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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA

Zeuhl • Italy


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Universal Totem Orchestra biography
Universal Totem Orchestra is an offshoot project from the Italian Zeuhl band RUNAWAY TOTEM and this album appeared between their second Zed and the third album Andromeda. As Runaway Totem is generally not regarded as Zeuhl leading band, often gathering unfavourable critics by specialist and buyers, it was somewhat surprising that UTO 's sole album Rituale Alieno was such a success (relatively speaking). Where RT was dry, square, heavy, uninventive and uninspired, UTO's Rituale Alieno is much lighter, fun, even a tad inventive, and enthralling. However, there is a gothic side to UTO, in great part due to the vocals, which range from the Gregorian chants to other choirs and operatic vocals, often soprano female and male baritone

And another big surprise came to us, when the side-project was given a little sister some 7 years after, just as someone might have thought the offshoot dead. And while fairly different in its line-up, but with some substantial sonic differences, The Magus is just as incredible and stupendous an album as Rituale Alieno was. While remaining firmly in the Zeuhl domain, UTO is not afraid to take many meanders as possible to make their music a different experience in that field. No doubt, that someday the offshoot will overtake its dry genitor.


:::: Bio written By Hugues Chantraine, Belgium ::::

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Rituale AlienoRituale Alieno
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Black Widow 2000
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$14.63 (used)
MagusMagus
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Black Widow 2008
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Universal Totem Orchestra Rituale Alieno Other SwingUniversal Totem Orchestra Rituale Alieno Other Swing
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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.11 | 74 ratings
Rituale Alieno
1999
4.11 | 94 ratings
The Magus
2008

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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.11 | 74 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by siLLy puPPy
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The infectious musical style known as zeuhl knows no boundaries. Although originating on Kobaia and infecting unspecting French musicians, the style has now spread to Italy with no signs of letting up and may it be so since RITUALE ALIENO, the debut album by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA is a pure delight from beginning to end. This band is the next step for Uto Giorgio Golin (drums) and Giuseppe Buttiglione (bass) after they departed another zeuhl band Runaway Totem. Unfortunately I have not heard any of those albums yet so I can only comment on the brilliance of this magnificent example of how to reinvent the zeuhl sound that came to us from a galaxy far away but not so overly long ago.

The album opens most unexpectedly. It is basically a hypnotic operatic piece that introduces the vocals of the angelic Ana Torres Fraile. No zeuhl to be found but a great introduction to the band's gift of incorporating medieval vocal operatic vocals and Gregorian chants to a nicely laid out rock n' zeuhl frenzy. The distinct styles are paced as not to compete with one another and the contrast between the sounds of yestercentury with contemporary progressive rock techniques is quite a trip with symphonic touches and a whole host of various additional instruments including lead guitar, viola, cello, sax and tabla.

As with pretty much all zeuhl this particular brand can be traced to Kobaia and for sure there are several parts that remind you of Magma insofar as the main rhythmic developments and vocal trade-offs but the choice of instrumentation, vocal styles and odd effects completely distinguish the overall mood of the pieces. Some of the operatic trade-offs between female and male vocal parts do bring MDK-ish zeuhl to mind but always in a distant cousin kind of way instead of a Siamese twin one. The album really doesn't leave any room for being bored or drifting one's attention away. This is a really brilliant album that might end up getting its rating elevated if it continues to grow on me.

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 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.11 | 94 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by b_olariu
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Universal Totem Orchestra is one of the most intresting and original zeuhl bands I've heared in long time, they are from Italy and releasing so far two albums. The second offer from 2008 named The Magus comes almost a decade after the debut, but worth the wait belive me. The music is quite chalenging, complicated and very elaborated, 80 min of great inventive music. While the UTO music is firmly under zeuhl tag, there are some other influences here to found, some old italian prog school and in some parts, sporadicaly of course are some prog metal and ecelectic passages, only few but exists, specially dominated by the guitar, the result is quite great. Also there are some range from ghotic side, dark moody arrangements , gregorian choirs, opratic vocals, all works very fine. I really like a lot this album, the opening track - De Astrologia is truly awesome at best, the bass line are impressive and works in perfect unit with the rest of the instruments. The keyboards aswell killer, love it and above all the voice of Ana Torres Fraile on all pieces is excellent. The album over all is intense, uptempo with many memorable parts, the rhythmic section is top notch. Some invited guests here that done a great job. So, a recommended zeuhl album, to me one of the best I've heared in last years. The art wotk and the whole CD package is amazing. 4 stars for sure.

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 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.11 | 74 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Neo Prog Team

3 stars Universal Totem Orchestra is a project started in 1998 by two Runaway Totem members, drummer Uto Giorgio Golin and bassist Giuseppe Buttiglione.Golin and Buttiglione were also responsible for the whole composing material of the band's debut ''Rituale alieno'', which featured also female singer Ana Torres Fraile and keyboardist Marco Zanfei.The album was released in 1999 on Black Widow Records and next to the band stands an impressive supporting personel on guitars, choirs and string instruments.

Runaway Totem was always a unique-sounding band and with Universal Totem Orchestra Golin and Buttiglione try to push this sound even further, creating some sort of Prog Rock Opera with strong Zeuhl, symphonic and jazzy characteristics.The style of this project is trully grandiose, pompous, challenging and often bombastic with a special mention to the very original vocal sections.Fraile delivers clear operatic vocals when she appears, while the male choirs create a haunting atmosphere, sounding like a choir from a Gregorian chant.Musically Universal Totem Orchestra explore different territories always in a very rich and powerful style.Dissonant Avant-Prog passages with complex guitar breaks and deep grooves are blended with Classical sections in a Chamber Music style, often with some great piano work, and huge symphonic themes with dominant organ and synth parts.The overall atmosphere is very dark and reminiscent of the darker works of BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO, the gothic approach of DEVIL DOLL along with the personal style of RUNAWAY TOTEM.Some would expect Universal Totem Orchestra's work to lack any sign of melody, but I can assure the listener that among the groovy and dynamic musicianship there are certain guitar melodies to be found.

A great album indeed with an atmosphere of its own, which will appeal to all fans of the aforementioned groups as well as anyone eager to discover Zeuhl music through a different point of view.Strongly recommended...3.5 stars.

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 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.11 | 94 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by Sinusoid
Prog Reviewer

3 stars A surprisingly refreshing take on the Zeuhl genre, Universal Totem Orchestra is end-result of cross-contaminating Zeuhl with prog metal and RPI in a blistering 80 minute package. And we're offered no less than four double-digit epic pieces to quench that prog thirst. Unfortunately, that's one of the big faults of THE MAGUS; there's just so much music that it becomes so hard to digest.

I often have trouble following along with the segues and changes the pieces go through even if the amount of themes tossed in is not overkill. It's as if the band had four to five themes written out, wanted to throw them in one epic but couldn't overcome flowing amongst them smoothly. The opening ''De Astrologia'' is an example; the first couple of themes (the electronic one and the Zeuhl-metal one) are fantastic, but them devolves into a random gibberish section that's absolutely lost on me.

That length is pretty nasty to the point where I find the last two tracks tiring; compare that to Magma or Koenjihyakkei (both of whom can entertain me across a whole album's length), it's not too great. Throw in a heaping of substandard vocals (particularly the ''Kobaia'' cop-out in ''Coerenza Della Percentuali'') and THE MAGUS is an album that scores on the fantasy of (at least) three prog styles meshing beautifully, but loses on the practice just not coming up to par.

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 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.11 | 94 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Nearly a decade after their stunning debut, Universal Totem Orchestra emerged from the depths with another epic zeuhl piece. However, whereas their previous album incorporated a much broader range of influences, this is much more of a straight-down-the-line attempt to produce a zeuhl album according to the compositional principles laid out on the classic-era Magma albums, and to be honest the material here just isn't as gripping as it really needs to be to hold my attention. Still, zeuhl addicts will get a lot of pleasure out of it, and most prog fans with a taste for the weird will get at least some enjoyment here.

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 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.11 | 94 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by octopus-4
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team

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.

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 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.11 | 74 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by octopus-4
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team

5 stars MASTERPIECE. A single word is enough to describe this fantastic album. It's Zeuhl, true, but contains elements of classic RPI, symphonic prog and in some moments it really ROCKS!.

It starts with a melodic slow song, "Pane Astrale" (Astral Bread) features piano, the clean soprano voice of Ann Torres Fraile and the cello of Francesco Ciech. This instrumentation gives it teh Zeuhl flavor, but this is a melodic song in RPI style. A song like this is enough to pay back the whole album, but this is only the beginning.

The second track "Saturno" (Saturn) is a long suite, totally Zeuhl this time, but with the intrusion of other genres. After the first jazzy minutes in Kobaian mood there's a church organ solo. A classical piece with the last chord followed by acoustic guitar which introduces another Zeuhl section lead by alto sax supported by a strong bass line. When the guitar joins we are borderline with Fusion. A great rock solo to which the bass adds a Canterbury flavor. A sudden stop and a gregorian choir apparently in Latin (It may be a Kobaian dialect) leads to a heavy section in 5/4 which features another excellent guitar riff. And only 8 of the 21 minutes are passed. A change of signature...I'm not skilled enough to see which one...maybe 6/8, but I'm guessing. This part of the track has something of the most experimental moments of ELP but also bands like Soft Machine and Khan come to my mind. Another sudden change. The Choir is no longer Gregorian. Now it's very dark, electronics help in setting up the soundscape, so that the male choir can enter with lyrics that I don't understand but have a Latin sound. Probably it's the latin of Carmina Burana. When the soprano enters above the choir it's one of the greatest moments of the whole album. The choir leaves her alone and she now sings Italian. Choir back again, it's an orgy of sounds, a crescendo of emotions. At the level of the best Magma. Some drums and both choir and soprano run an interlude to come back to the previous theme. I can't imagine the effect that this could make in a live concert. A symphonic passage, just few seconds, and the choir is back but the rhythm slows down and becomes a dark bolero. The only bad thing of this track is the final: a fadeout. I hate when a 21 minutes track ends with a fadeout.

The third track is "Il Viaggio di Elric"(Elric's Journey). I don't know if it's Elric of Melinbone', the character created by the Hawkwind's collaborator and writer Micheal Moorcock. The first two minutes may be even Camel, but suddenly percussions, electronics, gongs, and soprano (I think the lyrics are in Spanish now) start a minute of avantgarde that's suddenly replaced by a Sinclair like bass on which the guitar performs another great riff. An excursion to Canterbury. A stop and the cello introduce a classical moment joined by cymbal classical guitar and soprano. It's a highly melodic moment. When the male choir enters it gives chills. This album contains so many things so good that could be an entry point even for neo- proggers. It's too good to be limited to a subgenre only. I think that this album will stay on my mp3 reader for a very long time. The lyrics are now in Italian, but I can't tell if it's about the Moorcock saga. However it proceeds with a fantastic piano solo, then guitar, then bass...what a track!. It's an epic. I think it's since Lady Fantasy that I didn't hear a track of this length so intense. In the last two minutes heavy percussions are the only accompanimet to the choir which reprises the main theme alternated with keyboards. Back to the classic Zeuhl for a stupenndous final.

Is it enough? No. What comes now is the highlight: "Ipernatura del Tempo" (Hypernature of Time) is opened by ethnic percussions and alto sax, a tribal opening that after one minute is a fantastic jazz. Only the vocals mantain the Zeuhl connotations, the music could even be Miles Davis with Petrucciani at the piano. Only one third of the song is passed when the guitar starts another "movement", more chaotic but still in the jazz land. Another stop and the bass is ready for another excellent jazz riff joined first by drums then by keyboards. Later the soprano adds operistic vocalisms. I can't describe it. I don't understand what the male choir sings in the interludes but it doesn't matter. This is quite a psychedelic moment.

"The stair of knowledge doesn't make you fly high. It makes you die on Earth". This is what the male voice says over electronic noises. We are already on the fifth track: "Antichi Occhi Ciechi"(Ancient Blind Eyes). It's undescribable. Choir and soprano alternated on a base of electronic noise and keyboard, then a gong introduces a classical Zeuhl section that later flows again into jazz with another fantastic piano riff. Zeuhl and Jazz come and go seamlessly. Not an easy track, but the guitar makes it lighter because of the use of riffs and more "familiar" sounds. at minute 5:30, more or less, the bass goes rock for a psychedelic section which reminds to bands like the Dutch 35007 or even to the Ozric Tentacles. It's incredible how this album doesn't have any weak moment. The drums double the tempo and the choir plus the soprano move the track back to cold Zeuhl. Another change for the coda. 30 seconds of choirs for a chaotic end.

"Meccanica Superiore" (Superior mechanical) may be a reminder to the famous Kommandoh. The latin choirs are effectively the part closer to Magma, but proceeding it has also symphonic moments. The choir is hypnotic and will remain fixed in your brain for hours after you listen to it. The chaotic moment which follows differs from Magma because of an excellent rocking guitar solo of a kind that is hard to find in Magma. At minute 3:45 there's another sudden change. Now the song is on major chords, the melody sung by the soprano is positive. There's no much darkness in this album, but the few is totally gone now. Cymbal and soprano now start another movement. The repentine changes between jazz, opera and even hard rock make it impossible to describe. There's also time for a bit of symphonic prog.

If a neo-progger decides to attempt something different, this is THE RIGHT ALBUM. Not an easy one, as almost all the Zeuhl production, but is approachable by everybody even without losing its intensity. One of the best albums that I have discovered only recently.

If a six stars rating was allowed I would have given it

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 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.11 | 74 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars What happens when zeuhl and the more symphonic-leaning end of the RPI scene end up in a head-on collision? What you end up getting is the bizarre mixture offered by Universal Totem Orchestra on Rituale Alieno, on which the music ranges from symphonic passages verging to the classical to parts which remind me of Banco or ELP to more traditionally zeuhlish fare. Bizarrely, the combination ends up hanging together much more coherently than anyone could have expected, with the final result being a delirious journey between radically different prog subgenres of the 1970s - with some influence from modern music creeping in here and there for good measure.

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 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.11 | 94 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by toroddfuglesteg

4 stars Listening to this album and then have write a review of this album makes me sweat blood. Neither of Universal Totem Orchestra's two albums is easy listening albums. Magus is one heck off a cookie. Where do I start ?

The opening track De Astrologia goes down the Magma route like the Paris to Lyon fast train. Some good themes along the way and this is really superb. All twenty minutes of it. Excellent female vocals.

From here on in, the music takes a much more neo-jazz classical route. The hardcore zeuhl has gone. Is this still the Magus album ? Well, Ana Torres Fraile's superb female vocals is still here. The result is a bit of a lounge jazz. Great, but not expected from this band. They returns to the zeuhl genre and some more Magma adoration at the final three songs though.

I very much prefer Magus when it is a zeuhl album. But the jazzy parts is also very good. This album has a lot of different spices and flavours though. Something that this genre really needs sometimes. I am a fan of both of Universal Totem Orchestra's two albums and I hope we will get more albums from them.

This album is recommended. But be prepared to take some time over it because easy listening, it is not.

4 stars

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 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.11 | 74 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by toroddfuglesteg

4 stars The debut album from this great Italian zeuhl band. A band who unfortunate has only released two albums.

To say that the music on this album is complex is an understatement. The music style is symphonic somewhere between fusion, avant-garde and zeuhl. The Magma influences are many. But Universal Totem Orchestra is much more varied and playful than Magma has ever been. Universal Totem Orchestra is all over the place with their toys on this album. Playful is the keyword here. The operatic female vocals by Ann Torres Fraile is everywhere and so is Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione basses. Seven male vocalists is adding the kobaia vocals...... sorry, make that the Italian vocals.

There is no denying that this is a hard, hard album to digest. Let alone review and then give a star caracter. The music is so playful and all over the place. But this is really great album, it has taken me ten listening sessions over a long period to conclude. It is not the most immediate zeuhl album around. But give it time.

A belated four stars to this album which more people here should discover.

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