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(44:55, Lizard Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Astrale Opaco 5:23 2. Sancta Sanctorum 4:46 3. Esseriperiodici 7:36 4. Segre to Trale Mura 9:28 5. Trismegisto Suite 17:42 LINEUP: Cahal De Betel – el. guitars; keyboards; vocals Giuseppe Buttiglione – bass; backing vocals Giorgio Golin – ac. & el. drums; b/v Ana Torres Fraile – lead vocals
Prolusion. Recorded live in 1994 at the Albatros Theatre in Genoa, “Ai Cancelli dell’Ombra” is the seventh official release by Italy’s RUNAWAY TOTEM, coming to light somewhere from the depth of the band’s creative archive. Click here to visit the outfit’s section on this site, which also features links to reviews of the majority of its studio CD outings.
Analysis. As I’m still unfamiliar with Runaway Totem’s earliest period of work (1993-’95), I can’t make any comparisons between the band’s first release and this, its quasi sophomore one, so I have no other choices but to examine the latter the same way as I do when getting a sort of dark horse for review. The music on here is quite uniform in style, overall coming across as Zeuhl-tinged Space Metal, though the musicians often fuse the heavier sound with symphonic elements, which can be vintage as well as distinctly modern in appearance. This is not everything, however. Besides electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, this time around the arrangements feature operatic vocals by Ana Torres Fraile, so the music (or the album’s basic style, if you will) often also evokes an operatic sense of harmony via her colorful vocal parts, which are full of emotion and warmth alike. Furthermore, Ana uses her voice as a real soloing instrument; she is a true chameleon vocalist, taking on a series of different approaches in a very spectacular way, going from classic operatic singing to at once very fast and diverse vocalizing, sometimes within the same song. All in all, her singing seems to be crucial to what gives this effort a stamp of ingenuity, let alone distinction. Cahal De Betel joins Ana in this field only on three of the album’s five tracks, Astrale Opaco, Segre to Trale Mura and Trismegisto Suite, doing so, thankfully, not too frequently. The thing is that, while singing along with her, he at times drastically distorts his voice – perhaps to eerie effect, but it doesn’t work properly to my mind, though I assume some people might have a different opinion on the matter. Anyhow, all of these are overall good compositions, transcending somewhere along the axis between ‘battle’, Voivod-evoking, Space Metal and symphonic ones. With riffs persistently repeating motifs in a specific manner, the music fits the zeuhl idiom too, albeit, on the other hand, it doesn’t reveal distinct assonant features or jazz elements either (only the third track, Esseriperiodici, does so, in one of its middle sections). Anyhow, the compositions are most interesting when they vary from the repeating modes (when a Zeuhl component appears in its skeletal form) and glide, well, into other territories. Featuring a church organ interlude, the disc’s last track, the 17-minute epic Trismegisto Suite, does so more often than any of the others do, and is the best creation here in general. Instrumentally, the album is definitely a guitar-driven show for the most part (on Segre to Trale Mura almost overall, though), and Cahal’s use of an aggressive, distorted tone was his trademark from the band’s formative years till the mid-2000s – when it turned to a more electronic approach. Unlike those on the band’s later releases, the keyboards are used more as background layers than as soloing, melody-providing instruments, but are still important features of the music. The rhythm section does a solid work too, but, nevertheless, the overall instrumental palette comes across as being basically two-dimensional.
Conclusion. While the band climbs fairly well above the average stylistic limits of standard Prog-Metal, the sound of the material itself, which was recorded on a 2-track machine, leaves much to be desired. Without Ana Torres Fraile it would’ve been sonically pretty bare and monotonous, so having her on the concert was like getting a major trump card when being in a dire strait.
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