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Goblin: Roller (1976)

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Before the advent of computer-generated imagery (CGI)—and filmmakers' unfortunate overreliance on its so-called versatility, often at the cost of verisimilitude—horror & sci-fi films had to make do in the realm of things organic: latex, faux-blood, prosthetics, air bladders, stop-motion animation, time-lapse photography, shadow & light for proper mood enhancement, etc. The promulgation of viscera was exploited to varying degrees; some films were unforgivably graphic, others favored modus operandi and the implied versus the literal, allowing viewers' minds to fill in the rest of the horrific details. One of the true masters of psychological horror remains Dario Argento, an Italian director who first rose to prominence with his fourth film, Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), a mystery with a musical score provided by one of the soundtrack greats, Lalo Schifrin. After five more films, he looked to even bleaker scenarios, resulting in his quite bloody landmark thriller, Profondo Rosso, (1975) and the first installment of his witchcraft trilogy, Suspiria (1976). For these last two films, Argento chose not to have them scored to orchestra or lounge jazz: he commissioned four young Italian musicians who called themselves Goblin, fresh from their stint as four-fifths of Cherry Five. Formerly called Oliver, Cherry Five had recorded a Yes & Genesis-inspired record in the UK—in fact, Eddie Offord had been slated to produce, but got tied up with Yes for longer than he'd intended. Following the wrap of Cherry Five, [keyboardist] Claudio Simonetti, [guitarist] Massimo Morante, [bassist] Fabio Pignatelli, and [drummer] Walter Martino returned to Italy and soon found themselves under Argento's wing.

Profondo Rosso was a startling new score for its time, as noteworthy as Herbie Hancock's funky score for Death Wish. Launched by Fabio Pignatelli's punchy bass line, the title track put the young Goblins on the musical map—"Profondo Rosso," along with the title theme from Suspiria, became a live favorite when the band got to gigging. Much of Profondo Rosso amounts to creepy incidental music, while Suspiria is even more experimental, at times cacophonic. Ultimately, both contribute in volumes to their respective films' potency. After two controlled treatments for celluloid exhibitions, the fearsome foursome —now with Agostino Marangolo on the drum throne, replacing Walter Martino—added second keyboardist Maurizio Guarini, and the new quintet entered the studio to produce one of Italian progressive rock's finest recordings...

Recorded in the late summer of 1975, and released in spring of 1976, Roller revels in the band's classical, jazz & rock 'n' roll roots—there's even some funk! The four-minute, thirty-eight second title track largely favors rhythm over melody as Simonetti's organ & Morante's guitar negotiate the rhythmic tandem of Marangolo & Pignatelli. The tune builds to a majestic, cinematic outro. The atmospheric "Aquaman" builds slowly, a warbly Minimoog patch percolates beneath cleanly-picked guitar, after which Morante opens up for a nicely David Gilmour-esque lead.

"Snip Snap" is one of the top two Roller cuts, a dynamic, infectious slice of instrumental funk which will make you reach for the Repeat function. Simonetti lays down a groovacious Clavinet line that's as funky as Bernie Worrell or Herbie Hancock ever laid it—it would sound right at home on the soundtrack of any 70s "blaxploitation" flick. Maurizio Guarini's Fender Rhodes line is nothing to sneer at, and Marangolo's backbeat keeps everything in perspective. The Minimoog melody is economically rendered, yet it's a huge part of the track's appeal. Recorded live, "Il Risveglio Del Serpente" (The Serpent's Awakening) bears the closest resemblance to their soundtrack work; its opening tom-tom rolls and cymballic crescendoes echo Suspiria. What follows starkly contrasts those nightmarish images: acoustic guitar, a quasi-jazzy acoustic piano accompaniment, and even a clarinet, courtesy of Guarini!

The band's namesake composition, "Goblin," is an eleven-minute magnum opus which encompasses every facet of the band's collective personality. The ambience of footsteps meets arhythmic percussive notes and those familiar cymballic swells. A melody is dualled by piano & Moog—a preliminary section before the primary Minimoog melody sounds off, and it's the best riff on the album. A worthy substitute for the Mellotron, Simonetti's Logan String synthesizer fills in the backdrop for Pignatelli's throbbing bassline. Only 3-˝ minutes in, Morante finally drives it home via a muscular, Jimmy Page-esque solo—the countersynth lick that is its foil sounds incredible below it. Five minutes inward, the Logan is hard at work, providing a gateway to a quieter, introspect segment in a somber, minor key. Quite simple, but nonetheless very memorable (that old adage, less is more…). At just over eight minutes, things are finally shaken up by the bass's reintro, fingered to extract that fittingly jagged attack, that snappy tone which keyboardists replicate with a Clavinet. Marangolo has paid his dues, and nearly half-a-minute is appropriated for his solo. The rest of the band returns & carries out in style. "Goblin" is worth the price of admission, all by its lonesome.

"Dr. Frankenstein" is the album closer; at first, it seems to be another foray into funk-tinged rock. Marangolo's syncopations & precision fills solidify his level of proficiency, while disjointed Clavinet chords intrude, then dash away just as quickly. Isolated piano notes spark forth like errant flames. Morante's wah-wah effects some order in the instability, while Pignatelli's bass is the adhesive. A sudden drop-off, a quiet interim, and the track "starts over" at four minutes, with a blazing, extended coda that skirts avant stylings while roosting firmly in progland. The track owns up to its title, channelling the exploits of a mad genius with frenetic soloing and a hard-charging sprint. End of record. The digital counter will disclose that Roller runs just over thirty-four minutes in length. By today's standards, very short. When one considers all of the ideas & events consolidated within half-a-dozen tracks and one-half of an hour, this recording suddenly seems very long, indeed.

Elias Granillo, Jr.

  

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