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MAGNOLIA

Rock Progressivo Italiano • Italy


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Magnolia biography
This Roman band originally formed in the autumn of 1994 as ECLISSIDRA with a nucleus of pianist Donatella Valeri and guitarists Alessandro Di Cori and Bruno Tifi. Within a year they released a 3-track single ''Fiori Di Pioggia'', a self-produced effort that saw the band searching for its own musical identity. At the time their raw and aggressive style proved difficult to classify which led to a lack of opportunities, although they managed to carry on for a time and the line-up was later augmented with the arrival of Simone Papale (bass), Claudio Carpenelli (drums) and female vocalist Chiara Gironi. The band subsequently changed its name to MAGNOLIA but in spite of gaining the notice of Steve Rothery (MARILLION) they decided to call it a day around the turn of the century, ironically at a point when they were on the verge of success.

Among the reasons given for their decision to quit was a lack of ideas, but one significant project they initially had in mind was for a concept album in the best tradition of the seventies. Therefore when the band got back together during the summer of 2010, following a meeting between Di Cori and Carpenelli at a QUEENSRYCHE concert, they decided to start from where they had left off by completing the concept album outlined ten years earlier. The end result is 2012's ''La Zona D'Ombra'' which is loosely based on the story of David Hicks, a young black man who was executed in Texas in 2000 for the murder of an elderly relative.

The story is told in the form of a series of flashbacks and deals with the memories and fears of a death row inmate as he awaits execution. At the core of the album are half-a-dozen songs originally written in 2000, before the band's hiatus, plus a further eight more recent compositions that grew out of the initial idea and develop it by questioning the very subject of capital punishment. Musically speaking, the band has its foot in more than one camp but it largely consists of a blend of Italian symphonic atmospheres, shimmering alt-rock and some prog metal. However the most characteristic element is undoubtedly Gironi's warm and sensuous voice.

There's a well-known saying in Italian about someone still having milk in their mouth, essentially the same as being wet behind the ears in English. MAGNOLIA have been around in one form or another for the past sixteen years so there's no question of them being naive or their music being undercooked, in spite of ''La Zona D'Ombra'' being ...
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MAGNOLIA discography


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MAGNOLIA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.70 | 39 ratings
La Zona D'Ombra
2012
3.76 | 19 ratings
Con Fuoco
2017

MAGNOLIA Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

MAGNOLIA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

MAGNOLIA Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

MAGNOLIA Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 1 ratings
Eclissidra: Fiori di Pioggia
1995

MAGNOLIA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Con Fuoco by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.76 | 19 ratings

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Con Fuoco
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars Italian progressive act Magnolia can trace their roots all the way back to 1994, but split up in 2000 only to reform in 2010. Their debut full-length album, `La Zona d'Ombra' was released in 2012, with 'Con Fuoco' following in 2017. Although Chiara Gironi sings in Italian, the booklet contains lyrics both in Italian and English, and the digipak itself is packed full of photographs, which makes it a really nice package. Apart from the lyrics they certainly don't sound like an Italian band, but have been taking their inspiration more from the likes of Porcupine Tree, theGathering, Anathema and modern Marillion, as opposed to the more "traditional" bombastic classical symphonic Italian style.

There are quite large elements of neo prog in their music, so they are definitely quoite removed from many other Italian progressive bands. There are times when they do go quite over the top, and Gironi can be quite strident when she wishes to be, but it is when the band are more reflective and pick at the guitars that they have the most power, definitely a "less is more" approach. The whole album, both musically and presentation wise, is incredibly professional and while never really reaching the realms of being indispensable it is still an enjoyable release.

 Con Fuoco by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.76 | 19 ratings

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Con Fuoco
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator 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.

 Con Fuoco by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.76 | 19 ratings

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Con Fuoco
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by omphaloskepsis

5 stars "Con Fuoco" - fiery, impetuous, with vigor and speed ( used as musical direction)

Roman band, Magnolia has been around since 1994. Early on Magnolia bounced around without a true identity. Yet, Magnolia had enough moxy to attract Steve Rothery's attention. Even so Magnolia faded away around the millennium. However, they found themselves in 2010. Released their debut album in 2012, ''La Zona D'Ombra'' which is based on the story of David Hicks, a young black man who was executed in Texas in 2000.

"Con Fuoco" fans the Social Justice flames as Magnolia blossoms. Each subsequent listen endears me, as "Con Fuoco" becomes more precious to me. Definite grower. Chiara Gironi's mezzo soprano dominates Magnolia's mid tempo aggressive "heart on sleeve" attack-against-the-machine, interspersed, English and Italian PBS radio broadcasts propel the narrative.

The opening song "Con Focuo" finds keyboardist - Donatella Valeri's dramatic piano dropping rain and ushering "Chiara Gironi's dirge vocal. Mourning the death of freedom, family and small towns? Sudden interruption... Breaking bulletin! "Occupy Wall Street."

Guitarists "Alessandro di Cori" and "Bruno Tifi" begin "Rivolta" grinding out a washing machine like riff shattered by Gironi's passionate siren complaint. Feel the excitement that young folk feel before a battle, a protest, a romance.

"They tied a rope around our necks,

To keep us on a very cool leash,

They fed us well, fattened us up

Just to slaughter us at the right time

Too many cardboard revolutions

Have left us with no Bread and no Roses"

Chiara Gironi sings in Italian. Magnolia were kind enough to include an English translation. I wish more Italian bands would follow suit. I include some but not all lyrics with this review. The lyrics mirror the music and emotion oozing from Con Fuoco. Although Magnolia reference (USA, Isreal, and Palastine) Con Fuoco is anchored in Italian blood, roses, and wine. An Italian folksy accordion begins "La citta della notte" followed by a soft hypnotic acoustic guitar and a gorgeous vocal melody! Oh, its so beautiful and uplifting-

"Blood drying on broken windows

Blood clotting up in our thoughts

Our country, it's sold its soul,

Now helpless it stands, watching

As State tortures go on

In dark, gloomy barracks

Remember who we were..."

Claudio Carpenelli "drum fills" add spice then metastases into a somber military rhythm radiating sadness. Shivers run up my spine every time. "The forth song "Gea" clues me into why Magnolia piqued Steve Rothery interest. The atmospheric guitars float along and sting like Rothery's distant Sicilian cousin. "Gea" flashbacks to ancient Italy. The cradle of civilization and lost glory, and history...

"On my shores Philosophy was born

From here rose Classical Art and its ancient beauty

Its sober, quiet greatness,

Its noble simplicity I am the cradle of Freedom

I am the Alpha of Civilization

I am the soul of a lost world,

A world reborn inside you These ancient roots never wither and never die,

And if you try to cut them, you will hear them screaming..."

No matter our politics or world view, eventually we want to experience love and passion. The album cover of Con Fuoco sports a young couple "holding hands" fleeing towards an uncertain future. Will their love hold them together. The song "Syrma" finds our hero and heroine commiserating and making vows to each other...

"No tongue, no code in the world

Can lead them to Your name

Only I could betray You

But You know I won't give You up

They shout, they make loud noises,

To try and break me down,

Ruthless as crows they are

But they truly fear us. I am a fly trapped in amber"

Chiara Gironi vocals make me believe love and passion will win. Can power and money buy youth and La Dolce Vita? Can the bankers, politicians, fake T.V. personalities feel the "ardor and intensity and fervor" of youth in love? Young people in love "bask in the knowledge" that the old rich can't possibly feel what they feel. How ironic, the greatest love story in the English language concerns Italian teenagers in love?

A disembodied voice of a documentary speaks of the East German secret police. However, the sixth song "Stati" poignantly points out the limitations of a police state, a shadowy secret force... Gironi forlorn vocals float along on Donatella Valeri's sad piano...

"You can count my steps, You can check what I wear.

You can take note of anything My friends say or do.

You can bind my thoughts and ideas To the rhythm of your breath But you cannot be me..."

...And then Gironi's mournful "Ahhhs" and " Ohhh's" fill the sky beneath foreboding guitar riffs coupled with fleshy sweat laden leads. "Simone Papale's bass is the landscape of Roman hills and ancient roads our heroes tread. Papale's is the pace and breath exhaled and inhaled. "Con Fuoco" is flesh and bone... Soldier's hobnailed jackboots pound pavement amid Wailing Wall moans bewitching "Terre di mezzo". What social justice manifesto would complete without borders? And is there a more contentious and famous border than....

"Where are you going, my brother from Palestine?"

"I'm going to meet my new friends,

We'll plant new crops in new lands,

We'll set our hopes free"

How many truths, how many?

How many Wailing Walls?

Somehow Magnolia grafts an Middle East olive branch onto their Italian western roots. The entire band pitch in and blend Middle East with Italian. The music mirror the lyrics. 5...4...3...2...1...Liftoff- " Luna del Viandante - (The Wander's Moon) a three part epic ending our Journey. Finds out hero and heroine lovers returning. We all return...

"Con Fuoco's journey. Pt.1 (Stanze)

Part 1 ROOMS

It is so strange to return here after so long

you last saw this house a long time ago, now you can't recognize it anymore.

Only melancholy remains in these empty rooms ?

Part 2 DISTANCES

Someday you too will become a photograph,

you'll fade to yellow inside a book, you'll lie forgotten in a hotel room

And at night I'll dream of you walking beside me

Part 3 ABSENCES

And at least one memory, if not all of them, has left us with something

But where is it now? When did it go? why isn't it coming back?

What is certain is that it has been?

More than the half of you."

Con Fuoco can only be judged after multiple listening sessions. The way some people become more and more beautiful as you get to know them. My grade rose from 4 stars to 4 1/2 stars. However, I'll round up to 5 stars because Magnolia have stars in their eyes. Con Fuoco is an album you fall in love with. I fell hard. My heart swells. Magnolia looked for moments and found "la dolce vita". We all look for moments.

 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.70 | 39 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by Windhawk
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars Italian band MAGNOLIA (not to be confused with the Swedish outfit of the same name) has a hiostory that can be tracked back to the '90s and a band called Eclissidra that released an EP back in 1995 and then folded a few years later. They had changed their name to Magnolia prior to calling it a day though, and decided to maintain this latter name when they reunited in 2010. "La Zona D'Ombra" is their debut album, released by Lizard Records in 2012.

Pleasant, harmonic progressive rock with distinct mainstream tendencies is what Italian band Magnolia provides us with on their debut album "La Zona D'Ombra". High-quality female vocals are the dominating elements on the album that blends textured post rock elements with careful, almost ballad-oriented sequences with and without symphonic-tinged keyboard support, with occasional forays into a harder edged variety of heavy, '70s-style, progressive rock. A production that merits an inspection by those generally fond of artists blending progressive and mainstream rock, and in particular if you have a soft spot for high-quality, female lead vocalists.

 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.70 | 39 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by andrea
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Magnolia began life in Rome in 1994 under the name Eclissidra on the initiative of Alessandro Di Cori, Donatella Valeri and Bruno Tifi. After many troubles, some line up changes and a long hiatus, in 2012 they released a full length début album, "La zona d'ombra", on the independent label Lizard Records. The current line up features Chiara Gironi (vocals), Donatella Valeri (piano, keyboards), Simone Papale (bass), Claudio Carpenelli (drums, backing vocals), Bruno Tifi (guitars, backing vocals) and Alessandro Di Cori (guitars, bass, synthesizers, backing vocals). Their main sources of inspiration range from Pink Floyd to Anathema, from Italian melody to Porcupine Tree, from The Gathering to classical music and many more but the overall sound is not too derivative and the final result is rather good.

"La Zona d'ombra" (The shadow zone) is a committed concept album freely based on the story of David Hicks, a man sentenced to death who was executed in Texas on January 20, 2000. David Hicks was a black man who was charged for the murder of a relative, an old woman. According to the band, it doesn't matter if he was guilty or not, the aim of this work is just to describe the shadow zone between innocence and evil that everyone could enter when doubts and suspects begin to whirl around. The opener title track evokes a winter night in a hot city, the mood is melancholic and tense. There's a man who can't sleep, he's driving his car along the streets and when a murder is committed he's in the wrong place at the wrong moment... "A woman dies alone / And you are there, where it happens / The certainty that you have a bill to pay takes shape / A woman dies alone / And there's a nigger in the street... And as your life is at stake / The governor opens his game...".

"Road To Hell I" is a short instrumental with piano and organ in the forefront that describes the beginning of the nightmare. It leads to the vibrant "Non ho" (I haven't got) which raises questions about the importance of money, power and media and their influence on the legal system... "They say that what you've got is not what you are / But have they ever experienced what does it mean to own nothing at all? / The truth is that you are the shadow zone of the country / They will never forgive you to be born to remember them that they can be wrong... The real goal of the power is making you silent...". If your skin is not of the right colour, if you have no money to pay the right lawyers, if media are not on your side and if you do not belong to the right party, do you really think that you will ever have a right trial?

"Lì fuori" (Out there) describes the feelings of an inmate inside his cell who is waiting for the his meeting with the Grim Reaper, the black mother that will eventually take him to hell. He's longing for a piece of horizon... "I was an ordinary man before God closed His eyes / I was just man like others before I became the city monster...". The following "Home" begins with a ringing bell and a dreamy piano passage. The music conjures up sweet memories from the inmate's family life. There's a house and a garden, there are crowded streets full of tired travellers... What happened? What is left of all his broken dreams?

"Road To Hell II" is a short instrumental track based on a nice guitar arpeggio that leads to "Lettere di Annie" (Letters from Annie), a beautiful bitter-sweet track describing what the inmate feels when he reads the letters he receives from a woman who still believes in him and seems still convinced that he will be released, sooner or later... "Annie keeps on writing on every Monday / She perfectly knows I will never come out from here / Annie, who tells me to never give up / But night after night she will have to ask herself / Whether it was good or not to be waiting for me...".

"Piccola ala" (Little wing) describes the unhappy, difficult childhood of the inmate. His mother is ill, he does not go to school and social services can't help him. As a boxer, the little child has to grow up and learn how to beat up his merciless destiny. Next comes the heartfelt "La gabbia" (The cage) that describes the difficult relationship between the inmate and his violent father. Bad memories, long hours passed hidden in the basement, a growing hate... "You, who wished nothing but to be a perfect son of God... The body, the tears and then you can't come back...".

"Nel mio nome" (In my name) is built on a beautiful piano pattern and is a short reflection about justice. Every life is worth to be lived, there's no man who has the right to sentence another man to death. Nonetheless the jury will stand up while the condemned defendant will fall down suffocated by a hazy truth. The following "Ellis One" features a dark atmosphere where rage and regret are blurred while the lyrics evoke images of inmates treated as animals waiting for the slaughter. Is all this necessary in a country that boasts its civil rights?

"Corridoi" (Corridors) conjures up the image of a dead man walking in the corridors of a jail. He's on his way to the execution room but it's not time yet. They bring him back to his cell, he has still to wait for the final act... "Now you know it / You were already in the corridors / You were in the list, you will get used to it / Maybe you will have time to get used to it...".

The pulsing instrumental "Road To Hell III" leads to the conclusive "Black Out" that describes the execution. There's people observing the scene behind a glass, faces that freeze into the veins of the condemned man and melt. A sensation of cold comes down, it's the final curtain... "By bye... Blackout...".

"The Deuteronomy book of the Bible commands, Justice, justice shall you pursue. When asked why the word justice is repeated, one ancient commentator replied that there are two aspects of justice: the end of convicting only the guilty, and the means that requires that in the interest of rarely convicting the innocent, we sometimes acquit the guilty. It is not long before the young lawyer realizes that no one really wants justice. Everyone wants to win. The façade behind which the desire to win is hidden is called justice" (Alan Dershowitz, from the book Letters to a Young Lawyer).

 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.70 | 39 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

4 stars I remember upon receiving the debut work by Magnolia thinking what a rather ominous and mysterious front cover it had, and even after playing it once all the way through, I was a little bummed at what downbeat and fairly gloomy music it was. At that stage I hadn't even looked through the lavish CD booklet, this opinion came from merely listening to the album and knowing nothing about it. If I'd known it was a concept album based around prisoners waiting on Death Row and the first execution in the US of this new century, I would have been more prepared for what I discovered. Chris' review and band bio on the Prog Archives does a great job going into better detail about the concept of this unhappy album, and my review won't be able to match the observations he has put into his effort. I just hope to bring a little more deserved exposure to a debut work that this talented Italian band have put so much effort into.

`La Zona D'Ombra' is the sort of album that would be perfectly accessible to mainstream rock audiences, especially those who enjoy the later David Gilmour led Pink Floyd albums, mainly due to the grand guitar work from band members Bruno Tifi and Alessandro Di Cori, as well as fans of the melodic female fronted modern bands such as Karnataka, Magenta, The Reasoning and the most recent Mostly Autumn albums. It's comprised of slow to mid-tempo serious adult rock music sung in Italian, with occasional harder elements to bring a bit of grit and edge to the material. Many of the pieces follow typical verse/chorus structures, with very little in the way of bloated showboating soloing or overlong drawn out excesses that serve no purpose. The band choose their moments to stretch out carefully, and always for the best emotional impact.

Magnolia offer a more modern and contemporary take on the defining classically influenced RPI bands, but the element that comes closest is Chiara Gironi's voice. Plenty of times it adopts an unhinged, wild and angry quality that flirts very closely to the traditional Italian bands, and it's this quality that makes her stand out from the current crop of female front-women. Keyboard player Donatella Valeri steals the spotlight in `Piccola Ala' and `La Gabbia' with some heavenly glistening piano playing that might even bring you to tears. Her sparse synths are also a lesson in tasteful and delicate emotion. Claudio Capenell's drumming is deceptively complex, and Simone Papale's bass offers plenty of solid grounding and masterful restraint.

Acoustic sections like the one that opens the album with the title track and throughout are sad, reflective and thoughtful. Chiara sings like a woman possessed on `Non Ho', `Li' Fuori' amongst a tornado of stormy Hammond organ and wild ragged electric guitar fury. The moving multi-sectioned `Home' has one of the most captivating vocal melodies of the album, `Lettere Di Annie' is sprightly adult-pop, `Nel Mio Nome' a downbeat and somber ballad. `Ellis One' is a chilling dark shadowy rocker, `Corridoi' a ghostly stream-of-consciousness spoken word piece, and `Black Out' a touching finale.

The three `Road To Hell' instrumentals are true highlights of the album. The first has a delicate haunting piano melody, restrained humming bass and a winding emotionally draining electric guitar solo, the musicians building the tension levels as the piece progresses. Part Two is a heart- breaking acoustic guitar and gentle synth piece full of longing, while the third movement is a frantic hard-rocking and heart-racing finale. You'll also find ambient effects, sound collages and news report snippets that progress the story throughout the entire album as well.

I do feel there's too many tracks, with one or two bordering on being a little bland, and Chiara's vocals are occasionally a little flat and shrill in just a few moments, but there's no denying this is a very sophisticated, mature and grand release by some hard-working and determined musicians with a story to tell that they are highly passionate about. It's not always a happy listen, and it ends very abruptly on a rather cold note, but those who crave some substance and appreciate carefully thought out serious music will be rewarded by a complex and exquisitely performed work.

Four stars.

 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.70 | 39 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Those expecting Italian prog bands to all sound like the 1970s Rock Progressivo Italiano greats like PFM, Banco or Le Orme may find Magnolia's debut album disorienting, since it doesn't really draw that much on that tradition - rather, it presents a rather middle-of-the-road mashup of acoustic indie rock and progressive passages that draw a lot on Pink Floyd. Chiara Gironi's vocal performance is worthy of note, reminding me at times of Magenta's Christina, whilst the band as a whole manage to accomplish a big, rich, vibrant sound which kept me onboard to the end of the album but has diminishing returns with repeated listens. A credible debut from a band who've apparently been working towards this for some sixteen years - let's hope we don't have to wait that long for a followup.
 La Zona D'Ombra by MAGNOLIA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.70 | 39 ratings

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La Zona D'Ombra
Magnolia Rock Progressivo Italiano

Review by 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.

Thanks to seventhsojourn for the artist addition.

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