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Magnolia - Con Fuoco CD (album) cover




Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.74 | 22 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Italian progressive rock band Magnolia have been active since '94 in a number of ways (different name, different line-up, take your pick!), but it wasn't until 2012 that they delivered their official debut album `La zona d'ombra' under their current group branding. A dramatic concept album inspired by the true story of a death row inmate, it was a challenging and uncompromising work a world away from the theatrical and bombastic approach many Italian prog bands work in, and that continues on their latest masterwork, 2017's `Con Fuoco', a title that translates into `With Fire'. Although not exclusively narrative-structured, `Con Fuoco' retains a branching theme of `resistance against oppressive regimes, both past and present' (in the words of the band themselves), meaning it's sure to connect with a wide range of listeners in this particularly volatile political era we find ourselves currently living through.

This female-fronted act sing in Italian (but the CD booklet offers English lyric translations that will open up this work to a much wider audience), and a lazy comparison would be that they most resemble modern groups such as latter-day Anathema, Hogarth-era Marillion, Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree and perhaps even Frequency Drift or Riverside, meaning sleek guitar- driven atmospheric/alternative rock music with a slick polish and constant emotional resonance. Magnolia favour tightly- written tunes over flashy drawn-out soloing, yet one of their greatest skills is delivering compact instrumental passages anchored to the core of the songs with the purpose of prime dramatic effect at just the right moment.

Having said all that, the disc opens with an instrumental, the introductory title-track being a burst of stark piano, crashing drums and weeping Pink Floyd-ian guitar strains all swelling around sighing mantra-like wordless group harmonies. It quickly blurs into an collage of news report soundbites that bleed straight into urgent up-tempo rocker `Rivolta'. A call to action and revolt, it's all strident drum tantrums, plodding riffing and icy slivers of cooled synths, and Chiara Gironi's impassioned and scathing lead vocal snarls `If they feel you cannot breathe, they'll call it the `best air ever', see them gorging on the toil of the many just to sate their black-hole souls' - easy listening, eh?! Much of `La Citta della Notte' is a sombre and lyrically weary acoustic ballad with electric bursts that instantly calls to mind the above mentioned Marillion with a touch of overwhelming spectral moodiness, and `Gea', one of the standout tunes, is a hopeful and powerfully defiant respite that effortlessly switches tempo changes around a smart poppy chorus.

`Syrma' recalls the contrasting light/dark, acoustic/electric, soft/heavy dynamics of the later Porcupine Tree discs - musically gentle and sweeping one moment lamenting `Oh sunshine, where have you gone? I've lost track of the days', then roaring to tougher life with rebellious determination offering `I am a fly trapped in amber, but my voice can still be heard, and my soul will only find peace'. `Stasi' is a moving ballad with churning heavy guitar/bass/keyboard-dominating turns that's impeccably sung by Chiara, but the ten-minute `Terre di Mezzo' is a true showcase for the band at their strongest, a call for renewed unity between enemies that rages with brash and relentless instrumental intensity, ambient interludes and soothing reflective vocal breaks, with some particularly gorgeous extended guitar soloing and ruminating bass touches in the finale.

A thematically linked three-part suite `Luna del Viandante' (The Wanderer's Moon) closes the disc, allowing some welcome darker romantic touches to infiltrate the lush synth caresses, some exquisitely heart-breaking piano, tender poignant vocals and grand slow-burn guitar heroics, and this thirteen-minute set delivers power and restraint with danger and delicacy all in perfect unison.

Quite the antidote to the classical symphonic grandiosity and retro-flavoured moves of many contemporary Italian prog bands, Magnolia truly stand out among the crowd with a firmly modern sound, doing things in their own deeply personal, equally elegant and dignified way that confirms subtlety and restraint can be endlessly powerful. `Con Fuoco' bristles with energy and real purpose, but most importantly always retains great humanity and warmth, delivered by a group of talented and thoroughly inspired musicians touching on difficult subjects, and it's their greatest musical artistic achievement to date.

Four and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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