Goblin is an Italian progressive rock band formed from the ashes of two bands, Oliver and Cherry Five, by keyboardist Claudio Simonetti (born in 1952 in São Paulo), guitarist Massimo Morante (born in 1952 in Rome), bassist Fabio Pignatelli and drummer Carlo Bordini, replaced soon after by Walter Martino. They were supplemented by a vocalist, Tony Tartarini (previously known as Toni Gionta). The majority of Goblin’s output after these two formative bands was purely instrumental.
Oliver existed as a going concern for a very short period of time, a visit to England to audition singers (eventually settling on Clive Heinz), although producing a few recorded tracks and allowing some gigs at University halls, did not lead to a long-term deal, their sound being just too similar to two bands they emulated, Yes and Genesis. Replacing Heinz with Tartarini, they re-christened themselves Cherry Five and recorded one album in 1974 which did not see the light of day until 1976. Still heavily Yes-influenced, primarily because of Simonetti’s virtuoso keyboard work, there are already signs of their future contribution to horror film lore, with incessant percussion and ghostly drifts of sound. The vocals, though very ‘of the time’ add an unexpected air of authority for such a new band.
Despite positive rumblings, in 1975 Carlo Bordini, afraid that a contract with Oliver’s label Cinevox could hurt his career as a session musician, refused to sign, and jumped off board along with Tartarini; the remaining members renamed themselves Goblin. Partly as a result of Simonetti’s previous work as a session musician for Italian-based soundtrack distributor Cinevox, the band’s initial recordings caught the attention of director Dario Argento, who was currently engaged in Profondo Rosso (Deep Red). Work on the score has already begun and the task had fallen to the highly respected Italian jazz musician, Giorgio Gaslini, who had previously worked on the Farley Granger-starring giallo, So Sweet, So Dead, and Argento and Luigi Cozzi’s horror anthology television series, Door Into Darkness. The eventual soundtrack is somewhat confusing as a result of this; Gaslini was ushered off the project by Argento, who declared his contribution, rather harshly, as ‘awful’ and the soundtrack was become known as solely a piece of work by Goblin. In fact, three of Gaslini’s piano themes remain (‘Deep Shadows’, ‘School at Night’ and ‘Gianna’) the other four, admittedly better-known, tracks by the band.
The hypnotic lead track tells you everything you need to know about the band. Pignatelli’s thudding, heart-stopping bass, matched by Martino’s careful punctuating drums and Morante’s striking guitar. The star is, of course, Simonetti’s thrilling, booming keyboard playing, part Bach, part apoclaypse. ‘Death Dies’, the second track, again shows the band was far more than Simonetti alone, the jazz-like skittering drum patterns and surgery-like guitar as chilling as the diabolical action on-screen. The odd time signatures and abstract style of this and the following track, ‘Mad Puppet’ is as unsettling as it is unpredictable, truly relentless. The soundtrack was a massive success and appeared on vinyl in Italy and beyond in 1975. It has since received appropriately reverential treatment on CD with a raft of extra tracks, from demos to alternative versions of the tracks used.
In 1976, the band underwent yet another name-change, temporarily this time. Calling themselves Reale Impero Britannico, they recorded the soundtrack to Mauro Macario’s bizarre Satanic, drug-filled movie Perche si uccidono, with Tartarini returning to sing on one track. This band also worked, for the only time, with Ennio Morricone’s famed chanteuse, Edda Dell’Orso. The soundtrack also features contributions from composers Willy Brezza and Fabio Frizzi, later to enjoy much success in his own right. The nature of the film was behind the decision to change the band’s name, unwilling to destroy the foundations they had already built as Italy’s band of choice for soundtracks. The album was almost impossible to find for many years though has now appeared on CD.
Before further soundtrack work, Goblin recorded an album in their own right, ‘Roller’. By this time, Tartarini had left once again (for the final time) as had drummer Martino, going on to form the band Libra, who also worked on a film, Mario Bava’s final film, Shock (1977) – unfairly overlooked, this is well-worthy of investigation too. Martino was replaced by Agostino Marangolo from the band Flea. Featuring a second keyboard player, Maurizio Guarini, the album is a more straight-forward approach and sucks heavily upon the band’s progressive roots and influences. Without the trappings of having to get the music to fit the action, the tracks sprawl almost endlessly, spiralling off in all directions. Tracks like ‘Aquaman’ continue to be performed live but the standout is the 11-minute ‘Goblin’, which whilst rather noodly, does show that the band were technically at the same level as many more established bands selling an awful lot more records. The band however were unhappy with the results and only the intervention by Argento prevented the band from splitting up.
1977 also saw the release of Goblin’s most famous work, the soundtrack to Dario Argento’s Suspiria. As Bernard Herrmann is to Alfred Hitchcock, Bruno Nicolai is to Jess Franco and Ennio Morricone is to Sergio Leone, so now were Goblin to Argento, the two inextricably linked, both admiring each other’s work and the synchronicity impossible to manufacture. Heavier in all respects than anything they’d done previously, the score is a towering achievement and is rightly considered one of the cornerstones of horror film music. Although working alongside the director, it was necessary for the film itself to be adapted to fit certain sequences, so powerful was the sound. The use of celesta and bells in the opening track add a certain innocent yet creepily anti-religious overtone to proceedings, perfectly apt for a film dealing with witchcraft and ungodly goings-on. The band are credited as ‘The Goblins’ at the end of the film.
Ritualistic, almost tribal type drumming lull you into a false sense of security on ‘Witch’ one of the most ground-breaking uses of sound in film. The whispered refrain of ‘Witch!’ is more like a bellow and the jarring gasps echoing like the guts of hell, the volume of the score pitched so that it almost drowns out the voices of the actors, shaking the walls of the cinema and disconcerting the audience. This seminal piece of work has been much-imitated but never matched.
Alas, for the terrified audience, even more demonic fare is upcoming in ‘Sighs’, a twanging electric guitar and monk-like choral sounds bringing a genuine chill to the spine. The sound of the score is truly exciting; unfamiliar and unlike anything that came before it (or since, for that matter). It cemented both the director and the band as masters of their crafts and horror cinema had changed overnight from cheap scares to palpable fear.
The following year, the collaborative efforts of George A. Romero and Argento produced Dawn of the Dead, another opportunity for the band to flex their musical muscle. Two very distinct soundtracks were ultimately created; Romero’s preferred use of library music (specifically the De Wolfe studio) used extensively for the American cut of the film which was far longer and talkier than the European version, which was punchier and more action-led, the version which makes most use of Goblin’s music. The main theme is used for both; a truly evocative, deathly march, led by Pignatelli’s heartbeat bass and augmented by Simonetti’s studious keyboard intertwining to create a breathtakingly beautiful piece of music.
Interestingly, a second contributor to the film’s score also has film connections. ‘Cause I’m A Man‘ , the jaunty country-flecked tune which accompanies the hillbilly target practice sequence, whilst played by could’ve-been-the-next-Rolling-Stones rock band The Pretty Things, was composed by one Peter Reno. Reno was actually two people; Peter Taylor and Cliff Twemlow. Twemlow, in an alternative life, had a career as an actor appearing in zero-budget British crime films, including GBH, Tuxedo Warrior and The Eye of Satan. They also composed ‘Distant Hills’ used as the theme tune to boring British afternoon TV drama Crown Court but also the B-Side to the zillion-selling ‘Eye-Level’, the theme to TV’s Van Der Valk.
The released LP at the time, though selling well in Europe, America and Japan, left collectors disappointed, the iconic closing polka, ‘The Gonk’, not present. It would later appear many years later when Jonny Trunk released the Romero version of the score on his Trunk record label. The band were again presented as The Goblins in the opening credits. So well-received was the score that it later appeared in the far inferior Zombie Creeping Flesh (aka Hell of the Living Dead) by’ tries hard but always fails’ director, Bruno Mattei. This prompted legal proceedings by the band as the music had not been re-licensed.
A brief respite from death and gore came in the shape of 1978’s ‘Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark’, a concept album following a beetle called Mark (keep up) who lives in Goblin’s Land (just a bit more) and encounters other startling and enlightening many-legged friends along the way (there you go). It features the endearingly accent-heavy vocals of guitarist Morante and is enormous fun and poppier than much of Goblin’s output. The stand-out track is undoubtedly ‘Un Ragazzo D’Argento’, a catchy, straight-ahead number which is as filmic in its own way as some of the band’s more traditional output.
The album saw Morante leaving the band, the remaining members largely continuing as a three-piece but occasionally using guitarist Carlos Pennisi. This period saw their contribution to the volcano drama St Helens, the excellent Australian horror film Patrick (at the behest of notorious distributor Dino Di Laurentis, it used old tracks in the Italian version whilst the version everywhere else used the score by Brian May – the one who scored Mad Max, not that one), Argento’s chum, Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination and Joe D’Amato’s twisted sickie Buio Omega (Beyond the Darkness).
Argento convinced the band to reconvene in 1982 for his gory giallo film, Tenebre, with the classic line-up of Morante, Pigniatelli and Simonetti, the drums, unfortunately, being of the electronic type. Although the movie itself credits the score to “Simonetti-Pignatelli-Morante”, the soundtrack album is credited to “Simonetti-Morante-Pignatelli”.
The score is yet again exemplary, more routed in keyboards and effects than previous efforts. The lead track and its descending chord sequence and instantly recognisable fanfare are as powerful as Goblin of old. Morante’s guitar though used more sparingly, is perhaps even more effective and the addition of a vocorder, whilst bringing memories of Simonetti’s ill-advised disco excursions, is used to good effect.
The main theme was used by French electronic dance act, Justice, on their 2007 album ‘Cross’ to good effect, entirely respectful to the source and showcasing the band to a brand new audience. Pignatelli and Simonetti worked together on future projects such as Argento’s insect-fest Phenomena and the bassist contributing to Michele Soavi’s The Church the magic had gone and a desire to update their sound for modern ears was not the best idea. Simonetti also had success on his own, particularly with the soundtrack to Lamberto Bava’s Demons and the scores to The Versace Murder, Jenifer/Pelts from the Masters of Horror series and Argento’s Mother of Tears and more recently, Dracula 3D. He also formed the band Daemoni which revived many Goblin songs live but with a more metal approach. Goblin as a band have fractured slightly into two groups – Back to the Goblin featuring Maurizio Guarini, Massimo Morante, Fabio Pignatelli and Agostino Marangolo and New Goblin counting Morante, Guarini, Simonetti along with bassist Bruno Previtali and drummer Titta Tani (both previously in Simonetti’s group Daemonia) amongst their ranks. To confuse the issue there is now also Goblin World (later Goblin Rebirth) formed by Pignatelli and Marangolo with keyboardists Aidan Zammit and Danilo Cherni and guitarist Giacomo Anselmi; sort it out, guys!