CD: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

April 30, 2013 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Cinevox (Italy)/ Released: 1998

Tracks & Album Length: 17 tracks / (51:15)

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Special Notes: 8-page colour booklet.

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Composer: Goblin

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Review:

It’s pretty striking that Goblin’s score (most of which was replaced with stock music in the U.S. edit supervised by director George Romero) has aged so well since its conception in 1978, but that may be due to the band’s combined roots in jazz, rock, and classical training, as well as current composers incorporating retro sounds and elements into their own horror scores.

“L’alba dei morti viventi” is a great opening track, designed like an elongated pall of doom, with a heavy bass symbolizing a march of the zombies, and subtle bell clangs hinting at the carnage living humans will face when the walking dead swarm and surround them.

The film’s titular track, “Zombi,” was largely used as an action cue, and was most prominently featured near the film’s middle when the group of survivors attempt to take a pair of rigs from a loading centre back to the shopping centre while zombies mill and wander around the premises.

Goblin’s cue is layered with wordless chorals, and multiple percussion instruments including tympani, congas, ripping bass drum, and wooden percussion hits that evoke the prior stereotype of zombies being feral creatures from African cultures. The cue’s structure is divided by a peculiar fandango that also recalls the stock music fanfare used to alert TV viewers of an important newsbreak. (Goblin actually bookend the cue with the motif, ostensibly packaging their musical portrait of carnage like a news brief.)

African imagery also dominates “Safari,” with quasi-African chants, ethnic percussion, and shrieking voices reverberating in the background. The cue has no real development, and functions like some of the stock music cues Romero used in the film. Goblin’s “Torte in facia” evokes a similar absurd comedy as Herbert Chappell’s “The Gonk,” one of the better-known stock cues in Dawn, but “Torte” is much broader, with its honky-tonk piano riffs and drum stick hits evoking a giddy spree in a Keystone Cops short.

In “Ai margini della follia,” wooden marimba hits and undulating synth notes dominate this variation of “L’alba,” and the only unchanged element from the main version is the bass line, performed in tandem with timpani hits.

Goblin’s prog-rock roots are fused with a disco beat in the action cue “Zaratozom,” with duel electric guitars, jazzy electric bass, and a spiraling electronic pulse reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder’s Midnight Express theme.

“La caccia” is a variation of the “Zombi” theme, retaining the synth fandango, yet furthering the cue with a melodic line led by a fast-moving acoustic guitar, and gradual addition of synthetic chords. Instead of an action cue, “Caccia” seems to celebrate the excitement of the chase, with a melody that warms up the cue’s tenor, and matches the adrenaline rush as characters attempt to further outwit the masses of zombies.

Dawn may be Goblin’s most eclectic score because the group really twisted their themes into some distinctive idiomatic designs, which they hadn’t been required to do in prior scores for Dario Argento.

Morphing into a New Age/country sound, “Tirassegno” is comprised of a distilled, breezy version of the “Zombi” fandango, with gentle piano, electric violin emulations, and light percussions. The group also added a rustic violin, and several acoustic strums to create a wild blend of organic and synth sounds that never clash; it’s just a stylistically jarring cue within the score, and that may be one of the reasons the cue didn’t really register with Romero in his U.S. cut.

“Oblio” finds Goblin in a more meditative state, taking the pulsing and chiming motifs from “L’alba” and distilling them into a repeated piano figure, with simple chord changes. The melody is played on synth emulations of lower brass, and some nice improv on electric bass and tenor sax. It’s hard to say where the cue would’ve fit, since it straddles the border between a scene where two characters are involved in a heated, sweaty love scene, or everyone’s just lying in the attic, enjoying a long toke while zombies bump around the mall.

A jazzy, abstract piano solo is all that’s present in “Risveglio,” a cue that closed the original soundtrack album. (Cinevox’ CD actually replicates the order of the first 10 cues, and fills up the disc’s second half with previously unreleased alternates, many of which were used in the European edit.) Again, while it and the prior cue, “Oblio,” wound down the album to a slow and easy finale, one can’t see where Romero would’ve placed the jazz cue when the film’s finale has characters changing into zombies, killing each other, and running to the rooftop helicopter before they’re swarmed.

The CD’s other alternates include three versions of “L’alba”: the first with less instrumentation, and more spacey keyboards; the second is a bluesy funk version which may have been intended as supermarket Muzak, but contains some great improv segments on keyboards and electric guitar; and the last variation is basically a short cue made up of a few chord hits, with voices, fuzzy bass and keyboards combine as dramatic stabs.

Undulating electronic tones, ripples, moaning and shrill keyboards make up the structure of the first “Ai margini” variation, whereas the second consist of squealing notes and an electric bass pulse that would’ve worked in scenes where the humans scramble to evade the zombies (or in some movie about a killer super-computer with lots of evil blinky-blinky lights).

Goblin also performed a jazz version of the “Zombi” theme, with sultry sax, light percussion, and flowing piano. The theme is virtually unrecognizable, and one suspects this may have been written as a source cue playing from a radio or record, since it doesn’t develop into anything, and just fades out after 2 mins.

The CD closes with an effects track featuring processed screams, which doesn’t really add much to the album, but it’s an amusing bonus.

Those wanting a cleanly remastered album of Dawn won’t be disappointed by this release, but it doesn’t offer any new incidental tracks. One suspects Goblin had their group of themes, and worked out various versions while the film was being assembled for two markets, leaving Romero and Argento to sort out the score + stock cues ratio.

For longer and meatier versions of the cues “Zombi,” “L’alba” and “Caccia,” fans should check out Dark Water Transit’s Dawn of the Goblin CD. It’s a too-brief half-hour album, but contains faithful versions of the film’s three main themes, expanded to double their original running times.

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© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB DVD ReviewSoundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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