Runaway Totem - Tep Zepi

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Musea Records
Catalog Number: FGBG 4465.AR
Format: CD
Total Time: 54:51:00

Tep Zepi is Runaway Totem's fourth CD, and it is a dark and angular work with strong classical, operatic overtones. The first piece is especially dramatic, gloomy and ominous. Though the brassy, acidic and biting guitars are much too bright, one wouldn't be surprised to hear this music backing a horror film. Oh, should I mention they are Italian? Vocalist/guitarist Cahål De Bétél has a very good, deep and operatic voice (though he is no Francesco Di Giacoma (Banco)). Bass and drums throb and march and churn throughout. This isn't for the faint-hearted or those expecting lighter, poppier fare? In fact, even though the terms dark and angular bring to mind King Crimson, Runaway Totem are far darker, far more theatrical in their presentation. You can imagine either a classic Italian horror film, or even a more modern, dark, moody, sci-fi tinged horror film. No cheese at all, just serious and dark? the horror is raw and doesn't shy away from the details. The aspect that will either attract or repel you are the sharp guitar tones? they are screechy tones that will keep you on edge? and if you are already on the edge, this will only make you more edgy and easily irritated.

It's not really an album where you can pick out a track or two - I mean there aren't "singles." The music flows from one track to the other - oh, there between track pauses, making each piece a separate identity (and those pauses are needed) -, but they function more as movements of one long suite; the mood and tenor and atmosphere just carries on, and this can become a little oppressive. Meaning this isn't for everyone? and yet there is a fascination in what the quartet are trying to achieve here? well ? like a scene a of horror you can't look away from. I've heard many CDs that give me this feeling ? the horror here is even worse as everything comes in shadows, grotesque forms that only reveal some of their nature.

Intense. That is the operative word here ? intense. Complex. Intense, complex, dark, oppressive, and in that, ugly beauty. As you listen to the arrangements, how the sounds are put together, you might here a slight influence from a certain UK prog rock band, as during the first part of the 3 part epic "1 4 Signori" I thought of Genesis. Truly, I did. Of Nursery Cryme and of "Fountain Of Salmacis" ? you can almost hear that crying guitar work of Hackett. Oh, but as you might expect, this ten times as dark. Incidently, in "Sacro Re," there are passages that remind me of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom Of The Opera"? that ascending/descending scale that is so characteristic of that piece? and in that and in the Genesis reference, you might also think a bit of "Supper's Ready" (yes, that oft referenced section). Vocally, the style is very much Italian? probably because of the operatic influence and far removed from Peter Gabriel. Other than these vague references? they don't sound like anyone else I've heard? or the mix of the constituent parts creates something, if not unique, at least not run of the mill.

It is a mostly instrumental affair - Virhuir on keyboards and sampler, Nezah on bass, Tipheret on drums and the above mentioned De Bétél on guitar and vocals. Most of the voices heard come from the breathy keyboards awashing you in bath of "ahs." There are guest vocals from Susanna Villanova as well. And then there are those distorted and mutated growling sounds that make you think of some tortured beast being stretched not on the rack, but by some supernatural means that have various body parts in several different planes of existence simultaneously. Certainly it's not anything that could be called human, even if it started out that way. (And no, I don't think that's Susanna we hear being tortured so.)

This is a CD I'm unsure about. I like it and I don't like it? not a flip-flop there? I like it in terms of some of its inherent beauty; and some passages are, even as they are ugly. But, it's not something I could see myself listening to often? mainly because it's so very dark and oppressive? you find yourself wanting to listen to something like? oh, light pop? the most sticky-sweet smooth jazz or something just to regain some sort of equilibrium. Like I said, it's not for the faint-hearted. It'd be unfair for me to rate it, because to rate it high would overlook the things I don't like, and yet not truly represent that which I do ? and since the can be one and the same thing? well, this is why it is absent a rating below. The execution is well done, though every once in a while I found the opening track "Aurea Carmina" a little too long, it mainly being De Bétél singing a deep, slow manner. And despite the needed pause between tracks, as I said, there really is no relief. No cheery coda to bring you back from the very dark places the CD takes you do. Do not listen if you are in any way depressed, that's for sure.

Aurea Carmina (4:51) / Sacro Re (7:58) / Pardes (6:43) / Iperborea (11:39) / Montsalvat (6:13) / I4 Signori: L'isola Sacra (5:10) / I4 Signori: I Guardiani (5:43) / I4 Signori: Akasha (6:26)

Virhur - keyboards, sampler
Cahal de Betel - guitar, vocals
Tipheret - drums
Nezah - bass

Trimegisto (1995)
Zed (1996)
Andromeda (1999)
Tep Zepi (2002)
Pleroma (2004)
Esameron (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin IT

Added: October 24th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

Artist website:
Hits: 1136
Language: english


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