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Universal Totem Orchestra


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Universal Totem Orchestra Rituale Alieno album cover
4.10 | 127 ratings | 14 reviews | 26% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1999

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Pane Astrale (4:33)
2. Saturno (21:38)
3. Il Viaggio Di Elric (13:06)
4. Ipernatura Del Tempo Centrale (9:16) *
5. Antichi Occhi Ciechi (8:53)
6. Meccanica Superiore (9:10)

* Not included on the LP

Total time 66:36

Line-up / Musicians

- Ana Torres Fraile / vocals
- Marco Zanfei / keyboards
- Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione / basses
- Giorgio Golin / drums

- Marco Mauro / lead guitar (2-5)
- Marcello De Angelis / lead guitar (6)
- Giuseppe Saiani / guitars (2-4,6)
- Giuliano Eccher / guitars, viola (3)
- Giacomo Plotegher / keyboards (2,6)
- Francesco Ciech / cello (1)
- Antonio Fedeli / saxophone (2,4)
- Gianni Nicolini / tabla (3,4)
- Francesco Festi / vocals
- Marco Festi / vocals
- Simone Albino / vocals
- Lucio Zandonati / vocals
- Pietro Maini / vocals
- Enzo Battisti / vocals
- Giuliano Lott / vocals

Releases information

Artwork: Danilo Capua

LP Black Widow Records ‎- BWR 022 (1999, Italy)

CD Black Widow Records ‎- BWRCD 022-2 (1999, Italy)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Rituale Alieno ratings distribution

(127 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(26%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(49%)
Good, but non-essential (19%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars Who could've imagined that one of Zeuhl's most fun and inventive album would've come from one of the genre sorriest excuse of a group, Runaway Totem. If RT was little more than a third rate Magma wannabe whose best album was their second, Zed, its offshoot UTO is one of the most flamboyant and insane Zeuhl creation that has been given me to hear. But when thinking about it, it sort of makes sense: give a crazy and visionary French musician like Magma's Vander and hand him over the Italian citizenship and access to the typical Italian character traits, and you can only have a grandiloquent and baroque Christiano Vandera that would've probably written music that might have had Universalle Totem Orchestra's many quirks and twists.

Three members of RT invited a ton of guests (including a seven-person choir) to make Rituale Alieno an incredible and unexpected success by daring to escape to the generally-accepted and conventional boundaries of the genre. Indeed UTO's main difference not only relies on slightly different instrumentation, sometimes risking sacrilege with semi-metallic guitars, but mainly in the vocal department. UTO's vocals are baroque, goofy, enthralling, deviillish, operatic and extra-terrestrial, this, no matter whether in lead solo or in pure choir. There is not a single doubt that the musicians had great fun in recording these parts. And if you don't believe me, check out the choirs in the closing track Meccanica Superiore.

There are times where the music veers a bit synthetic (the last part of Elric's Voyage) and this is often while your mind is busy enjoying the oddball choirs, which means it is not immediately discernable and it might take a few listen to realize it. But we remain in Zeuhl territory and the bass remains the centre f the music and it is certainly the case in Ipernatura Del Tempo Centrale, where a piano and a searing Van Halen-like guitar solo soar, but the bass is driving you nuts below it and the closing choirs are another nail driven through your now-fried brains. This is where Magma never dared to go ver their long career, and it is all Vander's loss.

Armed with a bunch of macabre skeletal artworks gracing its booklet, RT was released on the ideally-suited Black Widow label, but it is too bad not more publicity about this album was made at the time of release, because Moroni has in his catalogue one of Zeuhl's top 5 albums, but I'm not sure he knows about it. But more important, you do now, right???

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Though not a big fan of Zeuhl (i do like my 2 Magma albums and Weidorje), I cannot help really admiring this very creative offering from UTO. "Pane Astrale" is a riveting "Da Vinci Code" like soundtrack theme, with shimmering operatic vocals and a beautiful melody. Then , the band takes its first big plunge into the absurd with the epic 21 minute "Saturno" , a devilish roller coaster of chants, booming bass and savage drumming (Hey, that's Zeuhl!), with spiraling guitar and keyboard motifs pinging and ponging all over the place. This is quite evocative prog , sensibly original , diverse and inspired. Each time I give this a spin, I cannot help but revisit in my mind the Omen Trilogy of horror flick fame, as this would definitely serve as a wonderful soundtrack alternate, chillingly eerie, sweepingly powerful and really mesmerizing in its constant contrasts and hues. The medieval cello-driven theme continues on "El viaggio di Elric"(Elric's Voyage), with some more theatrics from the orchestra , spewing out booming synths , doom-laden percolating percussives and angst drenched vocal themes. The bass is the maestro leading the show, always hunting for new sonic territories to lead his mates to, ( a la Paganotti-Top with a dash of Howlett -era Gong for good measure). Guest guitarist Marco Mauro shows great skill in travelling to great flight of notes , loaded with frenzied restraint (an oxymoron?) . This track is fascinating, the igniter of the great ratings this album has received, with a apocalyptic finale that defies reason and odds , sinister and martial , akin to the march of the "Pink Fascists" of the Wall. Next up, a psychotic musical landscape with funky bar room jazz piano noodlings , laying down the carpet for some repetitive chanting (Me High, get it?), some tortuous six string slinging in a Soft Machine-era Holdsworthian mood, creepy bass underpinning, groovy syntho-sonics a la Gilly Smyth (her legendary Space Whisper) and recurring male demonic chants . The next two tracks continue the voyage into the Carmina Burana like world of these Italian masters. This modern prog masterpiece is often revisited and like fine wine, it gets better with each go around. Time for another offering but I somehow find it improbable to surpass this level of originality . But, Prog is soooo unpredictable (which is its most coveted attribute , when you think of it...)

5 vander zeuhls

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars The drummer and bass player who appeared only on RUNAWAY TOTEM's debut album "Trimegisto" are back, this time with UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA.They have a similar name to their previous band and a similar style of music as well. It's difficult to describe this one with the male and female Italian operatic (almost) vocals. There is a definite Zeuhl flavour to this album. Hey they thank C.Vander and J. Top in the liner notes. Dark with heavy bass and lots of rhythm. Similar vocal style to Zeuhl at times. Not as metal as RUNAWAY TOTEM though. Yes this album really took some time to get used to. And that's part of what makes it a great record to have, because it's different. Check out tszirmay's review because he is so good at describing their sound.

"Pane Astrale" is a beauty with the female soprano vocals and piano throughout. Some violin as well. "Saturno" is an over 21 minute ride into the abyss. Love the dark and heavy 1 1/2 minute intro. Church organ then takes over. Sax, drums then guitar follows. The guitar is ripping it up. Six minutes in the song stops as we then get some gregorian chanting. Then 7 1/2 minutes in it's back to the heavy intro sound with some excellent guitar. Nice. The tempo slows right down 10 1/2 minutes in as heavy drums and deep male vocals come in. A catchy, faster paced male and female vocal section comes in. The tempo continues to shift. "Il Viaggio Di Elric" is spacey to open before an uptempo percussion driven melody comes in. It stops 2 minutes in as she starts to sing slowly with percussion to match. It kicks back in before 3 1/2 minutes. Great sound as the guitar grinds it out. It stops 5 minutes in as viola takes over. Female vocals are next and they sound terrific. Male vocals then come in. The tempo picks back up before 8 minutes as guitar and male vocals lead the way. Not a fan of the last 2 minutes.

"Ipernatura Del Tempo Centrale" opens with percussion and sax until it changes completely 1 1/2 minutes in to an almost jazzy flavour with piano, male vocals and bass. Nice guitar before 4 minutes. Check out the chunky bass 4 1/2 minutes in. This continues for some time with female vocal melodies in the background until MAGMA-like male vocals come in 7 1/2 minutes. Great tune. "Antichi Occhi Ciechi" opens with spoken words as flute arrives 2 minutes in. Female vocals then male vocals as a melody has arrived before 3 minutes. I like the drumming and piano. Jazzy. The tempo and mood continues to change. Love the guitar 4 1/2 minutes in and later 8 minutes in. Cool song. "Meccanica Superiore" is dark with male and female vocals come in singing at a good pace. Some wicked guitar follows. Back to the vocals. Check out her vocals before 4 minutes. Great section after 6 minutes to 7 1/2 minutes.

This is music for the adventerous, those who like to explore new places.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars What a great surprise this was to hear. Universal Totem Orchestra are an offshoot of the Italian Zeuhl band Runaway Totem. This is their debut album, the next one not coming out until 2007; I still have yet to hear that album. I agree with those who think UTO are much better than RT. The music here is a mix of French Zeuhl, Japanese Zeuhl, RPI and Symphonic Prog. Like RT the songs are very long. Unlike RT there is not much of a metal influence here and the vocals seem to be more important. The lead female vocalist here is an important part of the group's sound.

"Pane Astrale" has some lovely piano and double-tracked female soprano vocals to begin the album. Cello joins in. A beautiful intro to a great album. "Saturno" opens with weird computerized vocals before it goes into some gothic symphonic rock. Church organ for a bit. Sax joins in as the organ dies out. Drums and bass enter again as some wind instrument solos. Then a guitar solo. Later some screaming samples which I swear I've heard before. Then Gregorian-style chanting. Later female vocals soar over male vocal chanting with some symphonic Zeuhl music backing it up. After 9 minutes goes into a very Japanese Zeuhl sounding part. In the middle the track becomes industrial Zeuhl. Afterwards goes into a part that sounds like Runaway Totem with alternating male and female vocals. Certain parts seem to get reprised throughout the piece. Martial drumming towards the end.

After an electronic, industrial opening with computer-altered vocal effects, "Il Viaggio di Elric" goes into some jazz-rock with what sounds like marimba or xylophone. Some symphonic guitar and keys play over top. Then percussion with spacey sounds and female vocals. Goes back to the symphonic jazz-rock part. Before 5 minutes is some beautiful cello, violin and harpsichord. Female vocals and acoustic guitar join in. Harmonized male vocals enter. Later gets jazzy with more harmonized male vocals which get more melodic and 'chorus' like. Great symphonic guitar solo gets joined by symphonic keys. Later gets more industrial and gothic sounding with more male harmony vocals.

"Ipernatura del Tempo Centrale" begins with Indian percussion and some spacey vocals with an overall industrial sound. Afterwards gets very trad jazz sounding with piano, bass and hi-hat. Some very Magmaesque vocals here. Drumming starts to get more important as it switches to a different section with a guitar solo. Almost metal sounding bass with spacey sounds for awhile. Male chanting later. "Antichi Occhi Ciechi" starts industrial sounding with a male voice speaking. Some computer-altered voices, then male chanting as female vocals sing over top. Later goes into another part that reminds me of Runaway Totem. Gets jazzier. More industrial and spacey sounding in the middle with a guitar solo. Later gets more symphonic rock sounding with another guitar solo and some quasi- soloing on synth. Gets jazzier again. Ends very Japanese Zeuhl sounding.

The beginning of "Meccanica Superiore" has a deep bass synth sound. After some male chanting and double-tracked female vocals first sing in counterpoint and then both chant in unison. Nice faux-vocal sound on keys at one point. Then gets French Zeuhl sounding with a metal style guitar solo. Gets very symphonic prog sounding in the middle. Later a jazzy piano oriented section with operatic female vocals. Guitar plays a riff before becoming more symphonic sounding with nice melodic 'chorus' like double-tracked female vocals. Male chanting joins in. Some funky slap bass style playing before harmony male vocals and some synth noodling. Gets more metal sounding briefly at the end.

Besides the Zeuhl, RPI and Symphonic influences, there is also a healthy dose of 1990's industrial rock as well. UTO aren't really doing anything truly original here, but the result is fantastic. There is not a dull moment here. My only complaint is that maybe the drums could have been mixed more upfront. Overall, this is one of the better prog albums I have heard from the 1990s. 5 stars.

Review by Warthur
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.
Review by octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
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

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by siLLy puPPy
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.

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.

Review by VianaProghead
5 stars Review Nŗ 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-Kobaļan, 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*)

Latest members reviews

3 stars I've listened to the the Universal Totem Orchestra albums backwards strangely. Backwards in date order that is, not everything in reverse... Pane Astrale is a beautiful operatic piece, a fairly standard classical track rather than anything particularly zeuhl like, but lovely nonetheless. Ca ... (read more)

Report this review (#2856683) | Posted by bartymj | Tuesday, December 6, 2022 | Review Permanlink

3 stars I must admit to being slightly disappointed by this album. Let me hasten to say that it's not bad by any means, and contains several really rather interesting passages. And yet, for an album in the Zeuhl category I expect more compositional ingeniuity than what I can find on "Rituale Alieno". 3 s ... (read more)

Report this review (#1425056) | Posted by pedestrian | Monday, June 8, 2015 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#540758) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Monday, October 3, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars in a word: GREAT. This album is a great example of complex, always changing and evolving music. It starts with the astonishing "Pane astrale", which really makes me shiver: the soprano voice is really intense, and the viola work is great, while piano could be better, expecially because of it ... (read more)

Report this review (#51888) | Posted by Warholizer | Saturday, October 15, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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