The fact that Goblin is an Italian progressive rock band already makes them somewhat unique, but they also pursued an intriguingly unorthodox career path, recording the majority of their music for horror film soundtracks, many with director Dario Argento. Internationally, they're probably best known for their work on the Night of the Living Dead sequel Dawn of the Dead (where they were credited as the Goblins), though their work on Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red) and Suspiria is generally more acclaimed.
Formed in 1972, Goblin's roots lie in several other Italian prog rock bands of the time. Keyboardist and bandleader Claudio Simonetti and original drummer Walter Martino both played in Ritratto di Dorian Gray, guitarist and occasional vocalist Massimo Morante was part of Era di Acquario, and bassist Fabio Pignatelli had been in Rivelazioni. With vocalist Tony Tartarini, the group initially dubbed themselves the Cherry Five and played British-style progressive rock in the vein of Yes, Genesis, and ELP. They signed with the Italian Cinevox label and issued a self-titled debut in 1975, which performed disappointingly.
It did, however, catch the ear of film director Dario Argento, who contacted Cinevox after becoming dissatisfied with the jazzy work being done on his Profondo Rosso by composer Giorgio Gaslini. The Cherry Five rechristened themselves Goblin (in keeping with the horror movie theme), kept a small portion of Gaslini's work, and completely redid the remainder of the score in a heavier, harder-rocking style. The results helped make the film a hit, and the soundtrack album topped the Italian charts. Just as the group was about to begin a supporting tour to consolidate its unexpected success, Martino and Tartarini departed, the former to start his own band (Libra); he was replaced by Agostino Marangolo, who had previously drummed in Flea and Etna.
The quartet's next project was a non-soundtrack album titled Roller, released in 1976 and featuring a more traditional prog rock sound, as well as second keyboardist Maurizio Guarini. The group, however, was unhappy with both the results and the label's promotional efforts, and nearly disbanded. Intervention by Argento smoothed things over, and he put Goblin to work creating a new soundtrack; this time, he shot the film only after hearing the music. The result, 1977's Suspiria, became Goblin's most acclaimed work, combining the band's heavy riffing and busy drum work with more eerie electronics than ever before, plus sinister experimental vocal effects. The film and soundtrack were both hits, and the Goblin/Argento partnership was firmly established. The band worked on over a dozen film soundtracks over the next two years, and in 1978 used that momentum to record a non-soundtrack concept album in the archetypal prog rock vein. Titled Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark, it told the story of a young boy searching for meaning in life with the help of a philosophical insect named Mark; it also broke with the Goblin norm by featuring lyrics sung in Italian.
Of Goblin's subsequent projects, the most significant was undeniably their work on 1978's Dawn of the Dead (known as Zombi in Italy), the sequel to Night of the Living Dead, co-produced by George Romero and Dario Argento. One of their heavier, more rock-oriented works, the soundtrack appeared in two different versions: one as the complete Italian version used by Argento, and the other as the Romero/American version, which cut down the band's contributions to include stock orchestral music. Regardless, the film and soundtrack were both worldwide successes.
In spite of all that, guitarist Morante abruptly left the group for a solo career. Goblin continued as a three-piece for a short time, then added Marangolo's former bandmate Carlo Pennisi on guitar. Several more scores followed before keyboardist Simonetti, the driving force behind the band's sound, also departed to become a soundtrack composer in his own right. Bassist Pignatelli took over leadership of the group, but without its two most prominent members, work was suddenly hard to come by. Session keyboardist Maurizio Guarini returned to the fold, but by the time Goblin managed a new studio album, 1982's Volo, both Pennisi and Marangolo had jumped ship as well.
Argento attempted to reconvene the original group for the soundtrack of 1982's Tenebre, but Marangolo declined to take part; the presence of Morante, Simonetti, and Pignatelli made the largely electronic Tenebre a Goblin album in all but name (since Pignatelli was leading the official band), and the three went their separate ways afterward. Pignatelli, Guarini, and Marangolo's saxophonist brother Antonio continued Goblin into 1983, at which point the group simply faded away.
In 2000, after a 22-year hiatus, the group re-formed and composed the score for Argento's Nonhosonno (Sleepless). The band issued a new album, Back to the Goblin, independently in 2005, but it wasn't until 2009 that they would take to the stage again. The bandmembers, operating under the Back to the Goblin moniker, appeared on-stage together for the first time in three decades at a series of festivals, but by the end of the year had decided to call it quits again. The band would re-form off and on again in different incarnations for the next several years, eventually splitting off into factions. In 2015, Agostino Marangolo, Fabio Pignatelli, Aidan Zammit, Danilo Cherni, and Giacomo Anselmi, operating under the name Goblin Rebirth, inked a deal with Relapse Records and released an eponymous album of new material. Meanwhile, another Goblin lineup anchored by Pignatelli, Marangolo, Massimo Morante, and Maurizio Guarini toured the United States in 2014 and 2017; they also issued a studio album, Four of a Kind, in 2015, and a concert recording, Live in Austin, Texas, in 2018. Amidst all this activity, the reissue label Two Headed Dog brought out a new edition of Volo in 2017. Guitarist Massimo Morante died on June 23, 2022 at the age of 70. ~ Steve Huey