In these pages, your humble reporter has extolled the virtues of many artists whose music draws creative breath from the classic Italian horror and exploitation movie scores of the ‘70s and ‘80s – Goblin offshoot band Daemonia; beloved synth-rock duo Zombi; Swedish outfit Anima Morte; hip-hop artists like Mr. Hyde, DW Bucks & Big Foot Lee… you get my drift. But they all have two very important things in common: first, lots of talent; second, a lifelong passion for a particular brand of cinematic strangeness – the creative wellspring from which all their blood-soaked beats flow. You might not know all their names, as so many of them labor in obscurity, happily pleasing any audience large or small fortunate enough to fall under their spell. One of those artists, UK-based outfit The Giallos Flame, is at last slithering out of the shadows of the indie music scene and grabbing unsuspecting listeners by the boo-boo.
Giallos Flame is primarily the product of multi-instrumentalist Ron Graham, who writes and performs all his own material – apart from the contributions of various session musicians (mostly on drums). Forming the band in 2001 as a way of paying fond tribute to the movie themes he loved while growing up in the ‘80s, Graham made a bloody splash with the Flame’s self-titled debut album, which got many North American fans’ attention thanks to a favorable review in Rue Morgue magazine. Though their distribution is still fairly limited, the band’s popularity has grown quite a bit over the past few years by word of mouth or on the convention circuit, and thankfully most of their output is finally available for digital download through most of the main vendors – including the most recent full-length effort House at the Edge of the Dark.
Graham’s influences are purely cinematic – more specifically, the kinds of cinema I love the most: Italian horror flicks and poliziotteschi (police thrillers) from the ‘70s and ‘80s, exploitation and slasher movies from the same period, and all the various genre offerings whose unique character came in part (or in whole) from the creative contributions of legendary artists Goblin, Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, and Tangerine Dream – not to mention lesser-known but no less revered Italian composers like Fabio Frizzi, Riz Ortolani and Bruno Nicolai. In other words, names which feature prominently in my music library (and no doubt yours too, if you’re a frequent visitor here). You may not know some of these composers by name, but if you’re even remotely interested in horror and exploitation films from the last three decades, you’ve probably heard most of their work in some form or other.
It was only a matter of time before independent filmmakers who shared Graham’s influences called on his services to score their own projects: Giallos tunes have accompanied films like the controversial Murder Set-Pieces and the Grindhouse mock trailer contest winner Hobo With A Shotgun (which is now in talks for a feature version), as well as the Troma-released Easter Bunny! Kill! Kill! Graham has also recently been commissioned (under the band name Bamboo Gods) to score the sleazy cult horror project Black Devil Doll, a loose sequel/remake of the ‘80s underground video favorite.
The Flame’s track titles are almost entirely reflective of the movies which influenced them… “Nightmare City,” “The Violent Professionals,” “The Seventh Sign”… few are straight thematic lifts from these movies’ themes, but most are intended to capture the essence and visceral feeling of what it’s like to kick back and watch Ian McCulloch blow away plaster-faced zombies, or see Franco Nero’s glorious mustache in action as he's run over by a Mustang. House at the Edge of the Dark (one word removed from the Ruggero Deodato sleaze flick House at the Edge of the Park) is no exception, and although quite brief in length, it’s still a hearty plate full of deep-fried awesome.
Built mainly around the driving rhythms – thick, fat drums and ground-shaking bass (both from bass guitar and dirty synths) – the tracks build in stages, layer upon layer, to create tension and unease, and also in thematic stages, like the three acts of a movie. The instruments are soothing in that sweet, warm and gritty analog way… something that today’s canned, sampled horror scores sorely lack. Graham’s axes of choice are mostly what you’d expect: a wide assortment of vintage keyboards – including the ‘80s-standard Prophet and the always recognizable Mellotron (or likely a good virtual version) – and lots of sleazy-sounding guitar (often treated with deep, murky psychedelic tape delay), all anchored with cocky, plucked & slapped bass guitar and fat, juicy analog synth bass lines. Despite a progressive rock feel to the more Italian-flavored cuts, the melodies remain simple and uncluttered, in keeping with the cinematic sensibility that music should enhance the story, not compete with it. The difference here is that the images to which these tunes are so perfectly suited will play out entirely in your imagination.
Standout tracks are the damn-tastically huge title theme, which opens the album with a thunderous synth bass blast and segues into smooth Hammond organ chops; the wah-wah guitar licks of “1979 Bronx Warriors” and “Tenebre Viventi,” the warm filter sweeps of “Alphataurus” (which give way to some impressive guitar & drum interplay that reminded me a lot of Alice Cooper's original lineup), and the slasher-movie synth stabs of “Interceptors.” The oddball Ennio Morricone-styled sax moans of “Jazz Killer” and underwater vibraphone of “Colour Climax” serve to remind you that Giallo is indeed this band's bag. The moody piano, violin and chorus of “Requiem for a Vampire” acts as a smooth, red-satin final curtain, giving you the satisfied feeling of attending a personal screening of a lost genre gem found in some dank vault beneath Italy's Cinecitta studios.
Affection for this music comes naturally to folks like us... if you’re into the surreal works of Dario Argento, the gore-drenched classics of Lucio Fulci, or the sleazy crime thrillers of Enzo Castellari, listening to these tracks will make you feel like you’re cruising rain-slicked nighttime streets, running down shuffling zombies in your burnt-orange Fiat while chasing that elusive black-gloved killer. If the previous sentence means nothing more to you than a bunch of strange names and weird references, then a) you probably won’t understand how cool this music is until you actually hear it; and b) you need some serious schooling in the stuff that really matters. But I have a feeling if you’re still reading this you’re already tuned in to the right frequency, so no problem there.
But still, don’t take my word for it… check out some sample tracks at The Flame's official MySpace, including some sweet interpretations of John Carpenter’s music from The Fog and Goblin’s Dawn of the Dead theme.