If core members of the prog-rock group Goblin reassembled twenty years later, what kind of new music would they compose, particularly after some went on to enjoy non-film careers, while others maintained active roles with the band as it moved exclusively towards film scoring during the mid-seventies?
Taking into account the changes in technology, popular music styles, and the musicians' maturity and changes in personal taste, it's probably safe to bet that the resulting album would not sound like a vintage recording.
When Fabio Pigantelli (bass, keyboards), Massimo Morante (guitars), Agostino Marangolo (drums), and Claudio Simonetti (keyboards) reunited to score Dario Argento's retro-giallo, Sleepless / Non ho sonno (2001), the sound was practically the sum total of everything each musician had done, except it all coalesced into a hard, edgy prog-rock score that suited the violent drama, and recalled the brutality and mystery redolent of Deep Red / Prondo rosso (1975) and Tenebre (1982).
Back to the Goblin feels like an to answer the musicians' own curiosity, and while Simonetti didn't participate in this project, it's a genuine Goblin work, with the addition of keyboardist Maurizio Guarini co-composing tracks that take the listener on a journey much like Roller (1976) and Il Fantastico Viaggio Del 'Bagarozzo' Mark (1978) did so well as non-film albums.
“Victor” is a surprising opening track because the orchestral emulations kind of function as a self-tribute to the band's longevity. Starting with a celebratory march, the cue is goosed with eerie synth chorals nodding to the group's long association with horror films, and then takes an unexpected turn towards nostalgia, with warm harmonics and a heavy use of strings, harp, and woodwinds that are almost Spielbergian in their optimism; the effect isn't cloying or sappy, but it kind of reflects the musicians' gleeful excitement in collaborating once again.
“Dlen Dlon” is a bit evocative of the Sleepless title track, as it also begins with a circular melody that evolves through added textures and cyclical phrase repetitions on keyboards, electric guitar, and synth organ. The tune gets its groove from Pignatelli's bass which is nice and fat, and it stays tight with Marangolo's drums when the track's midsection goes on a hard rock bender, with rippling drums and heavy guitar.
Unlike the prior track, the funky “Bass Theme in E” offers mostly low tones, over which electronically processed notes on keyboards flutter and twist, with some ambient effects, like a reversed-processed male voice, and a rising cluster-rumble closing the track, much in the way the band used subtle sound effects between cues on Roller (a must-have album for every Goblin fan).
The sing-song voice of a small boy is used to play the nursery rhyme melody in “Hitches,” which the musicians surround with organ fugues, and a driving central passage that lets Pignatelli do some agile fingering in the first phrase statement, and Morante trade parts with Guarini in the second. Among the more overt rock elements are some blurring effects that have strings and subtle chorals sounding as one organic instrument, and the boy's breathy vocals almost morphing into a flute.
More selective orchestral emulations – namely saturated banks of strings – dominate the first half of “Japanese Air,” and the arrangements initially emphasize harmonics, until drums and more rock elements step forward, with the sparse melody played in full like a formal pop-rock ballad, until it gradually decelerates to an unwinding metallic shimmering.
Techno beats, organ, and sampled brass and chorals dominate “Sequential Ideas,” and it's another stylistic change where Goblin aims for a fusion with orchestra and techno, with occasional retro details like Morante's groovy guitar strum around the midpoint, and brief, eerie organ glissandi in the background that's very vintage seventies.
The melodic phrase is given a rework in “Lost in the Universe,” an introspective ballad that flips to a harder edge when Morante introduces a furious guitar, and the retro keyboards tear apart the phrase before going off on another short bout of improv. The bittersweet rendition on piano seems to take the track towards another furious section, but it kind of winds down into a quiet spell, with a storm sound effects cluster fading up and out, and ending the cue without any strong final statement.
“Magic Thriller” closes the album with a more up-tempo track that brings back the core rock instruments, and a lengthy midsection that basically has keyboards, bass, and electric guitar keeping time with the steady drums before a theme restatement.
The album's strongest cues are “Dlen Dlon” and “Bass Theme in E,” whereas the rest are intriguing but less invigorating experiments. Part of the problem may lie in the album's short running time, which may not sound fair given the group's scores and non-film albums were never epic in length, but it's one of those problems ardent fans have with great musicians whose improvisations or duets feel undercooked.
Cinevox' The Fantastic Journey in the Best of Goblin: Vol. 1 (2004) contains tracks from a 1979 live concert, and it's that energy level and the occasional expansion of a track (like “Snip-Snap” from Roller, boosted to almost twice its original length) that fans wish Goblin would infuse in more cues. It's a greedy and perhaps selfish criticism, but Sleepless reminded fans of the band's power in crafting a multi-thematic and substantive work.
Back to the Goblin 2005 is a conceptual album that gave each member the freedom to try ideas unfettered by a film image or specific character. Overall, it's a satisfying work, but it might be too laid back and eclectic for fans seeking edgier material from their handful of non-film work, although soundtrack fans will recognize aspects from the group's famous film themes and dramatic cuts. Alongside Sleepless, Back to the Goblin 2005 presents the band's core members in good form, and one hopes the success of this album (the writing, recording, and mixing was done in part over the internet, as each member was in a different part of the globe at the time) will result in a more detailed work that exploits their underused talents.
Note: as of this writing, this CD is only available from the group's online site via this link.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan