Goblin: Music to Be Murdered By

Between 1972 and 1973, Claudio Simonetti (keyboards) and Massimo Morante (guitars), aided by Fabio Pignatelli (bass guitar) and Walter Martino (drums), recorded some demo tapes using the name Oliver. On a trip to London, while looking for contacts, the band bumped into Eddie Offord (then producer of Yes); after listening to a demo tape, the tycoon producer expressed interest and asked them to move to England. By then, Fabio Pignatelli had become a steady member, and the band found a regular drummer, Carlo Bordini, and an English lead vocalist (Clive Haynes). After many months of rehearsing, they returned to London while Offord was on tour with Yes in the US; after many performances and various attempts at striking deals with record houses, they were forced to go back to Italy, due to lack of funds.

They signed with Cinevox, and Clive Haynes was replaced by Tony Tartarini who had previously recorded with L’Uovo Di Colombo under the name Toni Gionta. The band’s name was changed to Cherry Five by the label, and according to Claudio Simonetti for no apparent reason, as the members themselves had intended to continue as “Oliver.” Whatever debate about the band’s name there may have existed, their first LP was titled Cherry Five. Cinevox Records was active mainly in soundtrack publishing. Due to the band’s peculiar sound, the band was frequently called to perform and arrange famous musicians’ compositions. This helped them better understand the world of soundtracks and the particular techniques required. Their final act as Cherry Five was to drop new drummer Carlo Bordini and bring back Walter Martino on drums.

At the beginning of 1975, the band began a cooperation with Giorgio Gaslini on the Profondo Rosso/Deep Red (1975) film project. The band replaced Martino with Agostino Marangolo during this period. Martino recorded on all but two cuts of Profondo rosso. By chance, after three or four days of recording, Gaslini left the film after a conflict with Dario Argento, so Argento decided to try the band’s hand at composing, giving them one night to write a score, and one day to record it.

“At first,” begins Simonetti, “we were caught off balance by Dario’s interest in our music; he had actually been impressed by the Cherry Five album. He was a very hot name then and, of course, we were tremendously nervous. Hell, we had no idea how to score a film. Deep Red was a real challenge for us.”

“First of all,” continues Morante, “we all concurred that Cherry Five was a rather inappropriate name for a band that played very dark music. Then someone came up with Goblin, so Deep Red is the very first Goblin album. Our musical approach was totally different, mostly because we had to interpret Giorgio’s original score, which had a jazz component that Dario didn’t like much.”

The band changed their name to Goblin, rewriting most of the score. Argento selected a minor portion of Gaslini’s score to keep, ignored the rest and seemed genuinely thrilled by Goblin’s main theme. The band added 20 minutes of additional music, which virtually comprises Side One of the Deep Red soundtrack album. “There were radical differences between our score and Gaslini’s,” says Simonetti. “Dario loves rock music and Goblin was essentially a rock band, and I’ve always felt that he wanted Deep Red to be sort of a primordial video clip.”

The film, released in Italy in 1975 and the U.S. the following year, was a huge success all over the world, and the soundtrack album topped the Italian charts for months. As of this date, more than 3 million copies have been sold.

Two members of the five-man band quit shortly before the start of a Deep Red mini-tour, leaving the door wide open for talented drummer Agostino Marangolo to join up. His entrance, not so coincidentally, marked the real kick-off of Goblin’s intensive career. “Agostino allowed us to explore new musical ground,” says Morante. “His percussive style added a lot of creepiness to our music. The four albums that followed represent the peak of Goblin’s creativity.”

Goblin took advantage of the break between the making of Deep Red and Suspiria to record Roller (1976), a non-soundtrack instrumental album that no one was particularly satisfied with. “Roller was heavily inspired by the funky trends of that period,” Simonetti admits. “Even so, and considering that our label did nothing to promote the album, we sold more than 100,000 copies of it.”

Goblin was once again on the verge of a premature split-up, and it was only due to Argento’s patient mediation that Cinevox kept the band together. A new contract was signed, and the musicians soon entered the notorious Trafalgar Square Studios to record what was to be their hottest album yet.

They collaborated with Willy Brezza to compose the soundtrack to Perché si uccidono/ Why they kill themselves (La merde) (1976) For the only time, Goblin used the name Il Reale Impero Britannico due to the controversial subject matter of the movie (drug abuse and addiction). Willy Brezza wrote the original soundtrack, and the remaining tracks were written by the band together with Fabio Frizzi. The following year they scored the Italian crime film The Heroin Busters/La via della droga (1977), directed by Enzo G. Castellari, and starring Fabio Testi and David Hemmings.

Their score for Suspiria (1977), Argento’s shocker about witches at a German dance academy, is arguably Goblin’s definitive masterpiece, a patchwork of different styles molded with the band’s habitual sinister touch. Their dissonant cacophony of whispers, screams, strangulated synthesizer and found percussion providing the perfect accompaniment to Argento’s all-out visual, visceral assault. Just as the witches’ murderous daggers are wielded in close up by the director’s own skinny hands, so it is Simonetti’s voice that can be heard throughout the picture, muttering lines from the folk poem “Three Witches Sitting In A Tree.” It has gone down in fear-film folklore that Goblin completed the scoring of Suspiria before a frame of film was shot, and that the actors rehearsed and played their parts while listening to it. The truth is that this provisional score was completely revamped in post-production. The final effect is a devastating combination of experimental techniques as well as a source of inspiration for many a musician to come.

Another persistent rumor has it that the band Libra, whose relentless, percussion-driven score accompanies Dario Nicolodi’s accelerating mental disintegration in Mario Bava’s final feature Shock (1977), are actually The Goblins, working incognito for contractual reasons. In fact the connection was a very tenuous one, Libra comprising original Goblin drummer Walter Martino and transient members / fringe figures Maurizio Guarini, Alessandro Centofanti, Carlo Pennisi and Dino Cappa.

The band turned a deaf ear to more than one scoring request, opting instead to pursue the dream of a lifetime. Following Morante’s insistent pleas, Goblin eventually chose to record a concept album. The new songs were based on the Kafkaesque musings of Mark the Bug, an allegorical figure who meditates on the key social and political events of the late ’70s. The resulting album, Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark (1978), is indeed Goblin’s most intriguing project. The band temporarily abandoned the instrumental emphasis that characterized their previous works, introducing lyrics and Morante’s nasal but powerful voice. The record gained favorable reviews, although several critics accused the band of becoming cerebral and pretentious.

“Some journalists had a hard time trying to figure out the music,” explains Simonetti. “They said we sounded like Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk; others mentioned echoes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But you see, these are the same critics who prefer a bad Fellini movie over a good horror film.

“We knew that another horror movie was on the way, “Morante continues, “but we wanted to do something totally different first. Mark il Bagarozzo was meant to show our fans another expression of our musical background. The experiment was only partially successful, since we discovered that adding vocal harmonies to our music was far from easy. In addition, the Italian language is not suitable for progressive rock.”

In 1978, while Goblin toured Italy with a brand new show, Argento met with George A. Romero and offered to co-produce the zombie epic Dawn of the Dead (1978) (“a hell of a movie,” chuckles Simonetti). Argento collaborated on the script, and cemented the band’s involvement with the project. “Dario and Romero wanted a loud and hysterical score,” Simonetti says. “So we came up with a hard rock soundtrack. ‘Zaratozom.’ for example, is a powerful piece with a very aggressive riff. The music indicates that something extreme is happening on screen.’

“Dawn of the Dead is a story about dead people coming back to life to stalk the living,” continues Morante. “It’s the apocalypse. The producers must have thought that violins and arcs were too sentimental for zombies.”

Despite Romero’s initial enthusiasm, Goblin’s vigorous score was drastically reduced in the film’s U.S. version. The director inserted library music and toned down the volume, while Argento’s personal Italian cut, relieved of a good 15 minutes of dialogue, boasts an uninterrupted aural attack in the style of Suspiria.

“I’d guess the American audience knows us especially by virtue of that soundtrack,” says Morante. “I personally repudiate Romero’s version, which is incomprehensibly filled with pompous orchestra music. I suppose he wasn’t very satisfied with our score…and that upsets me, since everyone else thought we did a terrific job. All in all, I consider it a wonderful experience, even if I’m not particularly fond of horror films. Some are very good, like Dawn of the Dead or Inferno, but the genre is inflated—too much crap being made.”

Dawn of the Dead was a major success, selling all over the world and leading to the reissue of the group’s previous records. Dawn’s success strengthened the relationship between band and director, as the record soon became an international hit, following the fortunes of Argento’s acclaimed chiller. Goblin’s recording career finally reached a level of stability—but nonetheless, keyboardist Simonetti has his complaints. In both Dawn and Suspiria’s opening title sequences, they are credited as “The Goblins with Dario Argento”. Tracks 1, 2 and 7 from the European version are also in the American version of the film.

“We always got along very well with Dario,” he says. “There has been, of course, some controversy-different opinions-but generally, we were granted total control over the musical productions. However, I was fairly dissatisfied by his decision to give himself an additional composer credit on Suspiria. Goblin wrote and performed that music. Dario’s cooperation was purely cerebral, as he only offered ideas, some good, the others bad. That’s about it.”

“He is certainly one of the most important and innovative contributors to the genre since Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma,” Morante states. “He’s a genius in his field, and working with him is stimulating, to say the least. I personally prefer his early gialli, Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Cat o’ Nine Tails especially. Lately, he’s gone a bit too far with the violence.”

Quite unexpectedly, Morante quit the band. He would later produce three solo albums, none of which were half as successful as any of Goblin’s records. Simonetti deserted a year later, but not before adding the final touches to Goblin’s most obscure soundtracks: Amo Non Amo (1979), and the comical Squadra Antigangster/Antigangsters team (1979), with Tomas Milian. With its two leaders gone, Goblin struggled to maintain its credibility with both fans and the press. The lineup underwent several changes, touring was abandoned and Argento virtually ignored them.

It’s also possible that there was friction with Argento, who has had well-recorded spats with Ennio Morricone, Giorgio Gaslini and Keith Emerson. Simonetti, however, offers a more prosaic explanation …” I think at that point, after all those years of collaborations, that we had nothing more to say. A lot of other bands from that era were also calling it a day round about this time … Prog Rock was finished, the new era of dance music was arriving.”

“When Massimo and I left the band,” recalls Simonetti, “Fabio Pignatelli took over. They scored Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980), Joe D’Amato’s Buio Omega/Beyond the Darkness (1979)and the Italian release version of Patrick (1978). The original score for that film was composed by Brian May, but the Italian distributors wanted to exploit the band’s name, so they opted for a new, typical Goblin score.” There was precedent for such a change: Argento had similarly altered the score when he handled the Italian release of George Romero’s Martin. In Italy, the film was given a new title (Wampyr) and the print shortened and revised. Old Goblin material, including songs from the Roller and Il Fantastico Viaggio albums, was used for the soundtrack, along with a brand new Simonetti theme. Quite fairly, no album was released.

This wasn’t the only time Goblin’s music was recycled. “In Bruno Mattei’s Night of the Zombies (1981), they used excerpts from our Dawn of the Dead soundtrack,” says Morante. “The record label did nothing to prevent this form of exploitation. In some films, the band’s logo was printed in huge letters, at times bigger than the movie’s title itself!

In 1982, Argento made the first of numerous efforts to reassemble the original Goblin lineup for his giallo shocker Tenebrae (1982). Drummer Marangolo declined, and a drum machine—”an archaic Drumulator specimen,” grins Morante—was employed instead. Due to contractual rights, the name Goblin was set aside, and the score is simply credited to Morante, Simonetti and Pignatelli.

“Tenebrae is a cold, hi-tech electronic score,” Morante explains. “The film is not as claustrophobic as Dawn of the Dead or Suspiria. The idea was to create a disturbing wall of sound, in open contrast with the apparent quiescence of certain images. While watching the film in the editing room, I was absolutely stunned by the magical atmosphere Argento had conceived. Tenebrae gives you an idea of how the Goblin sound was changing. If we were to score a horror film now, you probably wouldn’t recognize the band.”

Despite their success, membership continued to be a revolving door. The remaining members continued to work on further soundtracks. After 22 years of hiatus, in 2000, the group reformed to score the Dario Argento thriller Non ho sonno/Sleepless (2001). The soundtrack was a great success and showed the group could still make great music, much to their fans’ delight. The group were scheduled to perform in Tarrytown, New York for the infamous Cult-Con, but failed to appear. Simonetti did however appear at the show and informed fans that old wounds resurfaced during their brief reunion. With his horror theme tribute band, Daemonia (formed by Titta Tani, Bruno Previtali, Federico Amorosi, and Simonetti himself), he performed a nine-song set from the films of Dario Argento, and Goblin later officially disbanded.

Interview with Goblin:

What was it like, then, transitioning to composing soundtracks?
Claudio Simonetti: When I formed Goblin — we were called Oliver before we did Deep Red with Dario Argento — we played this kind of music. So, we were very lucky because Dario Argento’s publisher was also the owner of the label that we were on. In 1974, we started to record an album when Dario Argento told [his publisher] that for Profondo Rosso [Deep Red] he needed a rock sound — he wanted someone like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, or Emerson Lake and Palmer —, so his producer said, ‘before we call these big bands why don’t you listen to the band I am producing now, here in Rome.’ So Dario came into the studio to hear us record and he loved it. He decided to let us write the music for Deep Red. We were very lucky, and so was he, because we sold 4 million copies of the album.

How familiar were you with Argento before collaborating with him?
Claudio Simonetti: I remember when I saw the first film of Dario in 1970. I was very young and I never thought that I’d be working with him. When he called us for Deep Red — Deep Red was his fifth film — he was already a very famous director all over the world and we were just a bunch of young kids. It’s incredible that such a big director like him asked such young people to write the music for this important film. I don’t know if it would be possible for something like that to happen right now. But it happened and it led to my work in soundtracks. Even later on after the split of Goblin, I did a lot of films with Dario by myself. I did fourteen films with Dario, plus more with other directors like Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodata, and many others.

How collaborative was the writing process for Goblin? Did that change from your soundtrack work to working on Roller?
Claudio Simonetti: I think that Roller is an album that has nothing to do with the soundtracks. After we did Profondo Rosso we actually didn’t know exactly what to do [laughs], because we didn’t have any other films. At the same time as Profondo Rosso, we had different songs that we never recorded. So we decided to do the second album completely different. Roller is the Goblin sound. We invented something with Roller — even if Roller is a different kind of music — because we put prog, rock, jazz, and many different kinds of music in this album. I think it is a very good work. Actually, I still play some songs from Roller live with my band. But, then we changed completely with Suspiria.

Suspiria is the first of your movie scores to feature the band performing live to a screening of the movie, how did this first come about? Was Dario Argento involved at all?
Massimo Morante: We have worked hard for the film Suspiria, actors have shot sequences of the film on our music, then we have finished. We used special musical instruments, I played the mandolin bouzouki which is a Greek instrument, because Elena Marcos was a Greek witch, then the tabla, and celesta, that makes a sweet melody and disturbing at the same time, and Dario Argento was very excited about this.

What do you remember most from recording “Suspiria?”
Claudio Simonetti: Dario loved our music and had us do the music for “Profondo Rosso” [“Deep Red,” 1975]. After the big success of “Profondo,” when he shot “Suspiria” he called us again and told us this was a different mood, not the normal genre horror — something about witches. So we wrote completely different music. For “Profondo” we did the whole thing in two weeks, for “Suspiria” it was two months, recording and researching many different instruments. In the beginning we read the script and started to record. But after the film was edited and finished we decided not to use. It’s like if you read a book and go see the movie: Normally nobody likes it because your idea of it is different. When the film was finished, the mood was completely different, so we threw away everything and rewrote from the beginning.

How did you decide on the instruments?
Claudio Simonetti: Ah, the story is about a Greek immigrant, so we said, we’ll use the bouzouki, which is a Greek instrument. We put also the tabla with the bass doing “bom bom,” mixed with the big Moog System 55. And for first time I used a sequencer. In 1977, this was the only one that worked. No digital ones existed then. For keyboards, we didn’t have many choices. We didn’t like the orchestra: We were a rock band. The Moog was just to have something special and new. I had my old mini Moog from the ’70s, but the big one I used because I love Keith Emerson [of Emerson, Lake and Palmer] and he uses it a lot. We had to rent it because it was expensive [laughs]. … Dario told us that the music would still have to scare the audience even if nothing was happening on the screen. He said, “I want people to always feel like the witches are in the air” or something.

Do you remember the first time you saw it with an audience?
Claudio Simonetti: Oh yeah, yeah. I remember it was in Rome. For the first time, we used a bigger PA in the cinema, since this was the first stereo film of Dario’s. Great!

Are you improvising at all today when you perform the score?
Claudio Simonetti: No, normally we play it exactly as it was written, the same parts, arrangements. But sometimes we might add something. But improvising we never tried before. Every night is different just in a few parts only.

I understand you originally composed the Suspiria score with nothing but a screenplay to work off of?
Claudio Simonetti: Well we tried originally to write the music from the script alone. We wrote music that Dario used during the shooting of the film. But once he finished the film and we saw the movie completely edited, it was a completely different mood than what we’d made. We wrote it again while watching the scenes. It’s like reading a book and seeing the film, you’ll never be satisfied because you imagine something completely different. Since then I always did music to the scenes, the story just is never the same. I insist that I don’t want to see the script now, I want to see the film!

And Dario was blasting your music loudly on the set while making the movie right?
Claudio Simonetti: Dario wanted us to write something special for this film because it was centred on the witches. This wasn’t a normal film compared to what he’d done before. He said, “I want the music in the background so people in the audiences always know the witches are there, even when nothing is happening on screen.” This led us to change our style of music for the first time from prog rock to different instruments. There was Bouzouki, Tabla and I was using Moogs for the first time. Suspiria still feels modern because of this change, and it’s the real Goblin sound. It’s also born from all the suggestions that Dario made to make it.

I’ve read in interviews that you describe the work on Suspiria as almost being from a different band from that of the Goblin that wrote Profondo Rosso. What about the process differed?
Claudio Simonetti: Suspiria is maybe the most famous film by Dario. When he called us to do the film he said, “This is not about a serial killer or not the typical Italian Giallo but a film that talks about witches. I need music that always lets the audiences feel that witches are there, even if there is nothing on the screen.” We recorded Profondo Rosso in just ten days but not for Suspiria. For Suspiria, we stayed in the studio for almost three months. We also experimented with different ethnical instruments like a Greek bouzouki and Indian tabla, and we used a lot of different synthesizers like the Mellotron and the big system 55 of Moog. I think that Suspiria is the real Goblin sound, more than Profondo Rosso because Profondo Rosso is similar to a lot of different prog stuff of the 70s. With Suspiria we invented the Goblin sound. Suspiria is our masterwork.

Your signature sound – progressive rock – was influenced by bands such as Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson, yet you injected a distinct edge of your own, which lent itself cinematically. What freedom do you find with scoring movies, compared to composing actual songs outside of any conceptual constraints?
Massimo Morante: Our signature sound was pop-rock, the term “progressive” in the 70s was not there, this helped us a lot in composing soundtracks, and LPs out of the soundtracks.

How important is the electronic side of Goblin?
Massimo Morante: The electronic side is important, but we did not use often, in concert we play by hand 98% and 2% with the help of electronics.

What soundtrack that you wrote for Dario Argento’s movies was the most important for you as for the band? And which one stays your favourite one and why?
Fabio Pignatelli: Most important for us was Deep Red, but the one I prefer is Suspiria and right after, Zombi. Suspiria because i think was very original and ahead of its time, and Zombi because it is perfect on the movie and…. i love the two main themes !!!

It really is an amazing soundtrack. Through the years, you have continued to work with Dario Argento. You shifted styles to more Hard Rock as well on some soundtracks.
Claudio Simonetti – Especially in the ’80s, Dario changed the mood of the films, like Phenomena (1985). After the split of Goblin in 1978, we did Tenebrae in 1982, that was the first time we recorded just as our name, Simonetti* – Pignatelli* – Morante*. We recorded the soundtrack with Electronic Rock, without a drummer, we used a drum machine. Tenebrae is one of my favorite soundtracks. After that, I also wrote the soundtrack for Phenomena, Opera (1987), and Demons in 1985 with Lamberto Bava. In Phenomena and Demons, Dario chose to put Rock bands, you can hear Iron Maiden, Saxon, and many different kinds of music in the film. This was especially in the ’80s.

What are you recollections working on Luigi Cozzi’s “Contamination”?
Maurizio Guarini: I have no specific recollections, excluding the fact that in that period I was experimenting new sounds and atmospheres with my new keyboards, and there is no doubt that the experience of “Contamination” played a big role on these experiments.

You’ve also collaborated with composer Fabio Frizzi, including work on the scores to Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2” and “L’Aldila.” What were these projects like? Did Fulci take an active role in the scoring as Argento does?
Maurizio Guarini: Fabio Frizzi and I have been and still are good friends. We worked together several times and we know each other very well as musicians. When I was collaborating with him, Fabio always [gave me freedom to do] whatever I would like to do – after all he liked my sound and my ideas. To be honest, I don’t remember what these projects were like – we are talking about more than 20 years ago – but I don’t think I had enough interaction with Fulci in these scores in order to answer your question.

“St. Helens” was a change of pace for Goblin, being an American-produced film, and a relatively light and melodic score. How did the group come to be involved in this project?
Maurizio Guarini: I have no idea how and why the band got involved with “St. Helens.” Probably the American production contacted our recording label because they wanted our music. For us it was a totally new and exciting experience. We used, for the first time, the big orchestra, and trust me, having your music played by 60 people is something that you cannot forget, especially when you are just 25 years old. That was the first occasion for me to go to the U.S., in order to attend to the mix and play some additional keyboards.

When playing live now, do you prefer to use older vintage gear, or do you prefer to embrace new technology? What keyboards are used?
Massimo Morante: We use original instruments because no technology will ever be similar to those, then also a bit of new technology. The keyboards are vintage except for a couple, and the impact of the sound is very powerful.

How easy or difficult is it to replicate the movie score live?
Massimo Morante: It is hard only to sync.

Do you allow the band much room to improvise, or do you stick closely to the score that exists in studio form? Has the band’s live behaviour changed much over the years, and all those line-up changes?
Massimo Morante: There is no improvisation in the music of Suspiria, everything is under control, and the lineup is not a problem; we are three of the original members (Simonetti, Morante, Guarini) and two new, very good, playing with us for three years.

So what brought about the end of Goblin? Did you decide that you wanted to go on a solo route, or was it just too difficult to stay together at that point
Claudio Simonetti: No. When we separated, at the end of the 70s, the rock music era was ending. The 80s music was completely different compared to the 70s. When I left Goblin, I met a producer and started to work on dance music, Italo disco. It was very good for me to work with this kind of music, because while the 70s was very good for creativity it was a very bad political time for everyone, especially in Italy. Because of this, people preferred to dance, to have a more easy time. So I started working with dance music. For this reason, when I recorded the soundtrack for Tenebrae, for example, Tenebrae uses the typical synthesizer of the dance music of the 80s.

Profondo Rosso film soundtrack (1975)
Roller (1976)
Chi? television theme (1976)
Suspiria film soundtrack (1977)
La via della droga film soundtrack (1977)
Il fantastico viaggio del “bagarozzo” Mark (1978)
The Bloodstained Shadow film soundtrack (1978)
Zombi film soundtrack (1978)
Patrick film soundtrack (1978)
Amo non amo film soundtrack (1979)
Squadra Antigangsters film soundtrack (1979)
Buio Omega film soundtrack (1979)
Contamination film soundtrack (1980)
St. Helens film soundtrack (1981)
Volo (1982)
Notturno film soundtrack (1983)
Phenomena film soundtrack (1985)
La Chiesa film soundtrack (1989)
Non ho sonno (2001) film soundtrack


5 thoughts on “Goblin: Music to Be Murdered By

  1. Fantastic job on your Giallo features, read them all, MC. And this is a great round up on one of my favorite film-prog bands, only matched by Tangerine Dream. Both bands were integral to my enjoyment of the films they scored.

    Liked by 1 person

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