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Universal Totem Orchestra

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This band is connected to their compatriots Runaway Totem not only by their name, but also by the fact that drummer Uto Giorgio Golin and bassist Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione, here joined by vocalist Ana Torres Fraile, keyboardist Marco Zanfei and a large group of guest musicians, used to be the rhythm section for Runaway Totem. Like Runaway Totem, Universal Totem Orchestra have their roots in a rather guitar-heavy version of zeuhl, but on Rituale Alieno (Black Widow Records BWRCD 022-2) they mix this with a gamut influences ranging from symphonic rock to world music and beyond. For example, “Il viaggio di Elric” initially wanders through a spacey jam section, but then comes to a sudden focus, as Fraile’s operatic voice traces a grand melody over a spare but elegant backing of viola, classical guitar and harpsichord-like keyboard. A zeuhl-styled male choir then appears, responding to Fraile’s call with a lower register melody line. The rhythm section kicks back in, electric guitar picks up a limber solo cue from the choir melody, keyboards first lay down a jazzy groove and then add a symphonic swell as the song rises to a peak - only to crash down into quasi-industrial rhythms and keyboard effects, as the choir gives the theme one more go. Similarly, “Ipernatura del tempo centrale” begins with an abstract, tabla-driven section, moves to melodic fusion with burning keyboard and guitar solos, and finally settles into a repetitive groove with a churning bass ostinato, far-out synth sounds and one of those “excuse me, my brain seems to be stuck on repeat” chants that are characteristic of zeuhl.

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