Okay, full disclosure time: I've been a fan of Claudio Simonetti and his musical projects ever since I experienced the opening minutes of Suspiria, which is also the first film by Dario Argento ever to flash before my stunned eyeballs. A couple of decades have passed since then, but I have yet to hear any music from Claudio and his various collaborators that I didn't enjoy – including scores to films I've long since forgotten, and a few I haven't even seen yet. Among the latter is the latest Argento epic to feature Simonetti's music: the much-talked-about Dracula 3D.
This isn't the first time I've reviewed the score to an Argento film before seeing the film itself: I also had the unique pleasure of reviewing Simonetti's wonderfully bizarre gothic rock opera soundtrack to The Mother of Tears long before the film's international release. Sure, that movie caught unholy hell from a lot of outraged horror fans, and I won't even get into that debate here... but I fell in love with the score, and it holds a place of honor in my music library. I'm not immune to the chatter about the new flick either, although much of what I've heard has been positive, so that's a good sign... and once again, I have a new soundtrack to include among my favorites.
The major difference between the Dracula score and Claudio's previous work with Dario is the superbly old-school style he employs to bring Bram Stoker's 19th Century gothic tale to life. Whether composing with Goblin (Simonetti is a founding member, but no longer officially in the band) or writing solo, Claudio has often referenced classical works, but is mainly known for experimenting with more modern music genres, from '70s progressive rock and metal to disco and electronica. Not so for this score, which has the texture and mood of a vintage Hammer film (which I suspect may also apply to the movie itself, if the clips I've seen are any indication). The only real break from this style is the opening track “Kiss Me Dracula,” a fun gothic rock single with an operatic flair, gorgeous theremin and sultry female vocals. It's much more subdued than the black-metalized “Mater Lachrimarum” from Mother of Tears (which featured vocals from Cradle of Filth frontman Dani Filth), but it's a treat for fans of female-fronted metal in the mode of Within Temptation, and it's definitely going in my Halloween mix this year.
One thing this album does have in common with Simonetti's previous score is the track listing, which isolates each individual musical cue rather than blending groups of connected cues or themes together. The result is a whopping 46 tracks on one hour-long CD, many of them less than a minute in length. While it might not shuffle so well with other songs in your playlist, this album is meant to be experienced as a whole – there's a story that unfolds here, almost in real time, as you kick back and drink it all in (insert lame bloodsucking joke here), and that's exactly what I did... and now I'm in full-on lust with this album, possibly in ways that are illegal in some areas.
From the booming introduction of the “Dracula Suite,” you are immediately transported to a bygone era when composers like Bernard Hermann reigned supreme (the many theremin flourishes call to mind The Day the Earth Stood Still), and from there on out you're plunged into a lush, silky score that's so elegantly old-school gothic you can practically smell the frankincense. While the softer romantic motifs like “Tania” are often carried by a gypsy-style solo violin, cello and grand piano, the more chilling moments are accompanied by electronic elements – not just the aforementioned theremin, but some eerie, dark ambient backgrounds and even occasional electro rhythms, loops and samples. There's never a sense of disconnect between the traditional and modern instruments; large-scale arrangements like “Jonathan In Passburg” and the goose-bumpy “Free Renfield” and “Repentance” weave all the diverse elements together seamlessly, often with haunting accents of ghostly female vocals; creepy multi-tracked whispers seem to follow in the vampire's wake in “The Legend of Dracula” and motifs like “Dracula's Blood” match melody lines between violin and theremin in ways that will make your inner monster kid jump for joy. Violins become screeching bats in “Awakening,” a cathedral pipe organ plays into the mood on tracks like “Lucy's House” and “Cruel Impalement.” Delicate touches of harp accent darker cues like “Vampires,” completing the gothic circle of awesome.
There are fewer distinct motifs than you might expect from a mainly orchestral score, but Claudio seems to be playing by a looser set of rules here, with more emphasis on atmosphere and tension (both sexual and horrific) than creating musical sketches of the characters. Textures and tones are key, usually created out of jarring rhythms, usually in the lower ranges of timpani and guttural synth and string bass – from the monstrous heartbeat of “The Asylum” to pulse-pounding chase cues like “Zoran,” the funky shuffle of “Silver Bullets” and the dissonant, abstract tones of “Kaserne.” As the album enters the second half, the structure becomes even more unsettling (“Suicide” is particularly nightmarish, reminding me a lot of Wendy Carlos's original music for The Shining) and there's even a few menacing electronic stings that leap out in the high range while you're being lulled into a false sense of security by velvety strings and piano... I'll admit a couple of these caught me totally off-guard in a darkened room. “Scary Story” is another gem, with ghostly moans creeping through insect-like string jabs before unleashing a screeching blast in the next cut “Tania's Attack.” The brass section comes mostly into play during the final climactic cues, kicking up the grandeur another notch for a memorable final curtain in “Evil Dies.”
I'm not sure if the full cinematic experience of Dracula 3D can reach the bar set by Simonetti's superb score, but even if it falls short, I'll still be including this album on my must-listens of 2012. Listening to the record calls up such amazing mental images that I'm almost reluctant to link them to the onscreen visuals... and as a lifelong Argento freak, that's saying a lot. Of course I'll have to see the flick soon, before my curiosity eats me alive, but one thing's for sure: this movie's gonna sound great.