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Runaway Totem


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4 stars Italian band RUNAWAY TOTEM's third album is a dark, heavy and complex concept album filled with great progressive rock. The previous albums "Trimegisto" (1993) and "Zed" (1996) was released on the Italian label Black Widow Records, but "Andromeda" was released on the French label Musea. After the recordings of this album guitarist Ren Modena left the band. RUNAWAY TOTEM are different than the main part of the Italian progressive bands. While other Italian bands have influences from the GENESIS side of progressive rock, RUNAWAY TOTEM are darker and closer to bands such as 5 UU's, ESKATON, KING CRIMSON, MAGMA, PINK FLOYD,PRESENT, THINKING PLAGUE, U TOTEM and UNIVERS ZERO. I strongly suggest that you buy this album if you're into the darker side of progressive rock.
Report this review (#18735)
Posted Saturday, February 28, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Really dark. This album remindsme some stuff of Univers Zero, U Totem and Deus Ex Machina. But Runaway Totem is completely different. Powerful vocals by Roberto Gottardi and excellent musical arrangments. Don't hesitate if you want to buy it. "Kontakt" and "Kadman Neso" are two terrific pieces of prog...
Report this review (#40188)
Posted Sunday, July 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is my first listen to a band from the Zeuhl genre. I probably should have started with Magma after reading a little bit about this genre, but I couldn't resist the price I found this at on an online retailer's site. Further, after having read a few good reviews for Runaway Totem's Andromeda I was rather curious. This time curiosity didn't leave me with a dud (which happens more than I care for), but a surprising masterpiece.

I agree with other reviewers that there is a subtle darkness to the music on Andromeda, though it wasn't as dark as I expected. I think it's the symphonic nature of the music that counters this darkness. The music is also quite complex, but again, not as complex as I expected it to be after reading other reviews. Having never heard music in the Zeuhl genre, I was able to pick up King Crimson and Ozric Tentacles influences in places. It has the "angularity" (I can't think of a better word) and complexity of Crimson, yet there are places where Runaway Totem resembles a space rock band (notably the gurgling synths that appear here and there). I must admit that it took a little time to get used to the vocals of Roberto Gottardi, but I found them to grow on me through repeated listens as I realized the power of his delivery, although at times it seems he lacks skill and needs more work (maybe it was done this way on purpose?). Anyway, his voice is perfectly suitable to the musical style and I can't think of anyone I could possibly compare him with.

All of the songs on Andromeda are simply great. I was quite surprised right from the first listen, probably because I was expecting some difficult RIO-style. This is far from being a difficult listen. Kontakt, Tempus Fugiens? and Kadman Neso are killer pieces. They all have a complex and driving rhythm with complex and symphonic arrangements containing touches of space rock, occasionally showing some mild repetitiveness. The instrumental, Andros Medomai is a delightfully complex finale. The oddest song is OD .: OB .: with its three-point triangles following whatever OD and OB is. I'm wondering if it has anything to do with Magick or some Aleister Crowley thing? It has a strange beginning, but eventually kicks into a driving rhythm.

Definitely a masterpiece for me. I've been listening to this regularly for several weeks now and it has grown to become a significant contribution to my collection. If you haven't given Zeuhl a try, other than starting with Magma, Runaway Totem's Andromeda is an essential must-have. Highly recommended and well deserving of five stars.

Report this review (#76762)
Posted Sunday, April 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars. This is a little different from most of the Zeuhl i've been listening to. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with this band coming from Italy instead of France or even Japan.The synths add a different element as we get a spacey vibe to go along with a metal edge from the two guitarists. Not a lot in the way of guitar solos as they mostly grind away(as i put it) in the soundscape.The singer is powerful, recalling some of the great seventies Italian vocalists. He also sings in the Zeuhl style at times like Blasquiz from MAGMA. It's kind of cool actually to be listening to Zeuhl and hearing those Italian vocals, it's a great combination.

"Kontakt" opens with barely a whisper until after a minute when spacey synths and a dark undercurrent arrives.The song really kicks in at the 3 minute mark when drums, keys and guitars come in. The sound is powerful and heavy. Some scorching guitar 5 minutes in followed by vocals. There is a good driving beat to this song now. The vocals are quite powerful 10 minutes in with pounding drums and some fantastic guitar melodies. "Tempus Fugiens ?" features theatrical vocals with odd metered drumming. The song becomes full 1 1/2 minutes in. A powerful rhythm right here. Nice and heavy with great vocals. "Od..Ob.." is all about the vocals to begin with. Angular guitar melodies are just the icing on the cake to the amazing vocal display. A spacey section 4 minutes in with theatrical vocals. The vocal style (Blasquiz) is cool 6 minutes in with some fine bass lines. Guitars are back !

"Kadman Neso" has a bombastic intro as we then get this great beat with synths, drums and bass. The beat stops 4 1/2 minutes in as it turns spacey. Fragile vocals arrive and are contrasted with the uptempo passage with strong vocals. "Andros Medomai" is the final track. Drums dominate as the tempo and moods shift often. The synths really remind me of RUSH 3 minutes in. There is a drum / vocal melody 5 1/2 minutes in as the guitars grind away. Nice.

There is not much in the way of new Zeuhl these days but RUNAWAY TOTEM just put out a new album in 2007. So they are carrying the torch along with some fantastic Japanese bands. It's cool that they all have their own unique sound in this genre yet there is no mistaking that they are Zeuhl. I will be ordering in more RUNAWAY TOTEM soon, i'm hooked.

Report this review (#141094)
Posted Sunday, September 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars composed by Cosmic Beings

So states the band from their website and who are we to argue that this might betray either: incredible chutzpah or a pressing need to return those royalty cheques pronto?

Rather unusual offering from Italy this one, as upon first listen you could easily be forgiven for thinking this lot are French, given the Zeuhl inflected vocal stylings. The influential reference points are fairly self-evident i.e Crimson, Magma, an early Sabbath capable of counting higher than 4, VDGG, Gentle Giant, Arachnoid etc so what we have here is a rich slice of dark Prog on the heavy guitar side of the fence. Having said all that, there are some very innovative textures employed on this record e.g when some saxes join in on the heavy riffing and some delightful use of dynamics throughout. Listen to the many short sections dominated by the symphonic keys, until the snarling guitars kick in again. This technique helps to break up what could have been a rather samey and bludgeoning 50 minutes or so. Thankfully there is no tiresome 'Unaccompanied Bratwurst wrestling champion' here which keeps the music from degenerating into 'widdley-widdley' Prog Metal. The keys never dominate but are used as a very effective counterweight against the main thrust of the guitars. The vocals have an incantatory flavour and are therefore mercifully free of the rather overwrought offerings heard on some other Italian prog. I guess that given these ingredients, Runaway Totem are in danger of falling between two stools i.e this may be considered too 'rawk' for the symphonic brigade but too 'out there' for the metal fraternity? Either way, they have achieved an original blend here which I personally find very stimulating and refreshing. Like most bands with at least something new to offer, they make 'Dream Theater' sound like they were conceived while their parents were fully clothed.

So what does it sound like then?

Well... imagine Anton Lavey and Aleister Crowley wanted to share vocal duties at a satanic mass gig and needed a backing band...enter stage left hand path: Runaway Totem.

Report this review (#157696)
Posted Saturday, January 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
1 stars I truly don't understand why this band is filed under zheul music. There is nothing that can be linked with Gentle Giant, Magma and Area. In terms of composition, everything is poor :

1- repetitive in the bad sense of the term (when MAGMA repeat a full section, there are additional elements and a transe is created: here bad loud conceived sections are repeated in order to elongate the titles)

2- harmonically weak for classic prog listeners (the study of harmony is not an option if you want to surprise the listener).

3- not really well played (the rythm section has to work the verticallity, breaks are not improved) and sunged : it's under the technical base level required.

4- soft : because of the previous elements, nothing new appears, all is previsible and always too long.

5- not enough dense

I advise people who don't know zheul music to listen to Magma, One Shot, Weidorje, Potemkine, Art Zoyd. This band is definitely not Zeuhl ! And in my opinion, really too weak!

Report this review (#168601)
Posted Thursday, April 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Third album from this Italian band. They like to release albums every three years. Unlike the previous two Andromeda was released on the Musea label, known for releasing Zeuhl albums. But like the previous Zed, this album does not have much Zeuhl influence. Besides the few Zeuhl moments this is a mix of prog-metal, RPI and symphonic prog. Lots of heavy guitar riffs. These guys love their guitar riffs and there is plenty on this album.

Although not as Zeuhl as some other albums, this is the most consistent RT album I have heard yet. But consistency does not always equal quality. This album just lacks more of the weaker moments on other albums. There are no real stand out parts here. The singing is in Italian. Lots of choir parts done on keyboards. I think there is only one singer here, compared to earlier albums which had female vocals. No extra musicians either. Just vocals, guitar, keyboards, samplers, drums & bass.

"Kontakt" starts with a spacey and symphonic part at low volume. Then piano, drums and guitars. After 6 minutes there is an interesting section. I like the guitars here. "Tempus Fugiens?" has some Kobaian like vocals before the guitars come in. There is a violin part done on synth. After 7 minutes there is a good guitar solo. "OD.: OB.:"(what a title, the periods are supposed to look like a pyramid) has some really good vocals at the start. After 3 minutes it goes into an atmospheric section with talk-singing.

"Kadman Neso" has heavy guitar riffs. It mellows out in the middle. Then a part with great vocals and guitar. Mellower parts then alternate with that guitar/vocal part. Ends with a great drum fill. "Andros Medoman" has marching drums after 3 minutes. Some weird synth noises, then organ-sounding synth. After 5 minutes there is a good riff with some great drumwork. Then the tempo picks up and it goes into a different riff. Slows down with the previous riff again.

The playing and production is good. The compositions are average to good. I was slightly let down with this release. I was expecting more. However, I am listening to the next album on the band's website while I type this review; I can already hear an improvement over Andromeda. This album gets 3 stars.

Report this review (#320632)
Posted Monday, November 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars The third album from these Italian masters of zeuhl. A statement that surely will provoke a lot of sniggering. Well, the maters of zeuhl bit. And yes, there is not much zeuhl around here on this album.

It is claimed that Zed, their previous album was their only full blooded zeuhl album. That may be the case. On this album, the band is all over the place. From experimental metal via progressive metal to zeuhl, avant-garde aka Present to symph prog and RPI. The ten minutes long epic Kadman Neso is actually a very good RPI song. Dark RPI, that is. The rest of the album is also very dark. The whole sound on Andromeda feels like a dehumanized mankind. That is the feelings I get from this album. A dark place with no warmth and no feelings. It is very much like the two first albums by the Belgium band Present, this album.

The quality is very good throughout with Kadman Neso as the best song and a truly great song. The other songs are not of the same standard though. But this is a good album. This album is a free download from their website and a highly recommended download too. Runaway Totem is a band well worth checking out.

3.5 stars

Report this review (#550106)
Posted Friday, October 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
3 stars This album has the quietest beginning of any that I have ever heard; I had to turn the volume up to make sure that there was something going on! Dreamy layered keyboards then gave way to a much more Hawkwind style space rock attack, but that also didn't last for long.

This is an album that refuses to stick to any particular style, and there are hints of Magma, King Crimson and VDGG as well as an unusual singing style from Roberto Goddardi. This is the third album from the Italians, who were formed in 1988. This is music that is challenging, and often defies description. Just when I think that I can understand what is going on they change tack totally.

The result is an album that is going to alienate all but the most devoted progressive fan. That in itself is not a bad thing; especially as so many progressive bands these days are nothing of the sort. This harkens back to the days of the early Seventies when the word 'progressive' really did mean that. It may not be easy listening but I got a lot out of it.

Originally appeared in Feedback #60

Report this review (#966164)
Posted Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The completion of ''Zed'' marked the end of a phase and the beginning of a new era for Runaway Totem, named Kalpa.At the end of the 90's the band would quit from performing live and focus on the first part of a trilogy named ''Cosmic cycles''.For this album they recruited a full-time keyboardist in Roberto Veronese aka Virhur.Additionally they moved from Black Widow Records to the French Musea label.The album was released in 1999 under the name of ''Andromeda''.

While they retained the obvious qualities of the previous album, ''Andromeda'', as part of the ''Cosmic cycles'' trilogy, required a bit of spacious components, so Runaway Totem ran the album with plenty of synthesizer in the forefront and some heavy, orchestral arrangements shining through.The epic and operating singing parts and the powerful Zeuhl activities are still strong elements in their music, imagine DEVIL DOLL playing a dynamic Zeuhl style, while the angular riffs, the dominant rhythmic guitars and the Classical-inspired organs make up for a huge, sinister and theatrical atmosphere.A set of five tracks, slightly over or under the 10-min. mark, passes through bombastic sections, grandiose orchestrations, dark soundscapes and mysterious vocals, they even added some ambiental textures in the process to unveal the album's cosmic enviroment.It sounds a bit more focused of a release compared to the previous works, this one is well balanced between haunting, symphonic segments and Zeuhl-like operations with emphasis on the flaming guitars and heavy keyboard work.

Music, that could have been easily performed in a cathedral.Sinister, atmospheric Heavy Rock/Zeuhl with elements of Rock Opera, nice and energetic arrangements and very irritating vocal parts.Strongly recommended...3.5 stars.

Report this review (#1372698)
Posted Tuesday, February 24, 2015 | Review Permalink

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