One of the most memorable elements contributing to the success of SUSPIRIA (1977) was the soundtrack. Combining elements of music (a synthesizer-heavy rock combo) and sound effects (heavy breathing, murmuring voices), Goblin provided something that went far beyond traditional background scoring, to become an integral part of the film. In a fashion somewhat similar to Ennio Morricone’s contribution to Sergio Leone’s Westerns, Goblin helped director Dario Argento achieve an almost operatic effect on screen; their auditory excess was the perfect counterpoint to Argento’s extravagant visuals, transforming a series of horrific set pieces into beautiful arias of violence.
Goblins’s soundtrack music has been preserved on various vinyl, tape, and CD release; in fact, the original album pressing was probably one of their most successful releases, thanks to the popularity of the film. However, their SUSPIRIA music, which is so perfectly integrated into the film, fares less well as a stand-alone item. All that pounding, howling, thumbing, and wheezing is enough to send chills down your spine even without the movie images (it is the perfect imaginary soundtrack), but not all of it could be called a pleasant listening experience (unless your idea of pleasant is having your nerves set on edge).
The highlight of the album is “Suspiria ,” the main title music that recurs throughout the film. One of the greatest tracks in the entire Goblin catalogue, this opens with an eerie 14-note melody line doubled on vocals and synthesizer, with a buzuki strumming the accompaniment. Halfway through, it switches to a rock-and-roll arrangement with guitar, bass and drums pounding out the rhythm while Simonetti’s synthesizer slices through the texture, playing a speeded up version of the melody. Then song segues back to the slower, moodier approach to bring the piece to a conclusion. This is great stuff – by turns eerie and overpowering – and it really rocks!
“Witch” features a combination of timpani drums, vocals, and synthesizers, with some bass guitar underneath. The piece is a non-melodic collage of sound that works perfectly in the film, less so as a piece of musical entertainment.
“Opening to the Sighs” – with its pounding timpanis backed by synthesizer – sounds like a brief reprise of “Witch.” Building quickly to a climax, it serves as an intro to the next piece (on the original vinyl album they were listed as one continuous track).
“Sighs” begins, appropriately enough, with sighing vocals that suggest sound effects more than music (a technique Goblin had used in “Wild Session,” a track for Argento’s previous film DEEP RED). Then some jangly acoustic guitars jump in with arpeggios and a repetitive riff, backed by wailing vocals. The music finally guilds up to some ominous organ cords before fading out.
“Markos” is heard twice in the film: once during the maggot infestation, one at the conclusion. The track features a sequencer playing a simple synthesizer line, while timpani and other drums pound in the background the the bass guitar ripps through a series of solo lines up and down the fretboard. For all its sound and fury, this is one of the most musical tracks on the album – it sounds a bit like a furious jam session.
The next two pieces do not appear in the film itself. Like “Opening to the Sighs” and “Sighs,” “Black Forest” and “Blind Concert” are two separate titles that were originally combined into one unbroken track. With an electric guitar picking a moody pattern (enhanced by a flanging effect), bass and drums providing a traditional rhythm section, and keyboards adding melodies, “Black Forest” is straight-ahead piece of jazz rock fusion that begins softly before eruptng into an explosion of solos, alternating between guitar, synthesizer, and saxophone (the later by guest musician Antonio Marangolo). As musical entertainment, this is one of the best tracks on the album.
“Blind Concert” is somewhat less successful. After a brief transition from “Black Forest” (in which the “Suspiria” theme is played on celesta over some jangling bells and a vibraphone), the instrumental sinks into a funky jam session. While the drums and bass lay out a functional but uninspired riff, keyboards and guitar doodle in a sharp stereo split from your left and right speaker; an overdubbed synthesizer sweetens the results somewhat. Though not a great track, it is an interesting opportunity to hear the musicians just get together and play.
When the SUSPIRIA soundtrack was originally released, the final track was “Death Valzer,” a solo acoustic piano piece that, in the film, is played by the blind pianist when the ballet students are practising. It is a pretty little waltz, but it served as a weak climax to the album. Subsequent CD releases have improved on this by including several bonus tracks, including an alternate version of “Markos” and some variations on the “Suspiria” theme.
The new “Markos” track features a different synthesizer sound played by the sequencer, and the track fades out without the funny little final pops and whistles of the original. The “Suspiria” variations include a version with keyboardist Claudio Simonetti chanting non-grammatical nonsense about witches, over a scaled down arrangement of the theme played only on celesta and bells, and a new rev-ed up version performed by Simonetti’s band Daemonia. This version retains the three-part structure of the original but retains a more conventional rock-and-roll arrangement throughout, blurring the distinction between the different passages.
The credits for SUSPIRIA read “Music by The Goblins, in Collaboration with Dario Argento.” The group’s actual name is Goblin, and Argento receives no credit for composing any of the music on the soundtrack album. (A similar credit would appear in the 1979 DAWN OF THE DEAD, which Argento co-produced.)
Maurizio Guarini (who filled in on keyboards from time to time) has claimed that he recorded with Goblin for the SUSPIRIA soundtrack, explaining that his name was left off the credits for legal reasons (he was under contract with another label). The music shows little sign of his contribution. The only tracks on SUSPIRIA that display any of the jazz-rock stylings Guarani brought to Goblin’s earlier album Roller, are on “Black Forest” and “Blind Concert.”
The original vinyl record album featured two sleeves. When removed from the outer sleeve, the inner sleeve unfolded to reveal a pop-up of Dario Argento’s initials, decorated with the demonic Goblin logo and the dead ballerina poster art from SUSPIRIA. The inner sleeve featured a black-and-white photo of Argento working with Goblin in the recording studio, plus several color photos from the film, including behind the scenes images of Argento on set.
SUSPIRIA: Original Soundtrack (originally released 1977). Music composed and performed by Goblin: Claudio Simonetti (piano, organ, synthesizer, celesta, sequencer, vocals); Massimo Morante (electric and acoustic guitar, bazuki0, vocals); Fabio Pignatelli (bass, tabla drum, acoustic guitar, vocals); Agostino Marangolo (drums, percussion, vocals). With guest Antonio Marangolo on saxaphone.