Friday 20 September 2019

Claudio Simonetti's Goblin - The Devil is Back (2019)

Country: Italy
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 Sep 2019
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia | YouTube

While I've loved a lot of what I've heard of Italian prog rock, which was a major scene in the early seventies and never quite went away (check out Nova Malà Strana from the nineties), I know Goblin the way most people know them, which is through film soundtracks, such as those for Deep Red and Suspiria, giallo movies by Dario Argento. They've toured here recently and those of my friends who went were generally horror fans rather than Italian prog fans.

Of course, the reason they did so well with those soundtracks, and a host of others, is because they're an excellent and imaginative band and that shows if you dig deeper. I've heard some of their other material (they released a set of interesting collections in the mid to late nineties) but didn't know until now that they're still going not as one band but as four.

Claudio Simonetti was a founding member of Goblin back in 1972, back when it was called Oliver, and by the time he left in 1979, he'd played his part on the band's most famous work. His band is called Claudio Simonetti's Goblin (sometimes Daemonia) to delineate it from the current incarnation of Goblin, which features two other founding members: Massimo Morante, guitarist, and Fabio Pignatelli, the bass player who, with current Goblin drummer Agostino Marangolo, also plays in Goblin Rebirth. That leaves Cherry Five, the band's name between Oliver and Goblin, who reformed in 2015 with a couple of other early members, one of whom was a vocalist, not a common position in Goblin. Are you confused yet?

I don't think I've heard the current Goblin yet but Simonetti was a central part of that band and it's easy to hear them in his version of it. As he's a keyboard player, there's a foundation on that instrument that often reminds of other synth bands like Tangerine Dream. However, unlike such bands, they play in a rock format, with a very lively bass from Cecilia Nappo and strong guitars from Bruno Previtali, the reliable drumming of Federico Maragoni at the back of it all, occasionally finding a spotlight such as on The Devil is Back.

Case in point: Brain Zero One, the opening track. It kicks off with eighties synths, courtesy of Simonetti, like he's rewinding the years, but they give way to a nice bass run from Nappo and then Previtali's guitars crunch in. It starts the album in lively fashion, often arguing with itself about just how eighties it can get.

Many songs here feel like they could be rock songs with their vocals shorn away. Even though the melody in Revenge is driven by piano, the guitars and bass are very prominent. The only vocals show up, presumably as samples, on Agnus Dei and Saint Ange, which both move from a religious tone to the synth runs we expect. Songs like this are why Goblin fit so well on soundtracks, as the music sparks visuals. It always feels like something's going on and, if we're not given any associated imagery, we often conjure it up ourselves anyway. These are lively and playful but also dark. No wonder they ended up scoring giallo.

As befits a band known for soundtracks, there's a lot of range here. I liked how heavy The Devil is Back got, while Neverland, only a track later, stands out for its emotion. Solitude ups that, even finding a sort of eastern vibe for a while. Chi? and Chi?, Pt. 2 get down and funky, though the core melody to each remains a very simple thing, like many soundtrack melodies that need to work as themes that trigger our pattern recognition.

Even without a movie to enhance, this is strong stuff. I've run through this album a dozen times over the last week and it's still as fresh and engaging as it was on the first time. All power to Goblin, whatever form they happen to be in this week!

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