More than four decades after its original release, Goblin’s score for Dario Argento’s masterpiece, Suspiria, is still bewitching the horror and heavy metal worlds alike
These Italians rewrote the horror rulebook… and invented death metal.
As we become increasingly desensitised to the grotesqueries of modern life, very few things retain the ability to send a shiver of pure terror up our spines. But even in the midst of humanity’s slow-motion collapse, the main musical theme from Dario Argento’s 1977 celluloid masterwork, Suspiria, has never lost its power. Performed by Italian prog rock soundtrack wizards Goblin, the Suspiria soundtrack is an undeniable benchmark for the entire horror genre; just as the film itself is routinely cited as one of horror’s greatest atrocity exhibits. More pertinently, perhaps, Goblin’s music has long been embraced and hailed in the metal world, the groundbreaking atmospheres and macabre allure of their movie work proving a consistent and perfect fit with heavy music’s nefarious instincts.
Forty one years on from Suspiria’s original release, Goblin founder and musical mastermind Claudio Simonetti still sounds mildly perplexed by the enduring popularity of music he made more than four decades ago. As he explains, when Goblin formed in 1972 (initially known as Oliver and then Cherry Five), they had no plans to venture into the movie world. Instead, after spending 1974 in London, recording demos and playing occasional gigs in the hope of gatecrashing the UK’s thriving prog scene, Goblin returned to Italy and signed a deal with Cinevox – a label that just happened to have a sideline in publishing movies. When esteemed director Dario Argento came looking for a band to help him with his new film, Profondo Rosso (‘Deep Red’), Claudio Simonetti and his fellow prog hopefuls were first in line.
“We were lucky. We were in the right place at the right moment!” Claudio chuckles. “When Dario shot Profondo Rosso, he’d decided to have more of a rock sound in his film, although he had asked someone else to write the soundtrack, Giorgio Gaslini. He’s a jazz player and was a very big musician of that time, but Dario didn’t like or want that kind of music and he wanted something heavier, more gothic. We first had to play the music that Giorgio had written, so we started to record his music in our style, but during the recording Giorgio had a few problems with Dario and they were arguing and so he left the movie. Dario told us, ‘He’s not here anymore, so you have to compose and record the main themes that are missing!’ So in one night we recorded the main theme for Profondo Rosso and the day after we arrived with the demo. Dario loved it.”
A dark and twisted but wild and exuberant slab of oddball prog rock, the Profondo Rosso soundtrack proved a deeply satisfying venture for all concerned and established a working relationship between Dario Argento and
Claudio Simonetti that still endures to this day. For Goblin, the realisation that making music for horror movies was more inspiring than simply joining the prog rock circuit proved the
“SUSPIRIA WAS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM ANYTHING THAT HAD BEEN MADE BEFORE” CLAUDIO SIMONETTI HELPED CREATE A NEW FRONTIER OF FEAR
defining moment of their career. For Claudio, a lifelong fan of scary movies, it was a perfect storm of creativity.
“I’ve loved horror movies since I was a little kid, you know? I loved them even when I felt really scared! Ha ha ha! When I was young I saw a lot of the classic Hammer Horror films, those movies with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. But I remember when I saw my first Dario Argento movie, it was The Bird With The Crystal Plumage , and I said, ‘Wow, this is a great Italian director!’ I never thought I’d be working with him just five years later. It was incredible.”
This autumn, as a contemporary remake of Suspiria hits our cinema screens, Claudio takes his current ensemble to the US for an extensive tour performing the film’s original score in its entirety. Much imitated but never bettered, the original Suspiria movie is an undisputed horror classic, but Goblin’s blend of spiralling keys, warped grooves and abyssal ambience is fundamental to its deathless appeal. Claudio recalls that Dario Argento instructed the band to write music that was intrinsically mysterious and that would imply the presence of dark, supernatural forces, even when nothing untoward was visible on screen.
“We had to write music so that people felt like the witches were always there,” he grins. “I think that Suspiria is our real masterpiece.
It’s real Goblin music. For Profondo Rosso, we played a lot in the prog rock style of the 70s, because I’d grown up listening to Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant and ELP, but not for Suspiria. It was completely different from anything that had been made before. That’s why the soundtrack and the film are so famous today, I think. That’s why [director] Luca Guadagnino decided to do the new remake.
He is a big fan of Dario’s and he loves our music, too, of course.”
Suspiria’s legendary status is partly due to the extraordinary depth and intensity of colour that Dario Argento brought to the screen. Combined with Goblin’s unsettling music, it turned Suspiria into a true work of art, albeit one with more than a few screws loose.
“Dario used special cameras to achieve that effect. I think the cinematography is pure
magic because of those colours in the film. It’s a dark film, of course, but the colour is a lot more like… well, Walt Disney, you know? That makes it unique. It was very inspiring to see the final movie.”
Curiously, while putting the finishing touches to Suspiria’s iconic main theme, Claudio found himself accidentally inventing death metal vocals. No, really.
“As we worked on the music, we were given the lyrics of a lullaby that spoke about ‘three witches sitting in a tree’. I imagined that the music of witches could be something like a lullaby, which is why I wrote that repeated arpeggio. But when I recorded it, this loop,
I thought, ‘It’s not quite good enough, maybe I can put my voice over it…’ and I sang that [adopts raspy screech] ‘La la la la la la laaaaa!’ part. Someone told me I was the first person to do extreme vocals like that! Ha ha ha!”
After Suspiria, Goblin continued to produce idiosyncratic horror soundtracks for a few more years, most notably the music for George A Romero’s nonemore-seminal Dawn Of The Dead and several more collaborations with Dario Argento, including cult favourites like Tenebrae and Phenomena. The band split in 1982, but there have been numerous reunions and alternate incarnations of the band over the last 18 years, ranging from Claudio Simonetti’s current live band to Relapse Records signees Goblin Rebirth (featuring original Goblin members Fabio Pignatelli and Agostino Marangolo). In 2001, Claudio even formed his own heavy metal band, Daemonia, to perform beefed-up versions of the Goblin catalogue (with, it has to be said, variable results). Just like the evil spirits in those seminal movies, Goblin’s music keeps defying death, growing stronger by the year…
“These days I do a lot of concerts, certainly more than in the 70s and now it’s everywhere in the world,” Claudio beams. “It’s mostly thanks to the internet, which has destroyed the music industry but it has also created a different means of distribution and publicity for bands like Goblin. Thanks to the internet, people know me better everywhere and they can find me easily and they can still watch the movies. But I’m always still surprised, because when I play live now, the audiences are not just people that are my age but young people, maybe 20, 30, 40 years old. It’s incredible.”
It also still blows Claudio’s mind that his most reliable audience, one that is still growing, comes from the world of heavy metal, with high-profile endorsements from the likes of Opeth, Enslaved and Cradle Of Filth [Claudio collaborated with Dani Filth on the soundtrack to Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D in 2012] helping to spread the word.
“It’s very strange because we don’t play heavy metal music. When I play the shows at heavy metal festivals, I meet a lot of the bands and they always tell me that they grew up listening to Goblin. It’s just strange to be at the same festivals as all the metal guys, but it’s beautiful, too, because people love our music, even if it’s not real metal!
It’s amazing to know that people like
[see Dread Fellows, right] and Dani Filth are big fans of
Goblin’s music is dark, strange, unnerving and timeless: a suffocating rush of alien sound and jarring texture that ruthlessly taps into horror’s blistered, creaking core like nothing else before or since. The strangest thing about Claudio Simonetti, however, is how cheerful and down-to-earth he is. It seems that you don’t need to be a drooling, swivel-eyed maniac to scare the shit out of everyone else. But does anything scare him?
“Oh, I don’t know… I’m scared about reality! Ha ha ha! When I see the news on TV, that scares me much more than films, you know? Sometimes this reality is worse than the stuff of nightmares.”
“SOMEONE TOLD ME I WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO DO EXTREME METAL VOCALS” CLAUDIO SIMONETTI PROVES TO BE THE GODFATHER OF GROWLING
harper, Suspiria, starring Jessicatipped the scales of horrorGoblin (left to right): titta tani, cecilia Nappo, Bruno Previtali, claudio Simonetti
Simonetti Dream team: claudioargento and Dario
claudio Simonetti: still making non-metal for metal fans