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Universal Totem Orchestra: The Magus

One word to describe Universal Totem Orchestra would be unique. This Italian band, formed in 1998 by Uto G. Golin (drums) and Dauno Buttiglione (bass), who has since left the band, is anything but boring. The Magus is their second album, the first being Rituale Alieno. There is so much going on here, so many layers to peel back, that this music is extremely difficult to describe. For a record based in the Zeuhl genre there are a surprising number of melodic moments that find their way to the surface. Subtle guitar phrasings here, a beautiful piano melody there, well you get the idea. Do not get me wrong though, this is not what I would call easy music to digest. It is another one of those albums that will probably take a little time to fully grasp and appreciate, especially if you are unfamiliar with esoteric progressive music.

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

"De Astrologia" gets things rolling with some electronic sounds before delving into some power chords and chanting vocals and a really cool, although short lived, synth solo. An angular lead guitar solo follows and that is just in the first 4 minutes. We also get to hear rollicking piano, some lovely melodies, a variety of singers, and dynamic tempo changes There is a marching rhythm underlying much of the song allowing us to use our imagination as to what the song is about. There is 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.

One of the shorter songs on the album, "Les Plantes Magiques", begins with a lovely piano melody and great female vocals. This is the most delicate song on the album although the song does have some passionate moments especially in the vocals and drumming. This one has a lot in common with classical music and how movements are allowed to gradually build up in intensity. Sax provides the melody in "Ato Piradime" with nice playing throughout. Electric piano, sax and the voice of Fraile gradually intertwine creating some wonderfully listenable moments.

Universal Totem Orchestra must be commended for making an album of such magnitude and scope. While this will not appeal to everyone, those of you who like to take musical adventures outside of the norm, would do well do give this a shot. I found this to be a fascinating and enjoyable listen. Highly recommended.


Track Listing:
1. De Astrologia (19:32)
2. Coerenza Delle Percentuali (17:31)
3. Les Plantes Magiques (7:35)
4. Ato Piradime (15:50)
5. Mors, Ultima Linea Rerum (6:05)
6. Vento Madre (13:23)

Added: February 16th 2009
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Score:
Related Link: Band's Official Site
Hits: 3509
Language: english

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