Horror soundtrack music is really getting a massive resurgence at the moment. It’s partly due to Claudio Simonetti and his tireless gigging with his version of Goblin doing live shows accompanied by the Dario Argento films that they scored in the late 70’s and 80’s and also due to Fabio Frizzi who is equally revered mainly due to the work he did with Lucio Fulci enhancing the scare factors to his Italian splatter zombie epics from the same era. Just the other day news filtered through that another version of Goblin (Goblin Rebirth) helmed by drummer Agostino Marangolo and bassist Fabio Pignatelli had just signed to none other than Relapse Records and are also poised to take to the stage. For some of us who grew up on the films and love the music to them in equal measures this is good news but also slightly sour as it means the resurrection has been jumped upon by a proliferation of hipsters looking for retro action or the next big thing without a bastard clue of its origins or knowledge of why this form of music, synonymous to the time it developed in, is so revered.
One person who is definitely no band wagon jumper is Fredrik Klingwall a Swedish keyboardist who is known for his work in progressive metal band Loch Vostock as well as having been in Flagellation, Machinery and In Grey. He is no stranger to these pages not just due to work with them but also for his more soundtrack orientated work with Anima Morte. It has actually been a while since I last heard from the project with 2011 release ‘The Nightmare Becomes Reality’ but aptly enough just around Halloween the new album Upon Darkened Stains digitally dropped in for me to spend some more unsettling nights with and face the sea of darkness once again.
It’s such a comfortable place putting on an album like this as every track pretty much tells a story that I know so well and as I said grew up on. It’s not unoriginal in the slightest though as Klingwall joined by Teddy Möller, Stefan Granberg & Daniel Cannerfelt put their own authentic twist on things. Eerie and evocative piano work funereally takes us into the realm of unease with the gentle ‘Blessing Of The Dead.’ Mist is seeping through a graveyard at night if you close your eyes and you know that horror is all too soon going to rise from the tomb! This it does with ‘Illusion Is The Catalyst’ in all its phantasmagorical splendour. It’s got a Giallo etched weave about the twisty-turning keyboards and takes you down corridors and dark passages with drumming entering as it stalks and slashes away like a knife in a black gloved hand. You can easily think it reminds of such and such a film and indeed it does many but none specifically, it is all about the essence and atmospheres of all the great movies without copying any of them specifically. It does seem much more the work of a fully fletched band from previous albums here and you could easily be mistaken for thinking you were listening to Goblin in their prime.
You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of Italian genre film to get a kick out of this, indeed any prog head should find themselves at home if not somewhat scared by what they are hearing here. ‘Ephemeris’ starts off with some trilling flute and practically drops me in Ozric Tentacles Erpland as though an acid tab had been taken and the trip had gone bad and into Suspiria territory with ghostly backing choral chants. There’s a good hours-worth of material here and it’s all very versatile, each track giving out different nuances of fear. I find it good fun with an album like this to drop on a film and see how it works with it and this does so incredibly well be it Profondo Rosso or City Of The Living Dead. The disconcerting skewed riffs of ‘Fear Will Pass Over Your Mind’ are like a nightmarish fever dream then the mellower waft of ‘Wakeless’ is an early morning dreaded hours sort of place that is neither asleep or awake, the guitar work on this is really good.
A lot of the time this exudes a feeling of “is this a dream or reality” and I keep getting the delightful vision of Jennifer Connelly sleepwalking through Argento’s Phenomena, especially with the somewhat magical strains of the mysterious ‘The Darkest Pattern.’ The excellent retro keyboard jousts within ‘The Carrion Crow’ really make it a stand out track and one that you can bounce along with as it picks up the pace on the album and rocks out a bit more.
For some reason ‘Echoing The Red’ reminds me a bit of something more futuristic, a landscape of steel surrounded by the aimless dead or some sort of genetic mutation from outer space. Ok well it has the feel of both the end scenes of Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh and Cozzi’s Contamination about it, two excellent 1980 Italian splat-fests both utilising the same Goblin score. All nightmares must come to an end and this one does as day maybe dawns with the meandering caress of ‘Halls Of Death’ but there is a bite in the tale as it has left you with a false sense of security and waking up the terror continues as it powers away to conclusion talking you back to ‘The Beyond’ in a giddying ride, the flute mocking you on the way.
‘Upon Darkened Strains’ is a rare example of music that simply isn’t made that much anymore and a true symphony of shock and soundtrack of the supernatural. Turn the lights off, put a favourite Italian movie (subtitles an option) and accompanying wine, headphones on and press play to enter another world. Just remember reality will never be the same again.
(8/10 Pete Woods)