When Spencer Hickman launched the Death Waltz Recording Company in 2011, he started more than a business; he reanimated the sound of horror cinema for a new generation of fans.
Within its first year, Death Waltz issued a set of eight essential scary scores, including Fabio Frizzi's backing for the zombie-gore classic Zombie Flesh Eaters and John Carpenter and Alan Howarth's work for the 1981 cult classic Escape From New York. They all arrived on heavyweight colored vinyl, with freshly commissioned artwork for the LP covers and foldout posters.
"They're just about the perfect storm of a release for manic collectors," says Chaz Martenstein, owner of Durham's Bull City Records. "They fit the criteria for vinyl collectors with their high-quality pressings and beautiful packaging, horror movie fanatics with their subject matter, and art collectors with their re-envisioned artwork."
Other labels with names like Mondo, Waxwork and One Way Static soon followed Death Waltz's lead, adding titles such as The Deadly Spawn and The Last House on the Left to shelves now swollen with deluxe horror soundtracks previously relegated to the cheap CDs of die-hard fanboys. The vinyl resurgence seems to have led to a live one, too, as acts like Frizzi and Howarth have returned to major stages in the U.S. and abroad. On Saturday, the band that many consider to be the unholy grail of horror-score acts—Italy's Goblin, known best for scoring giallo films like Suspiria and Tenebre in their native Italy and George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead stateside—will end a second run of North American tour dates at Cat's Cradle. Four-fifths of their 1975-era lineup remains.
But Sorry State Records owner Daniel Lupton sees this revival as a reflection more of the movies' popularity and the reissues' aesthetic splurges, not the music's standalone appeal. "Goblin seems to be the exception to that rule in that people actually listen to them and have an interest in seeing them live," he says. "That said, it's hard to imagine Goblin being anything but a cult prog band without the films."
Even as the market for such soundtracks has become crowded, Lupton admits that they sell well, particularly when it comes to the John Carpenter scores. But acts inspired by soundtrack music—from Daniel Lopatin's VHS-drone outfit Oneohtrix Point Never to English producer Antoni Maiovvi—haven't necessarily followed that same surge.
"I wanted the new Oneohtrix Point Never to sell to John Carpenter fans and vice versa," says Martenstein, "but it was harder to force than I would have thought."
There are exceptions; Kansas City's Matt Hill, who records as Umberto, has earned crossover support from horror fans. Released by the outlandish electronic label Not Not Fun and on the heels of favorable headlines for Death Waltz' reissues, his latest, Confrontations, is one of the few modern descendants of the form that doesn't sit on the shelves of Carrboro's All Day Records very long.
"It's a tall order for any current musicians who are focused on various vibes from the past to compete with classic recording," explains All Day co-owner Charlie Hearon.
But maybe that's a matter of timing: For more than a decade, the New York-and-Pennsylvania duo Zombi has crafted driving instrumentals inspired not only by Goblin and Carpenter but also jazz legend Herbie Hancock and prog giants Rush, Genesis and Yes. Zombi synth player and bassist Steve Moore came to the music through the movies. Dawn of the Dead introduced him to Goblin and sparked a lifelong interest in the Italo-prog legends. He and Zombi drummer Anthony Paterra bonded over a shared love for fright flicks from the '70s and '80s.
But he says that the popularity of horror reissues hasn't boosted Zombi's profile. In fact, the dance music he's crafted under different guises has earned the most attention.
Now, though, Zombi is touring with Goblin. That move prompted the duo's longtime label, heavy metal outlet Relapse Records, to reissue vinyl editions of Zombi's first three albums—2004's Cosmos, 2006's Surface to Air and 2009's Spirit Animal. Death Waltz even pressed Moore's soundtrack to Christopher Garetano's indie-horror documentary Horror Business. If any band is poised to capitalize on the horror-score surge, it seems to be Zombi.
"Years ago, if you said you liked soundtracks, people thought you were a bit of a nerd and ignored you," Death Waltz's Hickman told Pitchfork in September. "But when you have, say, Justice sampling Tenebre [in their 2007 song "Phantom"] and turning it into a massive dancefloor anthem, and Boards of Canada saying Fabio Frizzi was a huge influence on their new record, it helps change people's perception a lot."
While that might make the indie-centric music press more welcoming to music for or inspired by films, perception was never a problem for Zombi, given their relationship with Relapse and the natural correlation between horror cinema and heavy metal. Zombi quickly found an audience among metalheads. Moore thinks that, like film music, Zombi's music shouldn't require a moving picture or larger cultural context to be successful.
"Film music is pure mood," he says. "It doesn't have to tell a story like pop music, or even hold your complete attention. Its purpose is to elicit emotional responses. Good film music will do this with or without the visual accompaniment."
On stage, Goblin and Zombi have a chance to prove it.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Nasty Delights."