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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 ::::

Universal Totem Orchestra official website

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Mathematical MotherMathematical Mother
Import
Imports 2017
Audio CD$14.93
$14.92 (used)
MagusMagus
Import
Black Widow 2008
Audio CD$56.20
Rituale AlienoRituale Alieno
Import
Black Widow 2000
Audio CD$19.99
$86.32 (used)
Rituale Alieno by Universal Totem Orchestra (2001-03-15)Rituale Alieno by Universal Totem Orchestra (2001-03-15)
Black Widow
Audio CD$67.84
Magus by Universal Totem OrchestraMagus by Universal Totem Orchestra
Black Widow
Audio CD$125.72
Universal Totem Orchestra Rituale Alieno Other SwingUniversal Totem Orchestra Rituale Alieno Other Swing
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Audio CD$46.90
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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA discography


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

4.09 | 83 ratings
Rituale Alieno
1999
4.14 | 113 ratings
The Magus
2008
4.45 | 56 ratings
Mathematical Mother
2016

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

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UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.45 | 56 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
4.45 | 56 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Prog Team

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
4.45 | 56 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 Kobaļan 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
4.45 | 56 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.
 Mathematical Mother by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2016
4.45 | 56 ratings

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Mathematical Mother
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by tszirmay
Special Collaborator Crossover Team

5 stars This is the third offering from Universal Totem Orchestra, a quixotic Italian band that gets criticized for not being pure zeuhl (nothing is really, besides Magma) and thus dividing Progland into outright fans and naysaying purists. Too bad really, as they never claimed to be devoted followers in the first place. Their debut "Rituale Alieno" as well the follow up "The Magus" are both, in my humble opinion, extraordinarily brilliant albums that deserve the loftiest progressive praise. There are some similarities with Magma and some huge differences. First the common elements, namely a furiously talented leader in drummer UTO G. Golin who simply pounds and sizzles throughout all their tracks, pushed along by the reptilian bass of Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta. Definitely near Vander/Top/Paga levels of quality. The arrangements hover from bombastic Wagnerian explosions to jazzier climes, again a Kobaian characteristic. The major difference is Ana Torres Fraile's booming voice that is beyond description, capable of a wide variety of tones, octaves and styles, but much closer to opera than anything else. Occasional forays into Arabic, Gothic and Gregorian leanings only accentuate her stunning brilliance. She is also extremely attractive. Furthermore, guitarist Daniele Valle and keyboardist Fabrizio Mattuzzi can hold their own with the very best the prog universe can suggest, technically hyper-proficient but loaded with gusto, bravado and oomph. Finally, saxophonist Antonio Fedeli adds the sultry instrument at the most appropriate of times, such as one the shining and eloquent "Architettura Dell'Acqua". UTO's style is way more expansive, playful, symphonic, jazzy, retro, bucolic and medieval than anything unleashed by the Destruktiw Kommandohs.

Kick off the Mathematical Mother opus with a 14 minute surge "Terra Cava", a whirlwind demonstration of the various talents at hand, a scat singing opener that quickly evolves into a complex and insistent polyrhythmic explosion with zooming bass, deft stick work, cool piano musings and a hard carving guitar rampage. Fraile's voice seduces immediately, her lung capacity is quite impressive to say the least, extended long series of notes and trembling invocations, a truly impressive diva. The ornamental piano takes over a great deal of the melodic arrangement, sumptuous and elegant as it should be, deepening the reflective emotions and enriching the pace. At the 8 minute mark, the rabidly intense bass guitar rumbles through like a freight train, the dynamic mood turning Saharan and the spirit utterly adventurous. The bass tone is trebly and extremely fluid, a sort of Squire/Entwhistle synthesis that will astound the fans of the mythical instrument. Guitarist Valle then goes on his flowery rant, egging Mattuzzi to take over and rise to the heavens. I find myself slammed right between the eyes by the sheer power of their demanding and virtuous music.

A blistering fury is set with the exalting "Codice Y16", a synth-blasted shorter piece that seeks to underline a kind of a Charlie Brown?like piano motif (you will get it when you hear it), a perfect platform for Mattuzzi's wild synthesizers to parallel Fraile's thrilling and athletic voice. The jazz elements are straight forward here, almost Canterbury-esque in many ways, again muscled along by that impulsion -fueled bass guitar, a joy to follow throughout this splendid disc.

The ebb and flow on "Elogio del Dubbio" will make your head spin, from misty serene to ethereal Gothic as well as out right bull in a china shop, the whole thing just spirals mightily into the celestial heavens. A blizzard of persevering notes, played at breakneck speed, then suddenly, an eerily Dead Can Dance like Arabic lamentation swoops in from the desert, assisted by some cool tablas , meandering into the labyrinths of the mind. Fraile wailing majestically once again, the scimitar-edged pace heightens as the ravaging guitar slashes mightily through the haze. Praise be to the Golin School of drumming, the man is a total beast.

The compelling "Architettura Dell'Acqua" is the masterpiece on this album, a simply incredible piece of music, incorporating the mellifluous soprano voice, lyrics in English and the sophisticated saxophone , unified in an idyllic initial setting, lush with heartbreaking fragility and purest design. Then the alternating themes begin their madcap ballet, the echoing piano treatment giving rise to some furious guitar pirouettes, as well as some dazzling turbo- charged flurries from the band, swift and adventurous. Back to the momentary calm before heading back to the fury. Tons of little details abound, like the squeaky synth wobbles, the heavy rock guitar showcase, the choir additions giving this a Orff-ian bombast that is hard to resist.

Back to jazzier horizons on "Citta Infinite", another perfect platform for Ana Torres Fraile to shine, a mesmerizing vocal display. This is semi-mellow stuff but it does include a snippet from UTO's masterful epic "De Astrologia" off the Magus album, which remains in my humble opinion, a classic prog tour de force. The vibraphone solo from Mirko Pedrotti is eyebrow raising to say the least. Wow! The final track "Mare Verticale" borrows again the disorienting and pounding rhythmic style that is their claim to fame, aided by a devilish bass and drum assault and adorned by some technically astute voice work that never ceases to amaze. I can listen to this a thousand times and still be impressed by the brilliant playing and the technical savvy by each band member.

In recap, this is an album that one can listen to as a whole, then go through it again just listening to one instrument, one at a time. That for me is the inherent attraction of any prog album. To the 19% who labelled this poor and only for completionists , you have my deepest condolences.

5 Measured mammas

 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.09 | 83 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by pedestrian

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 stars is a good score though, so if the rest sounds negative it's perhaps partly because pretty much every other review is over the moon about this album whereas my position is slightly sub-lunar.

To call it Zeuhl is, I'd say, about half accurate. About half the album could, at a stretch, fit in with what I think of as Zeuhl, and the rest is mainly some form or other of dark symphonic prog with a very heavy synth presence.

My main problem with this album is that all the songs are composed by what I call the Lego brick method. Each of the lengthy track consists of a series of chunks of music of 2-3 minutes each which are stuck together like Lego bricks with little or nothing in common and no apparent reason why they should belong together. Now I can't rule out the chance that there is somthing I'm missing, but to me it sounds like bits of music have been added to the pile until they thought "that's enough for one song".

The kind of sound UTO create is all over the place on this record, which is probably a deliberate choice but doesn't work for me. Even if the synthesizer can make hundreds of sounds, it's not necessarily a good idea to use them all. Also the guitar work frequently veers into metal territory, which I find annoying in this context, while much of the music is tonally not that interesting. You come to expect some nice experimental tonality from Zeuhl, but especially some of the solos on this album are really rather ordinary and uninterested if you're used to Zeuhl or even contemporary jazz.

On the whole, not a bad effort at all, but certainly no Zeuhl classic in my book.

 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.09 | 83 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

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

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.

 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.14 | 113 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by b_olariu
Prog Reviewer

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

 Rituale Alieno by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 1999
4.09 | 83 ratings

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Rituale Alieno
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

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.

 The Magus by UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.14 | 113 ratings

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The Magus
Universal Totem Orchestra Zeuhl

Review by Sinusoid
Prog Reviewer

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

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

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

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition.

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