Tenebrae: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Waxwork Records
Composed by Claudio Simonett, Fabio Pignatelli, and Massimo Morante
Released on May 18th, 2018
It’s been a good couple of years for Goblin fans. In 2017, Cinevox put out an insanely comprehensive 40th anniversary edition of Suspiria. (One version came with a peacock plumed stiletto!) Death Waltz followed with an artistically packaged Suspiria reissue of their own. One of Goblin’s non-soundtrack albums, Volo saw a rerelease. Their score to the 1983 spy-thriller, Notturno, saw a vinyl pressing. 2018 started with Waxworks dropping Dawn of the Dead (also known as Zombi) in late February. Next, Light in the Attic presented a different side of Goblin’s sound with their reissue of Squadra Antigangsters.
And then there’s Tenebrae.
The soundtrack to Dario Argento’s 1982 giallo was written and performed by Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, and Massimo Morante – three musicians from Goblin’s initial lineup who were responsible for some of that band’s most memorable work. But by this point, only one of the three was still in the band; Fabio Pignatelli. In the years before Tenebrae, Goblin had changed hands and the band of old was no more.
At the request of Argento, these three musicians got back together to give it one more go. Things were different though. The late 1970s saw Claudio Simonetti move away from the prog-rock he was known for in favor of a more Italo disco type of music. His updated style was closer to Giorgio Moroder or Mauro Malavasi than it was to Tangerine Dream. Returning to his former bandmates allowed him to bring these new sounds to an old environment, creating a fusion of of the two.
It works more than it doesn’t. Tenebrae starts strong. After a brief drum roll, a vocoder opens the track. A wordless melody punches in an infectious hook. Keyboards fill in gaps, a bassline adds funk. A guitar brings in an edge. Movements and changes abound as every measure seems to bring something new. After this, the album moves on with a number of points of interest. “Gemini” exemplifies why these three musicians work so well together. Simonetti’s keyboards and beat programming cinch onto Pignatelli’s tight bass snaps while Morante widens the sound with his guitar. The childlike instrumentation of “Slow Circus” bends and quivers throughout the song, making it as uncomfortable as the film scene it was written for. “Flashing” plays off the cold yet dancy mechanics of early industrial music. Built on a classic 808 beat, accompanied by sequencers and keyboards, “Flashing” could easily mix into a Wax Trax! set at a club, sounding right at home among artists like Doubting Thomas, A Split Second, or even Front 242. “Waiting Death” reprises pieces of the original theme but darkens the overall color palette, pulling some of the beats and replacing them with cold slabs of synth.
There is only one blunder on this album. Beyond the cringy title, the song “Lesbo”, starts off by mimicking Blue Oyster Cult before downgrading into something that could have been played during the opening credits of the ‘90s teen drama, Beverly Hills 90210. It is not a good song and because there is no “skip” button on vinyl, the listener will be forced to suffer through it.
Tenebrae is divided into two LPs. Both records are well-mixed and clean sounding. The first record, which is tagged as “blood red” vinyl, is the official film soundtrack. The second, the “Straight Razor Silver” vinyl, is a collection of alternate takes and mixes. Waxworks did something similar with their release of Dawn of the Dead. But on that album, the extras are stuck on at the end, like afterthoughts. By separating the main work from the extras, as they did on Tenebrae, Waxworks made the supplemental material feel more substantial and intentional. It makes for a better collection.
The album cover is brilliant. The inner sleeve features a close-up still shot of the character Tilde, played by Mirella D’Angelo. Her face is washed in red while her eyes are recolored blue for contrast. The outer sleeve is a simple image of white fabric, die-cut in the center. It creates a physical hole for the inner image to peer through. Tilde’s face, encompasses by the white cloth, cleverly recreates one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
The inner gatefold recreates another. This one was done with illustration instead of film stills. Artist Nikita Kaun renders an image of a victim who paints a wall with blood. The splash of color moves with vibrance and gesture.
As a movie, Tenebrae is largely metafictional. Dario Argento used this film as an expressive tool to reflect on his earlier works. A number of scenes in the movie directly relate to the horror-master’s history. The reunification of Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, and Massimo Morante, who were a major part of Argento’s past, adds to that. As a favor to Argento, the three talented artists put their differences behind them in the name of art, demonstrating how film and music has the power to bring people together.
But it also underlines why those musicians separated in the first place. Claudio Simonetti was simply growing in a different direction. He was embracing the 1980s, bringing then-new technology into the studio; a Roland Jupiter-8, an Oberheim DMX Digital Drum, a Roland TR-808, and a Roland MC-4 Microcomposer.
Tenebrae was a look back, but it was also a glance forward.