IT'S DIFFICULT to pinpoint exactly when Italian prog band Goblin became a phenomenon here in the States, but over the past decade their cult status has turned even more rabid. Chalk it up to the undying appeal of horror movies; Goblin made their living in the mid-'70s by creating some of the eeriest and darkest soundtracks put to tape.
"I was a bit surprised by how popular we were," says keyboardist Maurizio Guarini from his home in Toronto. "I mean, we're not Madonna, but it's nothing we ever planned."
How could they? Goblin's most notable work is associated with legendary Italian splatter-film director Dario Argento, including his 1975 film Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) and 1977's Suspiria. Argento also used the band on Zombi, the international version of George A. Romero's 1978 masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. Simply put—connoisseurs of the macabre can be as maniacal as the characters onscreen.
Those early soundtracks (in particular, Profondo Rosso) capture the sexuality, bloodshed, and unintentional camp of Italian giallo and horror filmmaking, as perfected by Argento. Goblin's music is complex, both a product of its time and uncannily light years ahead, fusing sinewy guitars, funk bass lines, and synthesizers that remain eternally otherworldly. Guarini first appeared on 1976's Roller, one of Goblin's few non-soundtrack releases. Then came the soundtrack for Suspiria—arguably Goblin's creepiest set—which was written before the members saw a single frame of film. "In the '70s we weren't pushed to do anything," says Guarini. "It was very spontaneous. It was all based on instinct."
As the '70s drew to a close, so did Goblin, although the band's revolving cast continued to make soundtracks for a number of lesser-known films, including the 1980 sci-fi splatter-fest Contamination and their only American release, 1981's St. Helens (yes, the one filmed in Bend, Oregon, starring Art Carney), which Guarini considers to be their most challenging score. "At 25, you're just a kid, and you're here with a 60-piece orchestra playing your music—it's something," he says of the experience.
Even during their heyday, Goblin never remotely dented the American charts, and it's not too surprising to learn they never toured here. A handful of dates in Europe in 2009 (their first live shows in 32 years) got audiences hot and bothered, but it wasn't until earlier this month that the most recent incarnation of the band—which features Guarini, original guitarist Massimo Morante, and original keyboardist Claudio Simonetti, along with bassist Bruno Previtali and drummer Titta Tani—kicked off their first-ever American tour, and met with a frenzy of sold-out dates. And the performances have been as dark and, well, as bludgeoning as one would expect, with plenty of blood-splatter onscreen as the members slice and dice choice cuts from Profondo Rosso, Suspiria, and Zombi.
It's a safe bet that most of those attending the shows probably weren't even born when Goblin were at the height of their bloodletting. But as with a good Dario Argento flick, a little fresh meat is never a bad thing. "If someone told me we would still be playing, I wouldn't have believed them," says Guarini. "But musicians have to make music—it's our destiny. I consider myself very lucky to be able to have this exchange with audiences."