Thom Yorke Delivers a Chilling, Emotive Soundtrack to Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ Remake

The original “Suspiria” is Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 film about an American ballerina who goes to Germany, and ends up living in a full conspiratorial reality. Thom Yorke is just the artist to score Luca Guadagnino’s remake of this film, for several reasons. Consider his song, with Radiohead, “Ingenue.” The name itself fits the ballerina idea. And then, consider the words of “Idioteque,” “We’re not scaremongering / This is really happening” — paranoia succinctly expressed. With Yorke’s score of the film, he’s come up with an album that’s so fit for a horror movie that you don’t even need to see the film (though you should) to feel the horror.

It’s a bit surprising that Thom Yorke turned out a work like this, as Jonny Greenwood has always been the more cinematically inclined member of Radiohead, having become something of a regular for Paul Thomas Anderson scores. Yorke has always been the less academic, more elemental member, more about visceral things than elaborate compositional undertakings. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from listening to this record. The band has often spoken of their admiration for Penderecki, and the opening track certainly bears testament to this. It’s a delightfully discordant mess, with everything almost in harmony, but kept slightly away. It starts things off with plenty tension, but also plenty beauty. The psychedelic overtones to the orchestral instrumentation are vaguely reminiscent of Walter Carlos’ “Clockwork Orange” opening theme, which is very fitting, considering the dark, subversive storyline soundtracked.

“The Hooks” is a spacious, atmospheric track with prickly, icy piano. Midway, strings enter, and it grows chillingly emotive. There are brief breaths and vague utterances recorded that serve to bring an otherwise removed piece of music suddenly down to Earth in a very dramatic way, making for a primal, immediate experience. Next comes the title track, which will prove a real treat to fans of Yorke, as it has him finally singing, and capturing the same aesthetic as in classic Radiohead tracks. It’s a piano and vocals number, a little reminiscent of the most recent iteration of “True Love Waits.” Then, things get dreadfully spooky on the rather hilariously titled “Belongings Thrown In a River.” Imagine “Twin Peaks” times fifty, and you’ll have an idea.

“Has Ended” is a droney, Eastern-tinged number, with Yorke bellowing away as if in a trance. There’s a sixties vibe, bringing you back to the days when it was common practice for bands to flock to India, and return in full costume. Towards the end, it gets almost like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. At this point, Yorke has a few patterns that come up so often that they’re a mark of identity, and the next track, “Open Again” is a case in point. It’s quite like “The Present Tense” from Radiohead’s last album, in the instrumental melodies. There’s more discordant background noise though, fitting with the mood of the affair at large, and it’s all coordinated perfectly. “Sabbath Incarnation” is basically Gregorian chant. It’s unclear exactly what Yorke’s contribution to this track was, but it’s safe to say he’s probably not on vocals. At any rate, it’s a natural extension of the mood established thus far, and it adds a nostalgic, cinematic romance.

Yorke’s piano playing has always been informed by a bit of the avant garde. It’s always immediately sentimental, and readily accessible overall, but also takes outlandishly bold directions in some of its whims. “Olga’s Destruction” is just this. It makes a brilliant example of why Yorke was just the right person to recruit for this soundtrack. He has a balance of level-headedness and outsider posturing that makes for some deeply stirring music, and this is the type of song that will make longterm fans gush. “Unmade” is a sprawling, museful song that seems fit for a transitional moment in the film — one with less gore, frenzy, and doom and gloom. It’s Yorke at his most comfortably reflective, and it makes for a welcome change of pace.   

“Volk” brings back the “Clockwork Orange” vibe, with scraping, morphing sounds layered over a basic piano piece, creating a very surreal, unsettling experience that grows only weirder as it progresses. Midway, you might as well be listening to Schoenberg. By the end, a beat takes over, and it becomes very Cirque du Soleil. “The Universe Is Different” expands on this feeling, getting very, very serious. Yorke shows up on vocals again, but basked in a sea of strings that makes him come across as a haunted child of sorts. There are tons of luscious strings, and Yorke bleating, caught in the mist, and it all sounds very cinematic—perfect for a movie, but a bit confusing for a Radiohead fan. You have to pause for a second, and just take it to measure. He’s writing a soundtrack after all, and he’s doing a brilliant job. By the end of the song, it’s so dramatic that you’d be likely to shed a tear.

“A Balance of Things” segues into an extreme of a sound, and it’s so brief that it’s a real tease. It’s the same thing with “A Soft Hand Across Your Face”— just a brief, intense onslaught.Then, “Suspirium Premium” strikes, and the buildup to it is well worth it. Yorke has been delving in orchestral stuff for multiple tracks, and now, he finally gets back to what he’s known for, back on vocals, but with extra intense strings, making everything extremely dramatic. Any true Radiohead fan will likely stop in his/her tracks, and draw a gasp. This is unreal. It’s surely an highlight, and what motion picture action it happens to accommodate is just extra pleasure, as it’s already, in of itself, magical.

“A Choir Of One” is a song that stands up to its title, as Thom Yorke is literally a choir of one on this album, throwing all caution to the wind, and just doing his own thing. The song is very much what you would expect — classical music with Thom Yorke bellowing away — and he does it remarkably well. At this point, it’s undeniable that this is an effective soundtrack. It’s so emotivive that if you’re not already teary-eyed, you must just be admirably cold. “Synthesizer Speaks” is a mystery of a track. It seems like Yorke is maybe just having a bit of a laugh. “Yorke Speaks” would be a more appropriate title, or even better, “Yorke Mumbles.” It’s a bit of heavy breathing, sighing, and finally some intense screaming. The screaming at the end is significant, as it show Yorke is still as intense as he was back in the day. There’s an MTV performance of “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” in which Yorke goes completely haywire, ad libbing lyrics about Jim Morrison, really venting, saying “Fat, ugly, dead,” in a hardcore punk growl, and then dives into the swimming pool. The scream at the end of this song is the first time since then that he’s been so intense.

“The Room Of Compartments” is back to Penderecki — a discordant circus, running just seconds, but so intense that it’s really enough. Come “Voiceless Terror,” two tracks later, the aforementioned track seems like a nursery rhyme. Things have gotten very dark and dystopian, and you can only imagine the film that would fit with this music. “The Epilogue” finishes things off thematically, with a piano track in the midst of soaring, raging atonal strings. It’s a horrific ending to a horror film, and it seems just about right.

“Suspiria” is literally a hell of a score. Yorke has tapped into the more avant strain of classical music, capturing tension in a way that cuts deep. And then, there are the few actual songs, which find Yorke in his most theatrical and dramatic form — think “Everything In Its Right Place” from the groundbreaking “Kid A.” The score is so poignant that it beckons for you to see the film it’s meant for. And it shows Yorke delving into an unprecedented compositional capacity.   

Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film)” is available Oct. 26 on Apple Music.