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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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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.13 | 120 ratings
Rituale Alieno
1999
4.13 | 155 ratings
The Magus
2008
4.25 | 187 ratings
Mathematical Mother
2016

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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.13 | 155 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Review N║ 506

Universal Totem Orchestra is an Italian progressive rock band. The band was founded in 1997 and is connected to their compatriots Runaway Totem not only by their name, but also by the fact that the drummer Uto Giorgio Golin and the bassist Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione were members of that band too. They were joined by vocalist Ana Torres Fraile, who also collaborated with Runaway Totem, and a large group of guest musicians. Like Runaway Totem, Universal Totem Orchestra have their roots in a rather guitar heavy version of Zeuhl. But, on Universal Totem Orchestra they mix this with a gamut influences ranging from the symphonic prog rock to world music, jazz, fusion, classical and beyond.

Universal Totem Orchestra released three studio albums until now, "Rituale Alieno" in 1999, "The Magus" in 2008 and "Mathematical Mother" in 2016. "Rituale Alieno" was a very successful album both in Italy and in the worldwide progressive scene. "The Magus" was very welcomed by the critics, to the point of receiving the "Darwin Prize for Italian unconventional music". With "Mathematical Mother", the band maintains the quality, peculiarity and their musical path.

So, "The Magus" is the second studio album of Universal Totem Orchestra that was released in 2008. The line up on the album is Ana Torres Fraile (vocals), Daniele Valle (guitar), Fabrizio Mattuzzi (keyboards and electric piano), Antonio Fedeli (saxophone), Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta (bass) and Uto Giorgio Golin (drums and percussion). "The Magus" has also the participation of an amount of male singers, more properly six, as guest artists. As is usual, on "The Magus" the band combines a number of styles under the Zeuhl umbrella, such as jazz, classical, symphonic, opera and metal. Strange ritual chants, under laid by electronic sound waves, greet you right at the beginning, before one of these typical Magma-esque choral chants begins. Probably the most unique attribute of this band are the vocals performed by Ana Torres Fraile and various male performers. Ana Torres Fraile and Francesco Festi with their strong soprano vpice give each other changeable singing duels. You will hear choirs, operatic (tenor and soprano) and traditional vocals all done very well. There's so much happening instrumentally that the listener needs to pay attention. These musicians know how to play and a tremendous amount of work has gone into this piece.

"De Astrologia" is a wild roller coaster ride through confused stylistic worlds. It really sets the tempo and vibe of the all album. There's a marching rhythm underlying much of the song allowing us to use our imagination as to what the song is all about. There's just a lot happening musically. It really is something that you need to hear for yourself, and I can say that for the entire album. "Coerenza Della Percentuali" is a great track the features some cool female opera vocals from Fraile. It features a nice aggressive sound as the guitar and piano are played at a fast pace. This is severely a very complex and dissonant track, gruesomely concentrated and seriously compulsive, demanding great effort from the listener in trying to follow the path. "Les Plantes Magiques" is one of the shorter songs on the album. It offers some of the best choir passages. The piano intones lyrical melodies and the sax weeps. Here the guitarist can also show his successful solo skills. This is the most delicate song on the album, although the song does have some passionate moments especially in the vocals and drumming. "Ato Piradime" is a colossal track that reverts to the brooding jazz but with a softer touch. The sax provides the melody in "Ato Piradime" with a very nice playing throughout. The electric piano, sax and the voice of Fraile gradually intertwine creating some wonderfully listenable moments. "Mors, Ultima Linea Rerum" has a quirky woodwinds opening with pulsating sounds. It's very intense where the piano is prominent with a great guitar work from the middle to the end. This is a track with contrasting moods and styles demanding the most effort and understanding. "Vento Madre" is a great closing track. It's the fourth long piece on the album with more than 10 minutes. It has a great sound and opens with female and male vocals as a solid Zeuhl soundscapes of drums, bass and guitar supports them. It has all the elements that make Universal Totem Orchestra so original and appealing.

Conclusion: Universal Totem Orchestra is seriously one of the best and most unique bands in the panorama of the new prog I have heard in a long time. They must be commended for making an album of such magnitude and scope in the same line and with the same high quality of their debut. While this will not appeal to everyone, I found this to be a fascinating and enjoyable listen. There's no denying the musicianship and the sheer uniqueness that this band displays on "The Magus". If you enjoy sub-genres of prog like Zeuhl, avant-garde, jazz-fusion or complex music, then look no further. With Universal Totem Orchestra you are in the right place. I would even say the uninitiated open- minded music lovers would need to seek this album out. Besides, the packaging is also right. The album comes as an elegant folding digipak, matching black and gold, with an extensive booklet. It's highly recommended for all who have an open mind.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.13 | 120 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Review N║ 505

Italy isn't necessarily a country that comes to mind when you think of Zeuhl bands. Universal Totem Orchestra was founded by drummer Uto Giorgio Golin, bassist Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione and the Spanish opera singer Ana Torres Fraile. The intention was to give life to a particular musical project in the field of prog music, but very different in style.

The band is connected to their compatriots Runaway Totem not only by their name, but also by the fact that some of their members make part of both bands. Universal Totem Orchestra composed and recorded their debut studio album "Rituale Alieno" in 1999. The album involves various musicians from very different influences that go from jazz, rock, fusion and classical music, including Opera. The band immediately met with great success in both, the Italian and the worldwide prog scene, so much so that Universal Totem Orchestra performed in important festivals, theaters and clubs.

So, "Rituale Alieno" is the debut studio album of Universal Totem Orchestra that was released in 1999. The line up on the album is Ana Torres Fraile (vocals), Marco Zanfei (keyboards), Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione (basses) and Uto Giorgio Golin (drums). "Rituale Alieno" has also the participation of a large amount of guest artists, singers and musicians. Many of them used to be part of the rhythm section for Runaway Totem.

"Rituale Alieno" has one of the most bizarre mixes of styles that I have heard in a long time. Universal Totem Orchestra perform a highly original, complex, and very intriguing music, which, moreover, changes on each of the album's six tracks. "Rituale Alieno" is incredibly complex and diverse stylistically, where only the elements of Opera, created by the wonderful vocals of Fraile, remain unshakable throughout it. All tracks differ from each other by many stylistic aspects.

The basis is the already mentioned Zeuh style with its guitar heavy Zeuhl with the typical Magma-esque, with hypnotic choirs in Italo-Koba´an, primed with symphonic keyboards and booming bass. On the other hand, the music is based on space rock, a harder rocking version of the same, with wobbling electronic sounds and flying electric guitar lines. In addition there is the wonderful voice of Fraile, which is perfectly suitable for operas, sometimes is supported by some great coral work, short ambient sculptures, chamber strings, Far Eastern and Western percussion, various sound and sound snippets up to quasi-industrial noise, a bit of Italian folklore and a kind of Italian Renaissance like atmosphere.

"Pane Astrale" is the shortest, but also the most beautiful piece on the album. It consists of constantly developing interplay between passages of acoustic piano and violoncello with Fraile's vocals soaring over it and represents nothing else but a contemporary classical music with elements of opera. It represents a beautiful intro to the album. "Saturno" is the lengthiest track. Being musically as complex and intriguing as all other compositions it's the most diverse stylistically. It has a strong pastoral feeling what with the superb church organ and Gregorian chant, whilst the integration of saxophone makes the subtle link towards free-jazz. It keeps the dramatic tension throughout its 21 minutes. "Il Viaggio Di Elric" is another impressive suite, more into the Magma style than the former. It's almost weaved from symphonic textures, we can think of the classic symphonic prog, art-rock, classical music and acoustic medieval music which, though doesn't make it at least a bit less eventful and more predictable than the others. "Ipernatura Del Tempo Centrale" is a track in pure classic jazz style with contrabass, very rhythmic drums and a great piano work with all kind of playing. By the middle of the track, the powerful guitars and hypnotic rhythm sections come back, as the background for the vocals, sometimes whispering, sometimes powerful in the style of Magma. "Antichi Occhi Ciechi" is a blend of Runaway Totem with Magma. It starts industrial sounding with a male voice speaking. Some computer altered voices, then male chanting as female vocals sing over top. Fraile's voice arises among the rest of vocals while the instruments gradually change textures. "Meccanica Superiore" begins with a deep bass synth sound. After, some male chanting and female vocals, it keeps a cadence rhythm, with a vocal dialogue between Fraile and the choir. Then a guitar establishes the background for a succession of rhythm changes until the final moments. It's epic and accessible.

Conclusion: Universal Totem Orchestra is the most astonishing music source I've checked in the last years. My first contact was with their third studio album "Mathematical Mother" that smashed me. And their "Rituale Alieno" became a confirmation to me. Universal Totem Orchestra is a very risky proposal, full of quality, details and technique, whose originality and concept are impressive. This is really progressive rock in a constant search for new ways of musical expression. This is just a magnificent masterpiece and is one of the most profound and interesting albums released at the end of the last millennium. How many more contemporary Italian prog bands I hear, more I think that Italy is today in the vanguard of the progressive rock movement. It's heartily recommended. This is a future classic if it's not already.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.13 | 120 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by DangHeck

4 stars I didn't know what to expect going into this album; just knowing that I've loved this band via their Mathematical Mother (2016), one of the ultimate modern Zeuhl masterpieces. But that was 17 years after this! Well, I was definitely in for a treat.

Rituale Alieno opens up with the beautiful, heavenly "Pane Astrale" ("Astral Bread"). Classical vocals crown piano and soft strings.

This is followed by "Saturno"; heavy and dark yet reserved. Strikes me as un-lame Neo-Prog (ha! sorry). And revving into things around the 3:00 mark, I'm pleased to see they wasted no time. The underlying guitar work of Giuseppe Saiani is reminiscent of Robert FRIPP, and this is matched with the soloing prowess of Marco Mauro who has a balanced performance (soaring sustain and shred). This soloing is also paired with, at one point, some airy synth (gimme more of that next time). Very nice. One step away from Prog Metal (thankfully). This track, the longest at nearly 22 minutes, is a tad longwinded, but it is bookended nicely.

And you're to tell me that that's not mallets on "Il Viaggio Di Elric" ("Elric's Journey")?! This is, right off the bat, the most exciting thing so far. Great rhythm (the faux-vibes reminiscent of GONG, a la Pierre MOERLEN). This all falls away after 2 intense minutes to something ethereal and ominous (tabla, keys, vocals) only to return to this excitement for about a minute, including a pretty riveting guitar solo to match. Viola and harpsicord enter with classical guitar stylings around 5:00. It just doesn't stop. This section softly then boldly builds upon itself with a male vocal (and then female) choral section. Building continues to a climax around 8:00, with full-on Romantic leanings. It's queer hearing this exciting, almost Latin Jazz paired with a men's choir. But man, I really like it. It's pretty darn unique. What you'll think is the song's finale, with epic GENESIS-esque vamp, is quickly replaced with an Industrial (electronic) chant. So interesting. So surprising. So good.

The tabla returns clear on "Ipernatura Del Tempo Centrale" ("Central Time Hypernature"?...), then falling away to some cool Jazz. So unique. Like minimalist post-Bop with DEJOHNETTE-esque drumming and weird male vox. This ramps up to a wicked swing with a stellar guitar solo (I thought "La Villa Strangiato" was the one--wonder what 12 year old me would have thought of all this). This has to be the highlight, right? It can't get better than this, right (it didn't)?

"Anticihi Occhi Ciechi" ("Ancient Blind Eyes") follows in the most ominous, weird way possible. The use of keys is, I feel, pretty timeless. This song is definitely worth hearing. Hard to exactly explain. The ending reminds me of OZRIC TENTACLES, really. Otherwise, madness ensues lol.

Finally we have the closer, "Meccanica Superiore". Honestly, one of the weaker tracks on the album. Just so much heft and uniqeness in the middle of this album. The latter half is definitely strongest, as you would hope. The rhythm section holds it all up, in this case.

Overall, the album is left largely untarnished. Truly, an "excellent addition to any prog rock music collection". Really, some great Zeuhl on here.

 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.13 | 155 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA started out as an offshoot of Runaway Totem when Giuseppe Buttiglione (bass) wanted an outlet to get really freaky way past his band mates' comfort zone and with the project's 1999 debut "Rituale Alieno" which means "Alien Rituals," he achieved just that! The zeuhl style of progressive rock offers a nice stable backbone of rhythmic chunks to paint soundscapes over and Buttiglione offered one of the most diverse and bizarre examples of the genre so far.

Due to the complex nature of creating a UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album, it took nine years for this sophomore release THE MAGUS to emerge but considering the dense amount of musical influences on board probably required that much time to fine tune. This album is a beast with an 80-minute running time and only six tracks, four of which extend past the 13-minute mark. The opening "De Astrologia" alone is a whopping 19 1/2 minutes long! While the Magma inspired zeuhl has always been the major inspiration, that aspect was stepped up on THE MAGUS a bit but the album is chock full of diverse elements ranging from opera, classical and jazz to hard rock and symphonic prog.

In addition to the star vocal style of Ana Torres Fraile, there are choirs, frenetic keyboard wizardry, avant-prog time signature angularities especially in the guitar playing and beautiful piano sequences. While the zeuhl rhythms offer a dose of hypnotic cyclical riffs, there are plenty of seductive melodic performances as well as extreme complexity with time signature rich counterpoints gunning for the most outrageous display of brutal prog dexterity. THE MAGUS is something like part Magma, part Yugen, part IQ and part psychotic cabaret that happens to include a bit of jazz and classical to the

With Giuseppe out of the band, Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta picks up the bass duties and anchors the band's sound with his extremely dexterous finger workouts. In fact most of the band members are different than the debut with only Ana Fraile returning on vocals along with Giorgio Colin on drums and percussion however guest musician saxophonist Antonio Fedeli returned as a full member. The album is quite diverse in how it changes up tempos, time signatures, dynamics and motifs in a heartbeat and navigates effortlessly through guitar drenched rock segments to complex vocal polyphony parts without missing a beat.

At times sounding like new age music in the clouds and others like a schizoid metal band, UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA certainly made a viable followup to its alienating debut without taking a cookie cutter approach of simply copying and pasting. While all aspects of this album are utterly unique and brilliant, the over the top keyboard solos are probably the highlight although they don't occur as often as i would like. The vocals are absolutely flawless as well however the use of the saxophone really only occurs in smooth jazz fashion and i wish that aspect of the music would've taken on an energetic delivery in the same vein as the heavier rock parts. All in all this is an excellent album which displays an amazing passion for perfection although it does fall short of just that. A truly unique contribution to the zeuhl style.

 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.25 | 187 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Review N║ 179

Universal Totem Orchestra is a very risky musical proposal, full of quality, details and technique, whose originality and concept are really impressive. But, which kind of music does Universal Totem Orchestra play? It's really very difficult to explain. What I can tell you is that their music is an explosive mixture of sounds with modern rock camera, krautrock elements, psychedelic space rock influences, the power and crudeness of hard rock, opera and folk touches, and influences from the most avant-garde Magma. The music presents also influences from jazz, rock and medieval music.

Probably, the most unique attribute of this band are the vocals performed by Ana Torres Fraile and various male performers. You will hear choirs, operatic, tenor and soprano, and traditional male vocals, all very well done. There is so much happening instrumentally that the listener really needs to pay attention. This wouldn't be good background music as it's one of those albums that demand your full attention. Odd time signatures and sudden stops and starts, allowing that for different movements to take place, are the norm, not the exception. It's clear these musicians know how to play and a tremendous amount of work has gone into this piece of music. After all, there aren't many albums just short of 80 minutes long. So, you know you are getting your money's back. Sometimes, with albums this long, the music gets tiresome and boredom starts to set in prematurely. But, that isn't the case on here. I never got the sense they made a long album just for the sake of it. All of the pieces here fit the musical puzzle and nothing seems excessive or irrelevant. What makes this more rewarding are some of nice melodies provided by piano, guitar and saxophone.

'Mathematical Mother' is an album influenced by several musical styles by a truly quixotic Italian band. We can hear soaring classical vocals, the perfect piano accompaniment, the amazing bass, or the move between jazz, fusion, funk, classical, Arabian and progressive styles. I can see why they're considered a zeuhl band due to some bombastic and hallucinating influences from Magma, such as the arrangements hover from bombastic Wagnerian explosions to jazzier climes, again a Kobaian characteristic. But, in reality only Magma sounds like Magma. I can also see occasional forays into Arabic, Gothic and Gregorian chants. It seems that 'Mathematical Mother' is Universal Totem Orchestra's most successful album and represents a union of zeuhl, symphonic, and other progressive rock styles, yet, creating a thoroughly original sound which any fan of avant-prog will find a joy to digest. It just blows me away to think of the time and talent that was put into this album. Finally, the instrumental arrangements are absolutely perfect. This is an album with a very Italian strong feeling. And as almost we know there is amount infinity of amazing Italian prog rock albums.

'Mathematical Mother' needs a careful and gradual metabolization before being grabbed and appreciated. Over fifty minutes of refined and articulated evolutions characterized by counter-tempos and overlaps, epic veins and oriental warps that contain echoes of some of the best Italian prog bands. Starting from the fourteen minutes of the 'Terra Cava' opener, the talents of Torres Fraile stand out, as a vocalist with a soprano extension and an emphatic theatrical verve, a true narrating soul of the entire staging. The technique of the execution and inspiration distinguish the entire line up all over the album. Stylistically, sought after 'Mathematical Mother', undoubtedly stands among the most valid albums of the recent wave made in Italy linked to the jazz-rock prog line, confirming all the excellent impressions that the Trentino orchestra has so far awakened. So, stick to this title and avoid letting it go unnoticed. This kind of prog albums doesn't happen every day. However, 'Mathematical Mother' needs a careful and gradual metabolization before being grabbed and appreciated. What are my favorite tracks? I don't can say that. The entire album is just amazing. It supplanted all my expectations. 'Mathematical Mother' mined blow my mind with a symphonic Italian flavored Zeuhl.

Conclusion: Since the first minute I listened to 'Mathematical Mother', I was deeply impressed by it. Despite it suffers so many and different musical influences, it remains for me a truly impressive work. And curiously, they continue the old and great Italian tradition of using Italian lyrics. The album is characterized as Zeuhl, a genre on which I'm not very well familiarized. But, I can also see on it, influences of Gothic music, Gentle Giant, Dead Can Dance, and of course of the classical music, especially from the bombastic sound of the classic Wagnerian operas. The music is amazing and with great complexity. We may say this is an example of how the modern prog rock music must sound. There aren't many new prog albums that can impress me most than this one. Universal Totem Orchestra must be commended for making an album of such magnitude and scope. While this will not appeal to everyone, those of you who like to take musical adventures outside of the norm, would do well do give this a shot. I found this to be a fascinating album and a truly enjoyable listen to. It's really an amazing album. It's highly recommended for all lovers of sophisticated prog rock.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.25 | 187 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

5 stars It's not unusual for modern prog-related bands to attempt to keep up a steady stream of annual albums or constant releases, be they live performances, compilations or limited edition sets, to ensure they retain a momentum, especially when there's so many more options to choose from for your current progressive music listening. Then there's examples where a group has such an esteemed reputation that they're given the luxury of taking their time (read years!) slowly honing their efforts to ensure something very special will eventually be delivered to the fanbase! Case in point is Italian collective Universal Totem Orchestra, an offshoot of renowned Zeuhl group Runaway Totem, releasing only three albums in their near-twenty years active, but each new one being something of a minor event. `Rituale Alieno' was a sumptuous gothic debut, `The Magus' in 2008 added some twisting metallic edge, but 2016's `Mathematical Mother' is their grandest and most lavish artistic statement yet.

What makes the Universal Totem Orchestra so fascinating is the way they cross over into so many styles to make a colourful exotic blend all their own. At any time, they blur aggressive overwhelming Zeuhl intensity with spacey keyboards, angular guitar riffing, tricky jazz-fusion turns, fancy chamber-prog flavours, Rock-In-Opposition experimentation, a mix of near- operatic female voice and even choral elements, all topped off with grand orchestration and pure symphonic pomp - sometimes all in the one track! Brave enough? Then enter...

Opener `Terra Cava' throws in everything that makes UTO so special. Throughout its fourteen minutes, it darts through everything from twitching split-personality jagged spasms, commanding choir arrangements and bombastic theatricality with plenty of jazzy sprints and dramatic orchestration. Ana Torres Fraile's purring near-operatic trills soar, Daniele Valle's guitars move between manic twisting runs and lengthy prog-rock guitar soloing histrionics, and Fabrizio Mattuzzi's sparkling piano brings plenty of classical fancy alongside his hovering deep-space synths. UTO G. Golin's intelligent and dynamic drumming keeps everything on course but still peppered with danger, and just listen to Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta's Magma-worthy mud- thick grumbling n' groovy bass guitar violation that kicks in at about the 8:40 mark!

The five-minute `Codice Y16' might actually make for a good introduction to newcomers to the group, encapsulating many of the delirious direction changes, manic instrumental blasts and searing operatic vocals they offer all inside a shorter compact piece, and there's no shortage of whirring synths, ravishing piano and soulful Magma-like proclamations throughout it. Book- ended with rumbling bass-quaking intensity and whirling-dervish heavy guitar grooves, `Elogio Del Dubbio' drifts into dusty Eastern mystery and spiritual pleading, followed by `Architettura Dell'Acqua'. A multi-part suite that opens as an English-sung melancholic ballad impeccably performed by Ana over Antonio Fedeli's sombre sax and Daniele's dreamy guitars that sounds like they've stepped off the softer moments of the early King Crimson albums, it soon morphs into that classic UTO sound - relentless twisting guitar f*ck-snap twitches over synths that jump between symphonic and punchy spacey blasts, and overwhelming male/female chanting choirs.

`CittÓ Infinite' is a multiple-personality blast of darkly jazzy weirdness where devilishly piano pomp, vocal scatting, violent synth stabs, abrasive electronic violations and maniacal percussion tantrums all bleed together, but it still finds a way to keep a spring in its step and an overall sleek gliding coolness. `Mare Verticale' then closes the disc on some nicely strangled and grooving jagged guitar riffing back-and-forth, a breathless jumble of male and female voices and even danger-laced E.L.P-esque symphonic fanfare bluster in the second half.

Despite being initially quite overwhelming, constant replays will be necessary to grasp the complexity of the material and to grow to appreciate the attention to detail here, but at least it's also thankfully around single vinyl length at 52 minutes! Lovers of the most grandiose of Italian symphonic music, and fans of Zeuhl and R.I.O bands as well as schizophrenic eclectic groups like Area will likely be captivated by the intricacies, intensity and barking madness that permeates `Mathematical Mother, a masterpiece that will likely be most appreciated by musical listeners with a slightly bent mind that view the world in a multitude of skewed ways!

Five stars.

 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.25 | 187 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by HarmonyDissonan

5 stars KICK-A-- TRANSCENDENT MUSIC!

I highly enjoyed Universal Totem Orchestra's first two albums! And although I never critiqued them and it's been a while since I've listened to them (man's time is so finite) they would both have been in the 4 to 4.5 range. Both great albums themselves! Now their new album Mathematical Mother, has seen UTO take that step up to the 5 star plateau without a millisecond of hesitation on my part! And here I go contradicting myself, the last two songs seem to lose a quarter step on the rest of the album without affecting it's stance in the least bit. And yet when I listened to them first while preparing to write this critique, they both stood very well on their own! One of the elements that I feel I want to mention is the female vocal parts. Although I am not always a great fan of female vocalists, it works very well here and I can't help but feel as though I hear late 60's pop music jazz vocalizing going on to amazingly wonderful effect.What an album!! As I listened to it this morning, the description that kept coming to mind was transcendent music that hearkens to the Grace that transcends absolute nothingness. It is the deepest grove music I feel I've every come across! What an F'in' album! I can't imagine this album not being on many a best of 2016 lists! Wow! I do not hesitate to recommend this album! I can't wait to turn others on to this great piece of art! With that I bid you all farewell. Take care and enjoy God's gift of music!

 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.25 | 187 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

5 stars

This band was originally formed as an offshoot of Runaway Totem, which probably goes some way to explaining why they released their debut in 1999, their follow-up in 2008, and this their third in 2016. They are often described as Zeuhl within the prog world, but I'm not convinced myself that the term has a great deal of merit outside of Magma, so let's instead keep this simple. However one wants to classify this album, or whatever sub-genre one wants to put it in, it can all be said in one little word, "beautiful".

Whether it is the soaring classical vocals, the perfect piano accompaniment, the amazing bass, or the move between jazz, fusion, funk, classical, Arabian and progressive styles, it really is the only word that matters. This is a delicate album with instrumental passages that are dynamic and powerful, with vocals that can be strident or fragile, with everything always working together in perfect harmony. Some of the guitar on opener "Terra Cava" is sublime, and it shows that even proggers can shred when they wish to, it's just that they often don't want to. At fourteen minutes long, this is an epic song in so many ways, not just in length, but in the sheer complexity and the way that all the passages make sense individually and come together to create a whole that is breathtaking both in its complexity and melody.

'Mathematical Mother' is a very special album, one that is incredibly complex and intricate, yet also very easy to listen to, and totally enjoyable the very first time it is played. Let's hope we don't have to wait quite so long for the next one.

 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.25 | 187 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

5 stars When the band is categorized as Zeuhl, it seems to trigger a lot of debate and criticism. "Quixotic" is a word used in the band bio here. U. T. O. from Italy started out as an offshoot of a Zeuhl band Runaway Totem. Personally I knew nothing about this group or its origins in advance, when I was asked to review their latest (third) album. I recognize notable similarities with MAGMA - which has been a hard bone for me but which I have learned to appreaciate thanks to my prog friends. But I daresay this music sounds more eclectic and flexible in all its extreme complexity, and perhaps more impressive, than Magma averagely. The excellently produced sound features both eletcricity and acoustic approach (piano, saxophone, percussions), being occasionally slightly jazzy. The bass playing of Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta is marvelous.

The main vocalist Ana Torres Fraile is amazingly talented. She uses her strong and clear voice masterfully, from the operatic and Gothic soprano wailing to more intimate singing. The lyrics are in Italian; I have no idea about the textual contents. Occasionally there are also choir-like male backing vocals, but this music is not vocal-oriented, at least not in the common sense of the word. As with Magma's use of Koba´an language, the voice is pretty much like another instrument, and there are plenty of more or less pure instrumental sections too. The epic opener 'Terra Cava' (14:06) is a good example of that. It is truly gorgeous, actually so beautiful and perfectionistic piece of complex-and-yet-naturally-flowing prog that the expectations for the whole album are dangerously high. 'Codice Y16' attempts to pack a lot of things within 5 min 21 sec, sounding quite restless.

'Elogio del Dubbio' shifts from Gentle Giant-ish funkiness to ethereal Dead Can Dance -resemblance with Oriental flavour (tabla). Well, if there is a problem with this album, for me personally I mean, it's the occasional thought of overblown eclectic complexity. but then I'm disarmed once again by the serene and acoustic beauty in the beginning of 'Architettura dell'Acqua', the second longest track (11:27) that rivals the magnificent opener. 'Citta Infinite' has jazziness, operatic/Gothic flavour and instrumental excellence, for example in the form of a vibe solo by one of the guest musicians. Perhaps the closing track is a bit too restless (especially for the rhythmic complexity), as is the album in general, for my personal taste, but I certainly recognize highly original prog excellence when I hear it. In a word, this album is amazing. If you like complexity, operatic female vocals, superb use of instruments and bands as varied as GENTLE GIANT, MAGMA and DEAD CAN DANCE, you'll love this one.

 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.25 | 187 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Is there such a thing as electronic zeuhl? Apparently, the answer is "yes", and Universal Totem Orchestra's Mathematical Mother delivers a great steaming slab of it. Keyboardist Fabrzio Mattuzzi is the star player on this one, unleashing gibbering synthesisers on an unsuspecting listener. A substantial improvement over the previous The Magus, which I found a bit uninspiring, Mathematical Mother is Universal Totem Orchestra's most successful union of zeuhl, symphonic, and other prog styles yet, creating a thoroughly original sound which any fan of avant-prog will find a joy to digest. Ana Torres Fraile is backed by a range of supporting vocalists to provide crucial additional texture.
Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition.

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