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Universal Totem Orchestra


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Universal Totem Orchestra The Magus album cover
4.13 | 156 ratings | 15 reviews | 39% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2008

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. De Astrologia (19:30)
2. Coerenza Della Percentuali (17:32)
3. Les plantes magiques (7:35)
4. Ato Piradime (15:51)
5. Mors, Ultima Linea Rerum (6:06)
6. Vento Madre (13:24)

Total Time 79:58

Line-up / Musicians

- Ana Torres Fraile / vocals
- Daniele Valle / guitar
- Fabrizio Mattuzzi / keyboards, electric piano
- Antonio Fedeli / saxophone
- Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta / bass
- Uto Giorgio Golin / drums & percussion

- Francesco Festi / vocals
- Antonello Cunego / tenor vocals (3)
- Mario Libera / tenor vocals (3)
- Dante Cavazzoni / baritone vocals (3)
- Emiliano Modena / baritone vocals (3)
- Adriano Vianilli / vocals (6)

Releases information

Artwork: Danilo Capua

2LP Black Widow Records ‎- BWR 106 (2008, Italy)

CD Black Widow Records ‎- BWRCD 106-2 (2008, Italy)

Thanks to avestin for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA The Magus ratings distribution

(156 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(39%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(34%)
Good, but non-essential (19%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A provocative, appealing epic

Even though I've written a few reviews here I still get intimidated at the thought of writing about albums under the Zeuhl tag, feeling generally inadequate in my knowledge. And despite my unease Universal Totem Orchestra (UTO) made the excursion from my usual musical digs effortless and enjoyable. This Black Widow Records release is truly an epic clocking in at 80 minutes, a double album in the vinyl days. The band describes their new work as "the new Opera of Universal Totem Orchestra. It's a jazz/rock symphonic composition which concludes a Trilogy (hidden Opera, Rituale Alieno, The Magus) dedicated to the Human Alienation; from the most esoteric state to the most psychal complex one, crossing extreme forms of analysis and autoanalysis." The band was formed in 1998 by Uto Golin and Dauno Buttiglione, the latter who left the group in 2005. Back are Ana Torres Fraile and Antonio Fedeli, and new members include Yanik Andreatta (bass), Fabrizio Mattuzzi (keys), and Danielle Valli (guitar.) Describing the UTO sound on this album is challenging but the bands that came to my mind while listening include Discus, Little Tragedies, Cafeine, Deus Ex Machina, NIL, and Lost World. Long explorations of a generally medium-heavy fusion are sifted with various keys/e-piano textures, and intricate, dynamic vocals parts and arrangements. Following are some specific impressions of the six long pieces.

"De Astrologia" (19:32) They waste no time getting ambitious opening with a nearly 20 minute piece of controlled tension. The opening section involves chanted vocal repetitions and repeating riffs before exploding into an occasion solo. Slowly it evolves into a dramatic call to arms musically, rolling and marching, almost evoking the visual of warriors marching across the plains to battle. Doubtful the band was aiming for this but since I do not understand Italian lyrics, I am left describing what the music alone "feels" like. The latter part maintains the heavy grooving bass undercurrent but the mood lightens some as the march breaks, the vocals become more free-spirited, and the piano becomes playful. Enter a laid-back horn solo to complete the shift with a reprise of the tension at the very end to complete the circle.

"Coerenza Della Percentuali" (17:30) Crazy-wild opening with a frantic and heavy 90s Crimson sound in the guitar. Blistering angular-rock splashing in occasional pools of quiet shimmering keyboards. In the middle, during the calming exchange between the male and female vocal, it becomes clear that Fraile is the secret weapon of the UTO. This woman is an exceptional vocal talent, utterly amazing. She is one of the best vocalists on today's stage and the band has the skills in arrangement to use her to maximum effect: soft and serene or heavy and powerful, chants, solos, duets with male or choir vocals, wordless, and formal operatic---she puts it all over the top. Again the track ends as it began with plucked strings (or simulated ones, not sure which).

"Les Plantes Magiques" (7:35) In one of the album's most beautiful moments the guitars and drums take a break. A gorgeous and contemplative rolling piano intro highlights the beautiful wordless vocals of Fraile. It is a peaceful respite from the modern, sounding warmer and traditional. But it doesn't last. After the halfway point you can feel the tension building again in the vocal and encroaching strings. Soon the drums are rolling ominous underneath but it never gets overly heavy, only dramatic, yet with delicate vocal interplay between solo female and choired male vocal. Very, very nice ending here.

"Ato Piradime" (15:50) The opening sounds almost Celtic-New Age with serene vocals over soft, spacious synths. But quickly it shifts to the edgy guitar riffs alternating mid-paced fusion with sax, keys, and guitar leads. Golin and Andreatta show some nice tight work here in the rhythm section and I like Mattuzzi's choice of key sounds in any particular moment, not always what you'd expect. The middle third of the track is a slower paced, almost soft dream-jazz with hypnotic vocals and sax, sad and somehow hopeful at once. At times it reminded me of Joni Mitchell's "Paprika Plains" from the Don Juan album. The final third of the track returns to a steady paced fusion with some adventurous shredding reminiscent of Indonesian avant-jazzsters Discus. A soaring, uplifting vocal with harmonizing electric lead finishes.

"Mors, Ultima Linea Rerum" (6:05) A quirky woodwinds opening shifts to laid-back trade-offs of sax and electric lead guitar. Later it moves to some ripping rock/fusion grooves battling a somewhat "droning" keyboard sound to good effect.

"Vento Madre" (13:23) The fourth long piece on the album covers little new ground but by this point you're either frustrated or completely fixated and deliriously happy. Notable again is the discipline and forcefulness of the guitar/bass/drums as they mercilessly dig in. Ana lays a repeating wordless vocal melody over the muscle and harmonizes nicely with the male vocals. It breaks 4 minutes in with e-piano leading to extended jamming over a literally galloping bass! The ending reprises the tight, driving beginning and then moves to a controlled, succinct ending. This track will benefit from a significant punch in your volume if you can manage it---turn it up!

Potential criticisms here involve the album's length which may be off-putting to casual fans and I admit at times I felt some trimming could have been used. On the contrary fans will be pleased that the band took full advantage of time to explore to their hearts content, but this question may determine how successful the work is to the individual. For me personally "The Magus" is not a masterpiece but deserving of the fourth star on the basis of the incredible work in making the vocal arrangements so interesting and so unique. Recommended to fans of unusual fusion packing surprises but appreciative of long-winded efforts. "The Magus" is a great achievement for something our bio describes as a "side project" and many full time bands should be so lucky as to deliver a work of this magnitude, despite my minor complaints. Black Widow offers it up in a handsome tri-fold digi-pak with a very nice lyric booklet containing full-color photos, though sadly, no English translations. Another title to add to the list for those guys who keep saying progressive music is dead. UTO begs to differ! 8/10

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars This album has the word epic written all over it. 80 minutes of music spread over only 6 songs that constantly evolves and changes. I'm usually the first one to complain about an album that is 70 minutes long or more, but not this time. For some reason it seems like the perfect length as it allows the band to take these songs to many different places and back again. And for me the listener lets just say the trip has been so rewarding that I keep jumping back on the ride, because not only do I look forward to experiencing those things I love about the album, but I know I will hear new things that i've missed before. This is often dark with that Zeuhlish rhythm, plus male and female vocals that are simply incredible. Songs go from patoral to intense, jazzy to heavy all at the drop of the hat. The piano is prominant, and I really like the angular guitar melodies.

"De Astrologia" is the longest track at 19 1/2 minutes. It's experimental intro gives way to a MAGMA-like vocal section. MAGMA fans have to hear this ! Both male and female vocals with a rhythm that stutters. It stops before 3 1/2 minutes as an energetic guitar solo takes over with synths.They're back 4 minutes in ! A change 4 1/2 minutes in as piano arrives.Male and female vocals are back 6 minutes in. Zeuhl rhythm takes over with piano as guitar lights it up. Great sound ! Horns come in around 8 minutes. An intense, uptempo soundscape comes in before 12 minutes. It settles down before 14 1/2 minutes as piano and chunky bass takes over. Female vocals join in. Nice guitar 16 minutes in. Sax follows as bass continues to throb. Guitar is back in place of sax. Piano and some huge bass lines follow. More guitar 18 1/2 minutes in. It gets intense one more time to end it. "Coerenza Delle Percentuali" features a nice aggressive sound as the guitar and piano are played at a fast pace. Spoken words after 2 1/2 minutes signal a more Zeuhl-like sound to follow of angular guitar and a heavy beat. Dual vocals before 4 minutes with background synths. Riffs come in followed by a spacey vibe 7 minutes. Female vocals are back 9 minutes in and they get operatic after 11 minutes. The sound changes 12 1/2 minutes in as drums pound and guitar becomes prominant. The guitar really lets loose at times. Dual vocals 14 minutes in. Guitar lights it up 15 1/2 minutes in.

"Les Plantes Magiques" opens with some beautiful piano as female vocals come in. Violin 2 minutes in. Sax follows. The tempo picks up before 5 minutes as the male choir jumps in. This one is very classical sounding and my least favourite. "Ato Piradime" opens with an IONA-like soundscape. Spacey with female vocals. It kicks into gear 1 1/2 minutes in with some great angular guitar. Sax takes over briefly and trades off with the intense soundscape a couple of times. Male vocals 3 1/2 minutes in. Bass, piano and drums lead the way, although sax and angular guitar come and go. One of my favourite sections on the whole album appears 5 1/2 minutes in. It calms right down and piano plays a relaxing melody. Sax eventually joins in and is replaced by those gorgeous female vocals. Sax is back and background synths. Nice. Vocals are back. It all changes 10 minutes in as a powerful Zeuhl rhythm takes over. Angular guitar 11 minutes in. He just shreds until the song is almost over. Female vocals are back with sax 15 minutes in. Amazing tune.

"Mors, Ultima Linea Rerum" opens with pulsating sounds. They are blown away by a heavy soundscape. A calm with sax follows. It kicks back in around 3 minutes. Haha this is great ! Piano is prominant as guitar tears it up 4 1/2 minutes in to the end. Intense. "Vento Madre" opens with female and male vocals as a solid Zeuhl soundscape of drums, bass and guitar supports them. Great sound. A calm with piano after 4 minutes. Sax 6 minutes in. Some excellent guitar a minute later as piano and drums continue. Male and female vocals return 8 1/2 minutes in. The heavy Zeuhl rhythm is back 10 minutes in. Vocals follow. Incredible ! This gets really intense before it ends.

2008 has turned out to be an amazing year for Zeuhl with this album and Jannick Top's "Infernal Machina". Add to those ONE SHOT's "Dark Shot" and i'm in heaven.

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars RT's offshoot's Universal Totem Orchestra's sole album was starting to become a distant memory, and I had stopped hoping for a second tome of the offshoot cute and oddball adventures. And out of the blue, The Magus came almost unannounced (not even a couple of month's notice) halfway in 2008 and as soon as I heard the album was released I rushed out to, order it and now a short year later, the review comes. With a fairly different line-up - only the drummer Golin and the superb mistress of ceremony Torres-Fraile remain although saxman Fedeli and ex-bassist Buttiglione are present on both - but released on the same Black Widow label with the same striking artwork artiste, (this time forgetting skeletal fixation, but slightly more occult hence the title) on one of the best-looking digipak I've set my eyes upon. In terms of music formats, the tendency towards longer tracks is increased as all but two tracks are above 13 minutes (as opposed to two of them in RA) but I'm not sure this is a good thing. Indeed some song section appears to be standing on their own, and one looks up to see the tracks are not incrementing, so I'd say some collages should've been more careful.

Was this going to be something a bit similar as the incredible Rituale Alieno or was it going to be something totally different, venturing from its fire-bearer the way the latter has ventured away from the normal Zeuhl conventional boundaries. In a way The Magus is a bit of both, staying fairly similar to Rituale Alieno, but also foraying a bit farther out than you'd have expected them to, even after digesting RA. In other words, past the initial surprise, the traits that made RA so special, have probably been pushed a few yards ahead, and what was refreshingly unexpected has now becoming slightly over-exaggerated routine twists. Don't let this last remark deter you, though: The Magus is the proud son of Rituale Alieno and there is absolutely nowhere where it doesn't deserve your full attention, despite some more synthetic music than you're normally accustomed to in Zeuhl. The superbly juicy choir vocals of the first album are still in service, but again the Gregorian choirs are also leaving much room for gothic operatic vocals

With the effect of surprise gone (with the debut album), UTO had a very hard task to tackle with this second album, and I must reckon that they partly succeeded to make you forget of RA at places. It's fairly hard to say which album is objectively better , but one thing is sure, UTO is a stunning Zeuhl group, probably the most original, not afraid to foray in other genres than just jazz-rock. Much worth the detour. Rounded up to the upper fourth star

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Zeuhl was genial Magma's invention in its time, and genre's influence is really important in prog history. I really like some early Magma's albums, but very soon formula's potential was exploited till borderlines, and all later trying to dig deeper doesn't sound so attractive for me. I can really enjoy zeuhl with jazz fusion elements, some playful moments, experimental sound and rhythm,interesting composition structures.

Unhappily from some point Magma and big part of their followers/related projects became more "thing inside itself". Dark, totalitarian chamber music with repeating formula very soon missed its attraction (for me). Then, it's really great that there exists some different zeuhl streams around. Some years ago I discovered really original and interesting (at that time) Japanese brutal noisy zeuhl ( which possibly mostly burned its potential till now as well).

Another interesting discovery is Universal Total Orchestra. Side-project of more boring and less interesting Italian zeuhl band Runaway Totem, UTO is real breath of fresh air!

Second band's album (released 9 years after their debut) is great confirmation zeuhl isn't term for museums. Their chamber music is heavily scented with jazz fusion and that unique Italian elegant beauty you can find on best RPI classic albums. Ana Torres Fraile's operatic vocals is that rare case when such element sounds absolutely organic in rock music. Keyboards sound doesn't press you as Teutonic boot, but remind more prog rock great legacy (ELP or Yes, but without bombastic). Rhythm section is pure fusion, and it gives to all music lightness, dynamics and even groove. Guitar is pure rock, and it sounds powerful and controlled at the same time.Compositions are very professional and never boring.

Great zeuhl album for XXI century! My rating is 5! Excellent!

Review by Tapfret
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Zeuhl From the Boot

Sub-genre: Zeuhl (Classic yet uniquely spiced)
For Fans of: Runaway Totem, Magma
Vocal Style: Beautiful female operatic with male oddness thrown in.
Guitar Style: Distorted rock/metal style solos.
Keyboard Style: Piano, various vintage moog sounds, string patches, etc.
Percussion Style: Standard rock kit, other percussion, tabla.
Bass Style: Picked electric, less overdriven than typical Zeuhl.
Other Instruments: Saxophone
You are not likely to enjoy this album if: you expect little variation in your Zeuhl.

Summary: A very unexpected oddity in the Zeuhl sub-genre. Universal Totem Orchestra's The Magus is firmly rooted in traditional Zeuhl sound, but is consistently more complex and rounded compositionally. At times the passages are very eclectic and The major differences in instrumentation are the more modern rock/metal guitar style. In some sense it runs along the lines of Zeuhl meeting Northern European armor clad female voiced power metal, but without the cheese (well, some cheese, but I'll get back to that later). The other major instrumental differences are a far more subdued bass and more adventurous use of keyboards and a lot of straight piano. As a matter of fact, I can think of only twice I heard the Zeuhl staple Rhodes keyboard, and only one time was it overdriven. The saxophone, not unheard of in earlier Zeuhl, is used with a more night club like feel. The true highlight of the album is Ana Torres Fraile's angelic vocals. Long passages of her backed by piano or synth set a very mystic tone throughout the album. Where the oddity comes in, the bit of cheese, is when male vocals come in. They just fit like a square peg when Ana is serenading you. All of the sudden it sounds like the tax collector is there in an argyle sweater vest ready to assess you for your ecstasy tithe. But alas, these moments are few and for between and detract very little from the overall glory of The Magus. And certainly, a more appetizing entrée than their sister band, Runaway Totem.

Final Score: The is an amazing album. I loved it from the first listen. I appreciate the homage to traditional Zeuhl, with UTO's own special spices that make The Magus uniquely their own. Just a few bizarre sounding sets of male vocals away from a masterpiece. An excellent addition to any progressive music collection. 4 stars.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Is the future of 'progressive music' in Zeuhl??

This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. Absolutley stunning in scope and breadth. The spirits of AREA, KOTEBEL, MAGMA, JANNICK TOP, ALAN HOLDSWORTH, LISA GERRARD, EUMIR DEODATO, and GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA have all been absorbed to bring you this production.

1. "De Astrologia" (8/10) starts awesomely before establishing a fairly straightforward, rather dull and repetitious A part. At 4:25 things shift to piano and Nina Hagen-like silly vocals to become ? more interesting, more RPI-like. The 6:05 mark ushers in a very Zeuhl-like part with heavy throbbing bass-line and guitar, piano, drums and vocal very MAGMA-esque. This lasts until the 11:20 mark when a synthesizer ushers in a faster, more synth-jazz part. This lasts until 14:13 when piano introduces what appears to be another pulsating Zeuhl section?but, no! At 15:00 the piano starts to jazz it up, at 15:20 is joined by the gorgeous operatic voice of Ana Tores Fraile and later, the wonderful soprano sax of Antonio Fedeli. This is the groovingest section of Zeuhl ever! Awesome piano. Guitarist Daniele Valle had already amply demonstrated his virtuosity earlier in the song but here switches gears to render a more bluesy rock solo. Strange ending.

2. "Corenza della percentuali" (9/10) begins with pizzicato strings like lighter moment from a movie soundtrack but then it evolves into what sounds and feels like a song straight from AREA's "Arbeit Macht Frei." An amazingly tight avante jazz composition until 4:55 with the first appearance of Daniele Valle's 'one-up-on-Alan Holdsworth' guitar playing over the top of string synths and Zeuhl rhythms. At 6:55 things really slow down as a synth oscillates around the speakers, giving way to an awesome and hauntingly beautiful bass solo (which sounds more like a classical guitar). Ana's operatic voice and some spacey synths join the bass at the 8:54 mark creating a very hallowed, sacred space. 9:40 hears the appearance of an Arabic-sounding drum voice (Francesco Festi?) sounding like the donkey at the end of KATE BUSH's The Dreaming's "Get Out of My House." 12:25 sees a complete return to the hard-driving opening themes?only Ana and Francesco's pairing continues?an awesome effect over the synths and hard-drivng bass line. The last 30 second s of the song see a comical return to the opening pizzicato strings theme. Odd but appropriate. A truly masterful composition. 3. "Les plantes magiques" (10/10) has a more classical chamber or church music feel to it. Piano arpeggios entwined with Ana's wordless mid-range tonings and almost-background alto sax notes. At the 3:20 mark we get a surprise: solo piano accompanying chanteuse Ana with an accompaniment of background female singers all singing French lyrics. At 4:45 a more Zeuhlish operatic section begins: orchestral percussives, synths, operatic male and female voices. Le nouveau opera! Awesome!

4. "Ato piradime" (9/10) begins with a very familiar LOREENA MCKENNITT or DEAD CAN DANCE feel and sound until at the 1:35 mark an intricate weave of bass and electric guitar usher in a kind of movie soundtrack sax theme. Shift at 3:07 to a kind of RPI rap. Really! Very engaging and poppy. 5:17: abrupt stop and pause. Solo electric piano chord progression repeats itself until 6:15 when it is joined by a very reedy sax, then by the operatic Italian lyrics of Ana. Quite majestic is her singing to "La Luna"?as is the interplay of the sax. Vocals climax around 9:40 whereupon a heavier jazz groove takes over with Fabrizio Mattuzzi's distorted electric piano bouncing around a little before being joined by bass, drums and soloing lead guitar. Around the 13 minute mark the imitation Alan Holdsworth shows up once more to give a stellar show of what AH could be. The song's final minute allows Ana and Antonio's "La Luna" theme to return to fade.

5. "Mors, ultima linea rerum" (9/10) begins with a few seconds of a kind of circus-like sound and feel before unleashing an awesomely powerful heavy prog section, only to segue into a kind of GINO VANELLI/BILLY JOEL pop jazz at the 1:30 mark. Enter an awesome 'Alan Holdsworth' guitar solo, then at 3:05 shift back to the heavy prog theme. 4:20 sees the combination of the jazzy Holdsworthian theme with a truly jazz-Zeuhl repetitiousness. End with another strange kind of fade out.

6. "Vento madre" (10/10) reminds me so much of one of my favorite 21st Century albums, KOTEBEL's "Omphalos"?particularly the "Pentacle" suite. I love the combination of heavy electric guitars, hard-rocking rhythm section with operatic vocals. 3:55 begins a DEODATO-ish electric piano bridge to a very pulsating, deeply engaging, mesmerizing section of Zeuhlish magic. Ana and guest male vocalist Antonio Vianilli. "Salvol!" Saxes and electric piano. Enter Sr. Daniele Valle, electric guitarist extraordinaire! Quiet sectioni yields to the return at 10:15 to the opening theme. Let the wild rumpus continue! Dance ye sacrificial lambs! Faster! Faster! Lose yourself in the mélée; come under the spell of The Magus!

This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. I cannot imagine anyone not seeing the utterly astounding quality of these songs and these performances. They are so fresh, unusual, creative and mature. Plus, I love it that Zeuhl has an Italian participant! Without question or reservation a solid, strong 5 star contribution to Western music. Perhaps the second greatest Zeuhl album I have had the privilege hearing (thus far).

I love Zeuhl!

Review by octopus-4
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.

Review by Warthur
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.
Review by Sinusoid
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.

Review by b_olariu
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.

Review by siLLy puPPy
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.

Review by VianaProghead
5 stars Review Nº 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*)

Latest members reviews

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 Lyo ... (read more)

Report this review (#585728) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Saturday, December 10, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars I actually liked UTO's first work more, because in this release they have lost some of their weirdness; wait, it's still a very good album, but maybe it is a bit less naive than the previous. although this could be seen as an evolution, a maturation, when listening to The Magus I miss some of t ... (read more)

Report this review (#182269) | Posted by Warholizer | Friday, September 12, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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