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Ianva - Italia: Ultimo Atto CD (album) cover




Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.79 | 14 ratings

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Special Collaborator
5 stars Italian band Ianva was conceived in 2003 by a diverse group of musicians eager to revive the musical and cultural traditions of their homeland. The music defies precise classification but contains elements of neofolk, martial industrial, dark cabaret and progressive. The band members themselves eschew any kind of label or genre. As is the case with their other releases 'Italia: Ultimo Atto' draws heavily on Italian history and is in fact a concept album that charts some of the country's darker events, from its surrender in 1943 to the political situation in modern-day Italy. Art, music, film and literature are all bound together in Ianva's work and this review only scratches the surface of the album's multi-layered concept. The subject matter is at times controversial so it's worth emphasising that there is no political agenda at work here. Any questionable ideologies are represented solely with the aesthetics and nostalgia of the historical concept in mind.

Despite the narrative's episodic nature the album is well structured and never sounds disjointed. The main themes that drive the story and link the historical events are the passion and boldness of the dissenting voices from within the period; people like Curzio Malaparte, a writer and veteran of World War I, who was stripped of his National Fascist Party membership and exiled after he criticised Hitler and Mussolini, and Giorgio Gaber, a singer-songwriter who pioneered the musical genre known as 'teatro canzone' (song theatre). The album is also full of cinematic details with sound samples and historic speeches helping to carry the story forward. For example the album begins with the spoken- word 'Prologo', a proclamation in the character of Pier Paolo Pasolini (one of those voices of dissent who will feature later in the narrative) that introduces some of the darkest events in the country's recent past.

This is followed by 'Dov'Eri Tu Quel Giorno?', a plea for dignity directed to the turncoats who changed sides when Italy's surrender was announced on 8th September 1943. Benito Mussolini had been ousted in July 1943 but after Italy signed an unconditional armistice with the Anglo-American forces, Mussolini was rescued by German Special Forces who installed him as the leader of a puppet state in northern Italy. The Germans disarmed Italian troops and treated harshly any Italians who then fought against them. The song itself has a strong martial air thanks to its militaristic drumming and blaring trumpets. Trumpet always features prominently in Ianva's music but four of the tracks here also contain trombone and it further strengthens the dark atmosphere on the album.

Under the Allied air offensive of 1942 a series of heavy bombing raids was carried out on Genoa. Many hundreds were killed including 354 who died in a human stampede on 23rd October at the tunnel entrance of the makeshift bomb shelter of the 'Galleria Delle Grazie'. Famed Genoese singer Franca Lai makes a cameo appearance as the voice of the city while sound effects of a scratchy vinyl record, bombs and an air-raid warning siren set the scene for the song perfectly. As well as the terrible loss of life, the bombardment caused the destruction of much historic art and architecture. This is a dark ballad complete with ghostly choral effects, but from amid the debris and destruction a courageous survivor raises the cry for democracy.

After Italy's involvement in World War II ended the country was torn apart by a bloody civil war but the rebel in the title of the melodramatic orchestral ballad 'Negli Occhi D'Un Ribelle' vows to continue to fight injustice even if the revolution fails. Partisan against fascist, brother against brother, the historical speech of 'La Stagione Di Caino' addresses a nation on the verge of ruin. Several guest string players feature throughout the album and their ominous-sounding strings greatly enhance the atmosphere on this track in particular.

Male vocalist Mercy's rich baritone takes most of the leads but the highly charged cabaret noir of 'Luisa Ferida' is an ideal showcase for chanteuse Stefania. Luisa Ferida was an Italian actress who was romantically involved with fellow actor Osvaldo Valenti. Partisans murdered them in 1945 in Milan due to their links with Fascism. Accused of collaboration and of committing torture, they were shot without trial; Ferida was pregnant at the time.

'Bora' is like a dark subterranean dance with pounding drums. It deals with the subject of the Foibe massacres, a term that specifically refers to the ethnic cleansing carried out by Yugoslavs in Istria at the end of World War II. A foiba is a sinkhole, or natural depression or hole in the Earth's surface. In Italy the term foibe has for some people taken on a symbolic meaning; it refers in a broader sense to all the disappearances or killings of Italian people in the territories occupied by Yugoslav forces, whether in caves, jails or concentration camps.

The Montesi scandal of the early 1950s was the first in a series of cover-ups and 'In Compagnia Dei Lupi' deals with the immorality of Roman society at the time. When Wilma Montesi's body was found washed up on the beach outside Rome the police called her death an accidental drowning. However the public was not convinced and the gossip was of a politician's son, orgies and drugs. The story erupted into one of the greatest scandals of the time; it created media frenzy along with the birth of the paparazzi and the modern cult of celebrity. Montesi's death was linked to the beginnings of the dolce vita and to Italy's move from the social concerns of neorealism to the examination of the individual that can be seen in Federico Fellini's films. The song itself has echoes of the Italian melodic tradition and seems to carry the threat of revenge for the titular company of wolves.

The brash instrumental 'Cemento Armato' is full of conflict, accentuated by samples of demonstrations and rallies. The end of the boom years saw the beginning of urban migration, workers' strikes and the first terrorist bombing. This was also the time of the 'poliziottesco' of the 1970s, Italian-produced 'tough guy' and crime films that carried fascist undertones. The years of lead - as in lead bullets ('anni di piombo') - are seen through the eyes of a 'Pasionaria'. Political conflict sparked a modern civil war with more than a decade of terrorism where large numbers of girls were involved in the violence. These events inspired 'la notte della Repubblica', Sergio Zavoli's great series of television documentaries on the subject. This song sounds as if it has come straight from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack and is notable for featuring some rare electric guitar licks.

'Piazza Dei Cinquecento' reintroduces the aforementioned Pier Paolo Pasolini. The highly controversial Italian director was brutally murdered by being run over several times with his own car in 1975. A 17-year-old male prostitute was found guilty of his murder although there was much political controversy surrounding his death. Pasolini had attacked the political caste for its corruption, for neo-fascist conspiracy and for involvement with the Mafia. In addition to an exquisite accordion refrain and Stefania's seductive vocal this song includes a brief appearance by Duke Montana from the Hardcore Rap scene in Rome, who plays the role of a hustler like a character from Pasolini's novel 'Ragazzi di Vita'.

The years of lead and the strategy of tension culminated in 'L'Estate Dei Silenzi' and the massacres of Ustica and Bologna during the Summer of 1980. Various conspiracy theories surround the Ustica aeroplane massacre of 27th June 1980, when an in-flight explosion killed all 81 people on board. The cause of the explosion has been variously attributed to a terrorist bomb, an accidental missile strike, and a missile strike during military operations. The Bologna railway bombing of 2nd August 1980 was seen as the worst atrocity in Italy since World War II and resulted in suspicions over the Italian secret service's involvement in the incident. This song recalls the dark atmosphere of the giants of seventies-RPI and is dominated by the haunting Mellotron of Elisa Montaldo (Il Tempio Delle Clessidre).

The title-track brings the album to a suitable conclusion. The social and cultural disintegration of an Italy under the control of 'entrepreneurs and great financial powers' has led to the political troubles of today, a situation that paradoxically finds Italy at the forefront of the avant-garde. By the same token Ianva is at the forefront of the Italian music scene, and although it's a long way from Genoa to the Gorbals I can happily report that Ianva's music travels well.

seventhsojourn | 5/5 |


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