums stop and the piano remains alone again for a very atmospheric short solo. After a short pause of silence the track restarts heavy and dark with the two singers at unison. The melody has some of gothic, the guitar is distorted and the rhythm is fast. It's only me, probably, but this final of the song makes me think to Rammstein.

Now the album is ended, leaving me whishing of a bit more. Other than being a masterpiece it's also one of the most approachable Zeuhl albums for newbies. If anybody wants to start with this genre, this is one of the best possible entry points, because it's easy (for the Zeuhl standards) and because it's a masterpiece. Highly suggested to everybody.

octopus-4 | 5/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password


Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives