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King Crimson - Starless And Bible Black CD (album) cover

STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

3.88 | 1186 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review 32, Starless And Bible Black, King Crimson, 1974

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This album was very difficult to get to grips with, compared to either its predecessor or its successor. Firstly, the sheer amount of texture-based improvisation means that you (well, I, you might not) have to attach the right idea or image to a piece. Second, John Wetton's vocals take a deliberate shift to a much thicker and edgier tone, which is less instantly likable, but leaves a greater lasting appeal. However, a lot of listens have left this album as a great favourite of mine, the Crimson album I'll put on for a spin when I feel like putting on a Crimson album. The improvised nature and distinct edges have left this album very enjoyable after a lot of listens. My only quibble with it is that I haven't yet found the right idea for the admittedly excellent Starless And Bible Black itself.

Starless and Bible Black kicks off with the aggressive rocker 'The Great Deceiver'. Dominated by a violin riff, monstrous percussion from Bruford and a superb example of both Wetton's thick bass and Fripp's very precise guitar. Wetton gives the vocals a rather malady-like sound, and the various harmonies are mostly lead-ups to stunning returns-to-form, and it's very impressive how they can return to sound like they're sounding the same as they did earlier while being completely different with classic solos from Cross and Wetton, before dropping off into Lament. Lyrically, the song's quite amusing if you're impervious to the PC elements of society, but I can see how they'd be offensive to some people.

Lament is a very clever two-part song, with a juxtaposition of a quirky 'ballad' and a ferocious drum-driven part which is able to make me go into a chorea-like state. The first part features a thick guitar and Wetton's rather deliberately thick vocals, and a duet of wailing guitars and violins (and an occasional bass flourish). A mellotron gives a background for the others to play over. Following the conclusion of this washed-out rock-star story, Wetton and Bruford lead us onto the heavier, biting rock song, with a savagely compelling drum part, some Fripp whirring of the highest order, great shouting vocals and superb splintering violin. Seriously edgy and again impressively minimalistically concluded.

We'll Let You Know is the first of the album's improvised pieces, with its rather dissonant feel, some truly weird percussion from Bruford, including something sounding like a horse's hooves, dancy use of sheets and proper drums. Fripp and Cross wail away cheerfully in a catlike, while Wetton does what you expect an entire rhythm section to do, only better. The sarcastic wailing disappears promptly and cheerfully.

The Night Watch is the most clearly directed of the album's pieces, deriving from Rembrandt's painting of the same name. A combination of mutilated mellotron, chaotic tingly and normal percussion, and delicate bass leads up to the wallowing vocals. The middle section, however, is where the utter perfection comes through. Wetton's folk-like vocal suits the song perfectly, Bruford and Cross (mellotron) handle the softer song's needs with no slips whatsoever. The real standout player here is Fripp with his combination of gorgeous guitar soloing and minimalistic solos. A tragic mellotron-whirling leads us with David Cross's violin to a final conclusion. Gorgeous, and it perfectly captures the feel of the painting.

Trio is mostly indescribable. A soft, improvised trio (oh wow), with all three musicians fitting in place perfectly. Wetton provides a soft acoustic bass part, slowly building up, but never dominating, David Cross provides some reconciliatory violin, and Fripp (some sort of keyboard with a flute-like sound, possibly a 'tron) similarly plays without any real boundaries in the music. A relaxing rest, and a truly uplifting piece of music.

The Mincer is an acquired taste, with its hideously dark atmosphere, curious ending choice (the tape runs out), combination of haunting solos from Fripp and Cross with a thick harmonised vocal and the bursts of Bruford percussion. As always, John Wetton provides a thundering and original bass part, including high parts. A burst of energy gives way to the tape running out, which apparently Cross and Fripp loved to pieces, while Bruford and Wetton didn't. Superb, but definitely acquired.

Starless And Bible Black is the third of the album's improvisations, with a rather bleak feel evoked by the title. I'm not quite certain what exactly the theme is, and though I enjoy the entire piece, I find it difficult to attach the right imagery and ideas to it. The second I get this piece, this album will be upgraded to a five star rating.

The standout player is indubitably Fripp, who provides some wailing solos happily reminiscent of Prince Rupert's Lament. Bill Bruford takes an assortment of percussion, while John Wetton provides a rather jumpy and sudden bass-line and David Cross's mellotron both lends a certain dissonance to the piece and highlights the others' playing. This intelligent assortment of ideas gradually builds into a more substantial piece, with a more typically used 'tron and increasingly impressive Fripp shrieks and Bruford crashes. The piece returns to a more minimalistic sound a little around six and a half minutes in, allowing some gorgeous soft guitar from Fripp and then a decisive conclusion with Cross, Bruford and Fripp combining forces to lower the piece to its equally bleak conclusion. All in all, a distinctly dark, bleak and uninvasive improvisation. Still, I can appreciate the components, but not the grand design.

Fracture is the conclusion to the album, and my favourite piece from it. A masterful, colourful piece of semi-improvisation with strong imagery and superb interplay between the quartet. Fripp's guitar introduces us to the tiny cracks in the earth, with some Wetton bass, plucked violin and Bruford choices giving us a few more tiny tears, which the various instruments gradually extend to produce an image of several increasingly widening and stretching rifts. Clever minimalistic guitar-playing and xylophone continue to take us on this musical and geological journey, and are then accompanied by a violin and a bass to provide a richer texture. Eventually, squirming solos from Cross and Wetton with a rich drumming background move us into the first tremors. A minute or so of calm guitar and whinnying bass and violin provides the calm before the storm with the knowledge that the full quake will be hitting us soon enough.

Suddenly, out of this, Fripp's guitar explodes, with a thundering bass, shrieking mellotron, insanely building percussion from Bruford. Wetton gives us a superb bass solo before David Cross's violin returns to provide Fripp with something to echo. Cross and Wetton engage in what is almost a duel, with Fripp providing a couple of additions, while Bruford tingles and crashes in behind them. A dazzling set of bass-parts from Wetton, Bruford's powerful, percussive rolls and Fripp's flawless guitar leave us stunned in the aftermath of this sonic earthquake. Masterly Crimson material, and this track alone is worth the price of the album.

In conclusion, I'm not yet giving this album five stars, because I haven't yet 'got' the title track, but I may later change my mind on that. Essential listening for anyone interested in progressive rock, and especially a Crimson fan like myself. Be warned that this is not an easy album, and will require the right mindset and energy while listening to appreciate, and is unlikely to be love at first listen for many. It may not be love at all for those not interested in the textures and ideas behind the improvised pieces. Still, a set of unforgettable atmospheres, and at least worth trying. Leave it for later in the Crimson collection, but don't leave it altogether.

Rating: Four Stars Favourite Track: Fracture

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |

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