Runaway Totem - Andromeda (Musea FGBG 4299.AR, 1999, CD)
Andromeda's opening sounds like music to accompany space travel as our portentous destination unfolds before us, then a cool Magmoid theme takes hold. At about 5 minutes, the next theme introduces Roberto Gottardi's powerful vocals. He sounds like a large person singing from deep within his chest with a forceful character, and he sounds very Italian. It's obvious where this album is heading right from the start: dark, menacing main themes relieved by what sounds like superfluous bridges or fillers, but which in fact reveal their own value on subsequent listens. Not all is dark and menacing however: There's actually an interesting juxtaposition of the menacing instrumental backing with rather grandiose vocal lines. Frequently the bass, guitars, and keys will play the themes in unison, while the drums pound consistent drumbeats, often mimicking or accentuating the roles the rest of the band is playing. It's a powerful combination with an almost pyle-driving effect, though the bass/snare drum emphasis can get a bit monotonous in places. One of the two guitarists tends to double the bass line on his fuzzed lower string(s) while the other guitarist may join them or play an interlocking theme. Solos are relatively rare; instead the band plays as a unit, using instrumental sections as vehicles for different angular/odd melodies. Keyboards play a prominent supportive role, with piano often following the main melody, and synths and effects contributing choruses or space effects. Not necessarily a zeuhl clone, but martial beats, start/stop rhythms, alien melodies: now thatsa Kobaian!
(Originally appearing in Expose issue 22)
Runaway Totem - "Trimegisto" (Black Widow BWRCD 004-2, 1993/1995, CD)
This was a new release on independent vinyl just two years before Black Widow reissued it as a CD in 1995 with a couple bonus tracks. Good thing, as the vinyl was a limited run of 666 or some such nonsense, and could have never reached its potential audience. The band - which varies from a basic trio of keys+guitar, drums and vocals, to an expanded lineup including two dedicated vocalists and an additional guitarist, plays a dark and sinister brand of furiously paced rock laced with certain elements of Magma and Zappa. It wouldn't be correct to call Runaway Totem a zeuhl band as such, their own vision is far stronger than the inputs from their influences, but suffice to say if one is adventurous and appreciates bands like Magma and Weidorje, then Trimegisto is a must-have. - Peter Thelen(Originally published in Exposť # 9, p. 64, Edited for Gnosis 7/21/01)
Runaway Totem - "Zed" (Black Widow BWRCD 013-2, 1996, CD) When a band takes this big a step from their first album to their second, one has to stop and take note. Runaway Totem's first effort Trimegisto from a few years ago was a mixed bag of dark gothic influences, classic Italian progressive stylings, and strong hints of Zeuhl, with only a general sense of direction - perhaps because the lineup appeared to be unstable. So given that, the last thing I expected was a cohesive follow-up album like this - two sidelong multi-part suites "Zed" and "Mnar", covering a full range of musical emotion from soft drifty sections of multi-part vocal harmonies to outbursts of blistering fuzzed dual-guitars and everything else in between. The basic band is a four-piece of two guitars, bass, and drums, the two guitarists sharing vocals with a guest lead female voice, two backing voices, and Marco "Ohm" Olivotto (TNR) on Mellotron and piano, who also did the album's sound and mixing. Occasionally the material seems a little too ambitious, and at those moments the band seems a little exposed and vulnerable, but overall it succeeds. Folks who love Mellotron will get plenty of it here, along with occasional guests on flute, clarinet and other keyboards. The vocals are all in Italian, very heavy and stylized. Both tracks seem to be in a constant state of evolution, alternating between the diverse extremities of the Runaway Totem sound. Indeed, this is an album of extremes, dark and sinister versus spirited and celestial - yet it's one which seems to make more sense with every listen. (Originally published in Exposť # 12, p.42, Edited for Gnosis 7/21/01)
With Zed, Runaway Totem recalls the Golden Age of progressive rock, offering up an album solely containing two 20+ minute tracks. As would be expected, both tunes are multi-faceted epics. The title track, "Zed," opens with a symphonic intro, and gets progressively heavier and guitar driven as the piece advances. Certain parts of this song drag on a little. There's a few spots where the drums and bass play the same riff for about 516 measures while the two guitars wail away. But, for the most part, the tune is pretty interesting. The second and final track, "Mnar," has a more ethnic spacey vibe to it than the title track. For the first 6 minutes, the music is quite ambient, and African drum sounds pound away on a simple beat. Then, the guitar tritone assault begins. After several minutes of this, the piece evolves into an Italian industrial surf number. Talk about shifting gears... The vocals are very rich and operatic, with both male and female sections receiving about equal spotlight - and often sharing it simultaneously. There's a distinctly European flavor to the sound. The best part of the album is the twin guitar work of Roberto Gottardi and Rene Modena. They shred!! The focus of the music shifts often between heavy and light, and between guitar and keyboards. Unfortunately, for the most part, these transformations are wholesale. When the guitars are clanging away, the keyboards are absent. Likewise, when the keyboards are the focus, the guitars are totally out of the mix. It's too bad the band didn't experiment with having more sections emphasize both instruments together. Overall though, the music is entertaining and vibrant. (Originally published in Exposť # 12, p.42, Edited for Gnosis 7/21/01)
This group creates one of the more unique hybrids of progressive rock, a niche that's becoming more comfortable here on their second release. Like many a group in the Black Widow stable, their music is dark and betraying gothic overtones. Add that simple and driving space rock style (much like label mate Malombra) coined by Hawkwind and propagated in Delirium label tradition, and choral classical music with vocals a la Opus Avantra (both male and female); mix in 70's Italian progressive rock (Celeste comes to mind here, but Runaway Totem are not that relaxed) and you're orbiting around Totem's morose and angst-filled music. Both tracks break the 20 minute mark and seem to be intelligently put together. My main gripe is that the playing isn't all that inspired and seems either amateur or rushed. An interesting and more provocative album than usual from Black Widow. (Originally published in Exposť # 12, p.42, Edited for Gnosis 7/21/01)
Runaway Totem are an Italian group on Black Widow, a progressive rock label with affinities for the darker side. As is the case with label mates Malombra, Runaway Totem have little to do with the symphonic rock genre and instead, on Trimegisto, (Black Widow BWR 004, LP) they concentrate on a hard-edged, Zeuhl-influenced progressive hard rock that is rather hard to get used to. The band's debut, what was a limited edition of 666 on LP, makes up one of the more interesting albums of the early 90's, what seems to be a concept album based on the hermetic writings of Trimegistus. The lavish packaging with triple gatefold, inlaid booklet, and gimmick cover only give a vague clue to this group's music and all its alchemic symbolism, although it surely is a worthwhile find for collectors. The music combines influences from all over the musical map including Magma, Weidorje, Ozric Tentacles, Picchio dal Pozzo, and Henry Cow, but the overall concoction is very much their own. As with Malombra, the vocals are a bit hard on the ear, but Totem's music is a definite grower. One for those with a taste for the unusual.
(originally reviewed as part of The New Italian Progressive Rock Scene
(part 1), Exposť #3, p. 8, Edited for Gnosis 4/6/01)
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