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Magnolia - La Zona D'Ombra CD (album) cover

LA ZONA D'OMBRA

Magnolia

 

Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.96 | 36 ratings

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seventhsojourn
Special Collaborator
RPI
5 stars In the past I always thought the decision taken by some Italian artists to sing in English was a bit misguided until I discovered that when speaking in Italian it's actually considered hip to drop in some English words. Italian advertising slogans are commonly in English while news reports are often read in both languages. The Italian word for this preoccupation is 'esterofilia' - a passion for all things foreign. However, while the Italian model of modernity has strong American influences, capital punishment is one institution that Italy doesn't support, although the subject does form the inspiration for Magnolia's first full release.

Magnolia have been around since the mid-nineties and following a ten-year hiatus they're back with a bang in the form of the thought-provoking 'La Zona d'Ombra', a concept album inspired by the story of convicted murderer David Hicks. Hicks, a young black man from Texas who was found guilty of murdering his grandmother in 1988, had the dubious distinction of being one of the first men executed in the US in the new century. He was also among the first to be convicted on the strength of DNA tests, with his conviction sparking a series of articles in science journals on the use of genetic material as courtroom evidence.

'La Zona d'Ombra' loosely translates as the 'shadow zone' or 'grey area' and Magnolia aren't so much concerned with the Hicks case itself as with trying to look into the heart of an inmate on death row - to penetrate the innermost thoughts and fears of an individual whose biggest mistake was perhaps to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The title-track introduces crucial issues like racism ('A lone woman dies and there's a black on the streets') as well as political considerations around capital punishment ('the Governor gives his speech to a packed crowd').

The story is told through a series of flashbacks and memories that influence the music, with the prevailing feel being moody and atmospheric. The haunting three-part instrumental 'Road To Hell' punctuates the album and provides a suitable metaphor for the fog of uncertainty of years spent by the inmate on death row awaiting execution, until the climactic final part disintegrates into a withering blast of metal rage that carries with it a lung-boiling guitar solo as he finally cracks up. 'Non Ho' is the album's angriest song though, a polemic on the unequal application of the death penalty for those of modest social standing: 'I don't have a bank account... I don't have the colour that matters.'

The inmate's nocturnal meditations during the acoustic jangle of 'Li Fuori' highlight the importance of ordinary things - skyscrapers, the horizon, the sunrise - to someone hemmed in, not only by prison bars but by a life spent on the edge. The manner in which the death penalty operates within the class system is a theme that is reprised in 'Lettere Di Annie' - 'Annie still believes in a justice system that isn't made for the likes of us' - although the song is really about not abandoning hope.

The profoundly melancholic 'Piccola Ala' seems to hold a mirror to the Nazi government of Germany that used lethal injection to destroy life it deemed to be life unworthy of life - 'don't give credit to the people who say you're worthless' - but the angelic beauty of Chiara Girona's voice soars above the grey meanness of subject matter like the inmate's initiation at the Ellis Unit One death row, his death march along the paths of 'Corridoi' and the fizzling out of his life in 'Black Out'.

While Magnolia seem to have inherited the Italian interest for all things American they thankfully sing in their own language, but the statements they make with their music are strong enough in any case. 'La Zona d'Ombra' is nothing less than and nothing else than a classic of modern Italian prog rock.

seventhsojourn | 5/5 |

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