Dawn of the Dead: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Waxworks Records
Composed by Goblin
Released on February 21st, 2018
Dario Argento was a big fan of George Romero’s 1968 zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead. So when Romero and his producer, Richard P. Rubinstein, had trouble funding a proposed sequel, Argento stepped in. They formed a partnership that gave Argento international distribution rights and complete editing control for the worldwide release. Romero got significant financial assistance, script consultation, and use of Argento’s house band, Goblin.
With this agreement put in place, different versions of the film hit in different markets. George Romero pushed his zombie mythology to the next level, taking his original concept and adding layers of symbolism and social commentary. Dario Argento made the film more palatable for different audiences, shortening it for other countries. He helped give the movie worldwide recognition.
From a soundtrack perspective, Romero’s cut of Dawn of the Dead features heavily from the De Wolfe Music Library. These are tracks that were pre-cleared for licensing and synchronization. The free music benefits the movie from a conceptual standpoint because it adds to Dawn of the Dead’s consumerism subtext. But by leaning so hard on the De Wolfe Music Library, Romero didn’t fully explore what Goblin was offering. (In the end, Romero only used three Goblin tracks for his edit of the movie.)
Argento took another approach. His cut of Dawn of the Dead, which was commonly retitled Zombi in most international markets, features Goblin extensively. This release by Waxworks Records dives deep into these Goblin recordings. It features a tracklist that spans the entire soundtrack and then goes beyond with alternate takes and bonus cuts. If there is a definitive edition of Dawn of the Dead, this is it.
The album begins as any zombie movie soundtrack should, slow and eerie. "L’alba Dei Morti Viventi" strolls in with the speed of one of Romero’s famous flesh-eating creatures. Beats echo and thump. Keyboards crawl alongside, flanging. The bass comes in and structure starts to form in the mist. After a few measures, the song’s evil face appears as an ugly synth-line snakes and curls and wraps itself around the listener. Goblin has earned deserved accolades for two of their earlier soundtrack openers (1975’s Profondo Rosso and 1977’s Susperia, respectively). "L’alba Dei Morti Viventi" deserves equal praise.
The second song, "Zombi", shifts the tone. This track jumps in with sharp, punctuated instrumentation. "Zombi" is more prog-rock oriented than its predecessor, allowing the band to dig into their bag of tricks and pull out all the techniques they are most famous for. Precise composition gives way to a freer jazzier improvisation. It cycles back and forth through the duration of the track, tightening and loosening. The band’s synchronization is impressive. This is Goblin in top form.
The personnel make this happen. Dawn of the Dead sees one of the stronger incarnations of the band with Massimo Morante on guitar, Claudio Simonetti on keyboards, Fabio Pignatelli on bass, and Agostino Marangolo on drums and percussion. Antonio Marangolo, the drummer on past Goblin records, returns on a couple tracks, this time playing sax. And Tino Fornai drops in on "Tirassengo" for some violin work.
Unfortunately, "Tirassengo" is not the best track. It feels awkward. The song, with its not-quite-country / not-quite-rock vibe sounds unfocused. Torte In Faccia is another track that isn’t quite there. It sounds like an old-timey piano roll and has more in common with the 1902 rag, "The Entertainer", than it does with anything from Goblin’s catalog. But the biggest problem on Dawn of the Dead is the cringe-worthy "Safari". This track did not age well. The song rides on a tribal drumbeat and is fronted by pseudo-African chants. "Safari" is appropriative at best and racist at worst.
These lesser tracks throw the album off balance. Luckily, the rest of the songs don’t fall as low. Besides the opening highlights that are mentioned above, the trippy bending of "Ai Margini Della Follia", the textbook prog of "La Caccia", the jazzy languidly of "Oblio", and the somber balladry of "Risveglio", all work to keep this album running smoothly.
The supplemental material is worth mentioning. Waxworks packed on alternate takes of "L’alba Dei Morti Viventi" and "Ai Margini Della Follia", a smoky jazz-infused number ("Zombi (Sexy)"), a chill organ-jam joint ("Zombi (Supermarket)"), and some experimental noise "Zombi (The Living Dead’s Voices!)"). While none of these are must-haves, all are worth listening too and each offers something new to the collection as a whole.
Purists may be disappointed in the art design. There are no images from the original film, no literal callbacks to the movie. Instead, there are new images; fresh re-imaginings of Romero’s masterpiece. Fortunately, the packaging and art is terrific. Brazilian Illustrator Butcher Billy works in a vintage comic book style, complete with blocky outlines and Ben-Day dot detail, and adapts it to represent the film. He uses a minimal color palette of reds and yellows, black and beige. The cover is made of zombified hands, stiff in rigor mortis. The back cover lists the tracks while pointing a revolver at the viewer. Inside the gatefold, the living dead reach out. Yellow text pops through the red, WHEN THERE’S NO MORE ROOM IN HELL… THE DEAD WILL WALK THE EARTH.
The casing is nice and heavy, the board feels tight and sturdy. It may be a little too tight, actually, as it takes some work to wiggle the records in and out of their sleeves. The records themselves, a milky splattering of green and blue, appropriately labeled by Waxworks as a “Zombie Flesh Variant,” are solid, 180g slabs of vinyl. The sound is clean with little surface noise.
Night of the Living Dead established George Romero as an artist to watch. Dawn of the Dead cemented his position. The movie became a second classic for the director. It went beyond cult status, achieved mainstream recognition, and put Romero at the head of the emerging zombie phenomenon. It was an absolute success.
The same cannot be said for Goblin’s score. After this record the band started to splinter. Goblin went in different directions both literally and metaphorically. Constant lineup changes and fresh scoring opportunities moved the music into new genres. Dawn of the Dead features some of the strongest songs from Goblin’s catalog. It also has some of the weakest. The uneven songwriting on this album makes it a difficult record to recommend. But the durability of the better songs make up for the album’s flubs and Dawn of the Dead offers enough good to outweigh the bad. In fact, the excellence of "L’alba Dei Morti Viventi" and "Zombi" are worth the price of the record on their own.