With its ample gore and gloom, director Dario Argento’s 1977 horror flick “Suspiria” — about a ballet school staffed by a coven of witches — has long held classic status among creepy-movie aficionados, mostly for its healthy helping of fake blood, but also for its equally unsettling score.
The movie’s theme, performed by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin, is a standout among B-flick soundtracks. A ghoulish voice whispers a child-like melody while ritualistic percussion batters in the distance. Synthesizers whoosh and groan. If the screechy violin stabs in “Psycho” are the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” of horror-movie music — simple, direct, efficient — the “Suspiria” soundtrack is its “Stairway to Heaven,” maximalist and unabashedly grandiose. It’s hard to imagine a group of musicians listening to a playback of the track without thinking, “We’ve gone too far.” But going too far has always been Goblin’s shtick.
“I don’t think you ever go too far,” says Maurizio Guarini, who played keyboards with the band when the “Suspiria” soundtrack was composed. “People need to have a punch sometimes.”
Formed during the early ’70s by guitarist Massimo Morante, keyboardist Claudio Simonetti and bassist Fabio Pignatelli, the band spent most of its time composing eerie film scores for Argento — including “Profondo Rosso,” “Suspiria” and “Zombi” (the European cut of the American film “Dawn of the Dead”) — many of which have become cult classics.
After a number of lineup changes, Goblin more or less went kaput in the mid-’80s. The continued popularity of the films, however, along with the increased availability of the soundtracks — via reissues and Internet bootlegging — has created a sustained audience for Goblin’s offbeat music. The band became active again in the mid-’00s, and this year is touring the United States for the first time.
No two Goblin reunions are entirely alike, though; various original members float in and out of the fold based on who has beef with whom. The latest lineup, playing the 9:30 Club on Friday, appears to be solid, with founding members Morante and Pignatelli joined by Guarini, who played on some of Goblin’s finest efforts, and drummer Agostino Marangolo. A keyboardist, Aidan Zammit, has toured with the band since 2009.
Even among the skronk- and screech-riddled realm of the horror genre, where a composer can get away with pretty much anything, Goblin’s scores stand out. For one thing, they are incongruously funky. In “Zombi,” for example, a victim’s efforts to evade hordes of undead ghouls is accompanied by spry, up-tempo jazz-fusion.
“We tried to be ourselves but not stick so much to the old stereotypes,” Guarini says by phone from a tour stop in Cincinnati. “There’s always something like Hitchcock scores with the dissonant violins. We tried to do something more like a band playing on the movie — more rhythmic and more dynamic.”
The band also used studio effects and keyboard synthesizers to conjure oppressively eerie atmospheres that were too heavy to make headway in popular music.
“All progressive rock bands would inevitably have their joyous uplifting moments, but Goblin — their music is just really lean and mean,” says Steve Moore, whose duo Zombi, which takes its name from the Goblin score, is opening for the band on its U.S. tour. “They could just get really weird and dark because that’s what the movies call for. They didn’t have to worry about bumming people out at the concert because they were too gloomy.”
Now, of course, the gloom is what concert audiences are coming to experience. But in order to keep things from getting too dour, Goblin also will trot out vintage prog tunes from its non-horror related releases, such as 1976’s “Roller.”
“We decided to do our show in two different kinds of songs, and one is a progressive rock part,” Guarini says. “When we play scores from movies, we have a background video, just to give an idea and remind people what the music was about.”
“Me personally, I prefer playing the old songs from the album ‘Roller’,” he adds. “It’s very important for us, for me. It’s something to be playing the songs with the same guys after 40 years.”
Leitko is a freelance writer.
Appearing Friday at
the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. Doors open at 6 p.m. 202-265-0930. www.930.com. $25.
For a sampling of Goblin’s music, check out:
“L’alba Dei Morti Viventi”