The collaboration between Dario Argento and Goblin leader Claudio Simonetti has endured for over four decades. It began when difficulties arose between Argento and jazz composer Giorgio Gasolini during production of the filmmaker’s giallo-du-jour, Profondo Rosso. Desiring more of a ‘rock’ sound for the film’s atmospherics, Argento put feelers out for a number of contemporary big name progressive-leaning rock acts, including Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Deep Purple.
However it was a young prog band, barely in their twenties – with the somewhat unsexy name of ‘Oliver’ – who got the gig, via a shared connection between publishers and a tip-off that the band featured the son of Italian composer and entertainer Enrico Simonetti. That band – later known as ‘Cherry 5’ and then Goblin – were already dazzlingly dextrous musicians who had painlessly assimilated their key influences – the aforementioned Floyd, ELP and Purple, as well as Gentle Giant and King Crimson.
It’s intriguing to imagine what kind of career Oliver/Cherry 5 (the band’s debut LP, titled Cherry 5, failed to include the band name, which led to the album title being misappropriated as the band name) might have made for themselves without the intervention of Argento, which turned them away from the intricate, epic song-based rock of their debut.
Cherry Five – Traccia 2
Perhaps they would have continued to be skilled prog devotees acquiring praise in their homeland – along the lines of a Banco del Mutuo Soccorso – without perhaps translating to a wider audience.
Banco del Mutuo Soccorso – Non Mi Rompete
Whatever, when Argento recruited Oliver to perform Gaslini’s themes – and compose some of their own, in substitution for the erstwhile composer – he set them on an entirely new musical journey. As well as departing song-based construction for instrumental adventures, soundtrack composing provided an opportunity for the nascent Goblin to absorb the DNA of other musical forms.
On Profondo Rosso this is predominantly jazz, but it is undeniably a Goblin-ified jazz. Huge, loping drums and repetitive jazz bass figures weirdly pre-empt late nineties big beat-acid jazz crossovers such as Red Snapper.
Red Snapper – Card Trick
Goblin’s first non-soundtrack album, Roller, released in 1976 – sandwiched in-between the multi-million-selling monsters that the Profondo Rosso and Suspiria LPs quickly became – exhibits less of the shapeshifting, Magma-like intensity of Cherry Five, instead fleshing out the textures of Profondo Rosso into a rock album format.
Goblin – Roller
The first intimations of dabbling with funk and more danceable rhythms began with Roller and would be reiterated and expanded upon in later Goblin releases – with Claudio Simonetti even becoming a pioneer of italo disco following the group’s dissolution in 1978. But this musical evolution curiously skipped a generation with the band’s next release.
Various post-Goblin Simonetti italo projects:
Capricorn – I Need Love
Crazy Gang – Every Sunday
Easy Going – Fear
Kasso – Walkman
Vivien Vee – Higher
Suspiria isn’t funk. It isn’t prog. Within 12 months from the film’s release and the Discocross collaboration release with Giorgio Farina, Goblin had turned into a superb disco group, but Suspiria ain’t no disco.
Giorgio Farina and Goblin – Farina’s Suite
Suspiria, in fact, doesn’t quite sound like any music before or since. Goblin briefly forgot they were a rock band, they ditched their instruments and instead picked up tabla, bouzouki and dobro and rented a colossal £20,000 modular Moog.
Simonetti still regards the work as “the Goblin masterpiece” and “the best soundtrack we ever did.”
“I think that the real Goblin sound is in Suspiria,” Simonetti told The Quietus in 2015. “In Suspiria we created something really new – never heard before.”
The band composed a prospective soundtrack and recorded it in demo form after reading Suspiria’s script and before any footage had been completed. However, this sketch soundtrack had been completely redrafted into something altogether different by the time the film had been completed.
Consisting, like Profondo Rosso, of just a handful of themes reiterated at thematically-keyed moments – the Witch theme, for instance, is heard whenever a killer is present – the visuals of Suspiria are not cut to its music, as is the case with many horror films.
But despite not having that literal symbiosis of, say, a John Carpenter score – who famously improvised most of his classic scores along to a cut of the film – it’s hard to imagine anything other than the violently-saturated color of Suspiria visualizing Simonetti and co’s ominous invocations.
Perhaps even more so than the actual-violence of Suspiria, it is Argento’s head-spinning, almost nausea-inducing color palette that the music soundtracks. Taken out of context of the film’s dodgy acting, face-palming dialogue and so-so plot, Suspiria the look and Suspiria the sound merge into a surreal, aggressive, psychedelic masterpiece.
Suspiria is replete with the creeped-out tension characteristic of Argento films, but combined with Goblin’s music – the main theme in particular – really tears hooks into the viewer’s psyche. What might otherwise have been merely suspenseful is now almost telepathic.
Simonetti’s Suspiria jacks into the viewer’s body – it’s seeing the film through your eyes but it’s poking about with your hardware, rattling your insides about like loose change. It is the most effective horror film soundtrack since Psycho – the first masterpiece of horror-sound, if not first classic soundtrack – at attacking your nerves from the inside out. A malevolent antibody.
Simonetta’s Suspiria elevates Argento’s Suspiria – a beautiful, menacing film now an occult artifact dripping with sadism.
Experienced apart from the film the Suspiria music takes on slightly different meanings. It no longer seems to have that unbearable cruelty, if anything there’s something so playful about it that it borders on jolly.
Though lacking the meticulously-arranged peaks and troughs of a Roller, or other long-form non-soundtrack work by the musicians, experienced in the home, Suspiria never fails as hi-fi-haunting excellence. It’s the indisputable classic of a genre that never quite existed – that has the atmosphere and dread of black metal, the surging momentum of krautrock, the ambition of prog, the haunted spaces-between-the-notes and slapback-hallucinations of dub, even the percussive miasmas of gamelan – without deliberately quoting any of those genres.
Daemonia feat. Dani Filth – Mater Lacrimarum (Simonetti composition from Argento’s 2007 film The Mother of Tears – the final part of Suspiria’s ‘The Three Mothers’ trilogy)
The interplay of a classical Indian drum, Greek folk lute, dustbowl blues guitar and monster synthesizer at no point conjures any spectres of “future-folk blues ragas” or anything other hybridization you would not unreasonably expect to come out of those conjoined voices. Instead, perplexingly, those disparate instrument identities sound like they were always meant to be together. The only spectres they conjure are the murderous, witchy kind.
If you think of other similarly-minded musicians who in the 1970s looked to Eastern percussion and non-European musical strategies, such as the German group Embryo, you can see how easy it was for musicians to be seduced by this other noise – electing to simply attempt their own emulations of it rather than force through a way of expressing themselves through its filter.
Embryo – Anar Anar
The closest Suspiria comes to a raga – the piece called Sighs – builds out of repetitive rattles of instrument but it never surrenders to self-indulgence or deviates away from Argento’s text – instead the reverbed ghosts and vocal drones echoing around the start of the track weave around the building piece until its dominated with a supernatural – rather than simply ‘spiritual’ – presence that feels so demonic it borders on death metal.
Goblin – Sighs
And this is perhaps the great victory of the Argento-Goblin collaborative process. With Argento’s scripts and stalkery cinematography, the band had pre-fabricated themes and purposes to unify and orient the practical infinities of their potential sounds. All of the band were skilled musicians, but each was drawn from a different discipline, and this frequently brought the members into conflict – causing the group to disband at the height of their powers and success.
Their music at any point could have gone anywhere and done anything – a simmering underlying chaos. As an invisible member, Argento’s stories brought coherence o the group. By interpreting his films musically their music had a strong narrative and psychological weight that might otherwise have dissipated into proggy excess.
Goblin’s relative lack of non-soundtrack catalogue suggests this direction was a stabilizing and perhaps crucial influence on the group. That isn’t to demean their status in anyway – how many other classic bands were fortunate enough to be birthed in the bloodbath of Italian cinema?