PICK OF THE WEEK: Dalla Nebbia’s visit to death and suicide valley ignites exhilarating ‘Felix Culpa’

Dalla Nebbia coverI have a pretty decent obsession with Jonestown and the events that took place, especially the mass fatalities that occurred at the end of the Jim Jones-led cult’s existence in November 1978. I relish any documentary about the events, and I even have CNN’s recent look at the cult on my DVR. I’ve already watched it several times.

There’s something about the apparent salvation the People’s Temple members thought they were achieving and what actually went down. A raving, drug-addled lunatic had lured them away from friend and family to ultimately meet their fate. And when Congressman Leo Ryan and an NBC news crew touched down in November of that fateful year (ultimately they would be gunned down on an air strip by cult members), many disillusioned members thought they finally found real hope. Very few were right. It’s these themes of death, suicide, regret, and fearing a vengeful god that fuels the songs on Dalla Nebbia’s new album “Felix Culpa.” The record isn’t about Jonestown mind you, but there is a song on there that very much digs into that situation that really stood out for me as the center piece. Around that are tracks that, while not a concept piece, still touch on the darkness and despair living inside of us and the extinguishing of our earthly flames.

Dalla Nebbia formed in South Carolina, one of the more unlikely beds for progressive black metal. Over the past five years, they’ve crafted their sound, releasing a demo and EP before the arrival of their debut full-length “The Cusp of the Void” in 2013. The band—guitarist/vocalist/programmer Yixja (also of Mesmur), vocalist Zduhac, bassist Tiphareth, and drummer Alkurion (Funeral Age, Mesmur) bring a rustic, rushing sense to their music. It’s heavy and adventurous, sometimes coming closer to death than black, but they also balance that with musical delicacy, cosmic sparks, and smooth clean singing that often reminds of American folk music.

“Momento Mori” begins the record as a murky, foggy intro cut complete with flutes, glock, and a woodsy ambiance that flows into “Until the Rain Subsides,” the first giant on a record full of them. The riffs ignite as the melody flows, and creaky growls send us over the verses. At the chorus, the singing kicks up, creating a chorus section that is memorable and sticky enough to embed itself inside your head. The song has its multiple progressions, as most of the tracks do, and it comes out of the mist to surge to the finish line. “Abandoned Unto Sky” is speedy and crushing at the start, with the drums devastated, the guitars swelling, and the vocals weaving horrors such as finding abandoned body parts scattered about. The track is rupturing and dark, with more strong singing and melodic growls that get inside your blood. “Lament of Aokigahara” references Japan’s Suicide Forest, and the pall cast over the song from the subject matter alone is enough to weigh you down. “Prepare thyself for finality,” is howled, leaving a chill in the air, and amid melodies bubbling and majestic passages that surge is that sense of devastation and dread. As the song reaches a huge crescendo, the line, “The perfect place to die,” lets the gravity hover as the song bleeds away. “The Banner of Defiance” gets off to a raucous start, with blasts leading in but then subsiding. Folky singing emerges, as the tempo calms a bit, but we’re never far from the next burst. Later, any hint of savagery melts into cold guitars and blurry keys, giving off a dream effect. Thick strings from guest Sareeta cut through the murk as layers of darkness pile up and bring a suffocating exit.

“Not Within the Stone” has some razor-sharp leads followed by glimmering melodies, melodic growls, and a wave of singing bursting out of the din. In fact, there’s even some harmonizing, making things seem a little breezy in the forest, and that leads into tumultuous, emotional guitars, lurching growling, and a sense of deep sorrow permeating all. The title cut lets loose growls early, with sounds blurring, the drums being thrashed, and later some woodsy vocal melodies slipping in to add texture. There is thick, rich atmosphere, almost like a late spring day, and the back end sizzles and leads into “Das Gelachter Gottes,” a quick instrumental built on strange percussion, spacey sounds, and overall weirdness, an ideal segue into the ugliest chapter on the record, “Paradise in Flames.” Strings emerge, as does the scratchy recording of Jim Jones and he’s about to convince his followers to drink his poisonous concoction and fade into death. The pace plods along, with psychedelic echoes ringing out, and the keys creating a lush bed. But the volume and intensity rise all the while, as the volatility of the situation becomes clear. One final cold wave of music, accompanied by Jones’ madman ranting, and the track suddenly is engulfed in flames. A damn-near euphoric melody sweeps in, as the growls emerge, noting, “The poison is sweet,” while the sheer terror of one of the most infamous events in history fades out with its perpetrator uttering along with it. Closer “The Silent Transition” is a quiet, mournful ending, as if it’s soundtracking the passage of one’s essence from one plane to the next, and while beauty and peace finally emerge, it’s impossible to shake what you’ve just heard.

These are heavy thoughts and heavy themes on “Felix Culpa,” and Dalla Nebbia deliver these sentiments with the proper amount of respect to the subject matters and unleashing of their spirits. This is a record that sounded thunderous on first listen, but as I worked my way through the album again and again, more of the overall atmospheres and philosophies became apparent. It’s both an immediate record and a grower, and it’s one that I’ll keep sojourning through as my own existence shapes and shifts its meanings, traveling through both dark and light.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/dallanebbiamusic

To buy the album, go here: http://razedsoul.ipower.com/rzd/095.htm

Or here: https://dallanebbia.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://razedsoul.com/

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