It’s a Halloween DOUBLE FEATURE at Flabbergasted Vibes!
It seems as if, at some point, Goblin became the Game of Thrones of progressive rock: it’s cool to like them even if you’re generally dismissive of the genre. A revival of interest in this Italian group includes a burst of recent activity, including a few books about their music, a box set collecting six of their albums, and a concurrent (or was it subsequent?) reunion and tour. They are undoubtedly most famous for providing soundtracks for director Dario Argento, who worked extremely closely with them. As my friends can tell you, I’m much more of a music head than a cinephile, with yawning gaps in my cultural literacy when it comes to film. As such, I was familiar with these Goblin records without being familiar with the films. This includes even the hugely famous Dawn Of The Dead from George Romero, which I only saw last year for the first time. And just for this post, I got hold of a gorgeous Blu-Ray of Suspiria and watched it last night. The overall foreboding has not yet worn off.
The music that Goblin produced for these films is central to their entire aesthetic, the score is almost present as it were a separate character, having an impact on the plot more than providing a setting or acting as a reflection. This feeling of urgency isn’t all in my head, apparently, because according to the liner notes the music for Suspiria was actually recorded before they began shooting, and was at times blasted through PA speakers on the set to provide the proper ambiance.
Both Suspiria and Zombi are pretty nightmarish records. The sense of brooding unease never lets up. As on all their record, the group blends organic sounds (percussion and stringed instruments like lutes or zithers or dulcimers) with analog electronics (synthesizers, oscillators), whispers and shrieks and other creepiness. They’ll swing from the soundscapes called up from terrifying bad-trip psychedelia, then switch suddenly to a galloping jazz-funk jam that offers a way out of the dream, or a jaunty prog workout in an off-kilter time signature, anthems of chase or pursuit depending on your luck or misfortune, or perhaps some gentle acoustic guitar or mellow saxophone to lull you into a temporary state of relaxation. Some sort of throat-singing type chant provides the bedrock for another track’s dissonant organ chords and yammering, hallucinatory voices. Considering how cliché-laden the twin genres of horror and prog rock can be, it is kind of amazing how these soundtracks retain a sense of fresh unpredictability throughout them. There is a questionably “tribal” passage on Zombi seemingly meant to invoke white peoples’ fear of Afro-Caribbean percussion, or more precisely the ritual uses to which it often lends itself, but even that somehow manages not to cross over into tackiness territory. Overwhelmingly instrumental (there are obligatory wordless choral bits here and there, in accordance with the 1974 International Agreement on Horror Film Soundtracks), these two soundtracks work well as self-contained records, but when I finally saw the films they belonged to, they seem more fully realized and deliberate. Suspiria was actually the band’s second soundtrack for Argento, the first being “Rosso Profundo”, which is included in the box set on the Bella Casa label, as is the later collaboration for the film Tenebre. Two albums not related to films are also in the box – Roller (1976) and Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bargarozzo Mark (1978).
I’d like to thank my friend Cheshire Tom for sharing the box set with me and being okay with this post. I guess whether or not these two albums end up on your Halloween party playlist tonight largely depends on who you’ve invited over. See the comments section for more info. Regardless of how you chose to enjoy them, I advise you to keep some soothing tunes handy to follow them. I recommend The Best of Bread.