Universal Totem Orchestra - Rituale alieno - 1999


First, I would like to say the following: I am not from the family of any Black Widow member neither I owe any debt to them. I try to be as objective as I can, and I must recognize that the overall quality and originality of the bands of this record label have surprised me, as well as their attitude by not releasing commercial prog rock and always introducing risk and experimentation as a must. In the case of Universal Totem Orchestra (U.T.O.) I have had the opportunity to listen to one of the most interesting, unpredictable and progressive bands of the current scene, making of "Rituale Alieno" one of my 25 favorite Cds in the history of progressive rock.


Which kind of music does U.T.O. play? It is very difficult to explain, as you must imagine an explosive mixture of sounds: modern camera rock a la After Crying, krautrock elements, Hawkwind influences, the power and crudeness of "Red", opera and folk touches, and hallucinations from the most avant-garde Magma. The music presents also influences from jazz, rock and medieval music.. The nucleus of this orchestra is the following: Ana Torres Fraile (vocals), Dauno Giuseppe Golin (bass), Marco Zanfei (keyboards) and UTO Giorgio Golin (drums). There are 15 special guests, playing guitars, chorus, saxes, violas, cellos, darboukka, etc.

The first track "Pane Astrale" (4:33) is a brief prelude with a soft piano, string instruments and operatic voices full of lyricism and beauty. I should point out that I thought the whole Cd would follow that style, soft enjoyable music, with plenty of classicism. The surprise came with "Saturn" and its almost 22 minutes length. It begins with a tremendous energy a la King Crimson (Wetton era). After this, almost sacred keyboards arise, until the sax joins, playing a kind of avant-garde jazz that increases its intensity progressively. Then, a vertiginous guitar solo lashes the ears of the surprised listener. Suddenly, music stops, and a monastic chorale relax our spirit, until the Crimson elements arise anew, with complex instrumental structures in which the drummer is the master while the guitar and the keyboards literally toss smoke and originality. Another abrupt shift and the monastic vocals return, while the background music becomes dense, sharp and oppressive. From this moment, the voices and the music take life in a succession of changes, breaks and original melodies. A real classic piece. Another impressive suite is "Il Viaggio di Elric" (13:06), more into the krautrock and Magma music style than the former, while blended with moments of medieval atmospheres. "Ipernatura del tempo ventrale" (9:16) is pure classic jazz: contrabass, very rhythmic drums and a tremendous piano making all kind of games. 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. "Antichi occhi ciechi" (8:53) is another blend of Runaway Totem with Magma. Ana's voice arises among the rest of vocals while the instruments gradually change textures: psych, jazz, kraut, bufff!!. an entire text book for lovers of progressive rock who desire to discover new music. The last song of the Cd, "Meccanica superiore" (9:10), maintains a cadence rhythm, with a vocal dialogue between Ana and the rest of the choir. Then a piercing guitar establishes the background for a succession of rhythm changes that go from the most schizoid Rio to the most classic lyricism in seconds, until the final moments of the track, very epic and accessible, leave us begging for more, much more.


Universal Totem Orchestra is a risky proposal, full of quality, details and technique, whose originality and concept are impressive. Really “progressive” prog rock in a constant search for new ways of musical expression. Remember the name: "Rituale Alieno". A future classic if not already.

author - date - rating - label

Alfonso Algora - February 2000 -   - Black Widow