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King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King CD (album) cover

IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING

King Crimson

 

Eclectic Prog

4.63 | 4141 ratings

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Montrose31
5 stars King Crimson's debut album is considered to be the first progressive rock album in existence. While many can argue that proto-prog and prog-related acts contributed to its rise, it cannot be argued that 1969's "In the Court of the Crimson King" is progressive rock's Big Bang. It has come to define the genre, embodying its tenets of musical complexity, emphasis on classical arrangements and proficient use of changing time signatures, atypical themes, and musical motifs. As any seasoned listener of the genre is well-aware, King Crimson revolves around guitarist Robert Fripp, a god of the genre who still continues to perform to this day. His personal aura is by all means eccentric and unique, and the fact that he seldom made an effort to market or sell out his music to the mainstream only serves as a testament to his devotion towards his art. This album is perhaps the greatest showcase of said art.

"In the Court of the Crimson King" can best be summed up as a fusion between the burgeoning bluesy hard rock scene that was pioneered by other British acts such as Black Sabbath, Cream, and Led Zeppelin, and classical music. The band, which in its first generation is made up of Fripp, bassist (and vocalist) Greg Lake of future ELP fame, drummer Michael Giles, multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald (largely on flute and sax), and lyricist Peter Sinfield, was revolutionary in every sense of the word; a microcosm of what would be to come in the fruition of the progressive rock movement in the early seventies. The album serves as a window into the social culture of the late-sixties; just as other bands such as the Rolling Stones were embracing the counterculture and writing material which challenged issues such as the Vietnam War, King Crimson also contributed their fair share of criticism on this album, albeit with a very pessimistic and cynical tone. "21st Century Schizoid Man", the lead track, is a loud and violent maelstrom of nasty noise, fit with heavily distorted vocals for the otherwise brilliant and smooth cadence of Lake which is featured on the album's more mellow cuts such as "I Talk to the Wind" and "Moonchild". Apart from the lyrics, the song expresses boldly King Crimson's style; a seven-minute track, rife with extended instrumental passages where both McDonald & Giles get to showcase their talents.

King Crimson takes a very methodical and formulaic approach in how they present this album. The opener is brash and laden with the saxophone, while the succeeding "I Talk to the Wind" meets a sharp contrast with soothing flute and Lake's virgin vocals. "Epitaph" continues on the theme of pessimism but in a more romantic and emotional package than "Schizoid Man". It also introduces the mellotron keyboard (played by Fripp), which would come to become a definitive instrument of the genre. In these first three tunes, which span the first side of the record, King Crimson succinctly presents their sound, or at least the sound of the band's first generation. They leave no stone unturned in terms of giving each band member their own piece of the puzzle, and band leader Fripp is noticeably not in the spotlight, as he has never seemed to be throughout the band's existence. Fripp is one of those figures who, despite wielding intense and often fascistic power on the band's direction, does not present himself as such in the band's sound.

Side two is a little bit more abstract, with the first half being a showcase of the band's improvisational abilities. "Moonchild" is perhaps the least favorable cut on the album; while it has a well-defined romantic two-minute opening motif, the rest of the twelve-minute track is very sporadic and inaccessible. This is the only time on the album where I felt even remotely bored and unchallenged by the music, but even with the shortfall of this track, one can understand why the band would include improv to demonstrate their virtuosity. With that said, King Crimson would make it almost a tenet to feature improvisation all the way up until the end of the band's second generation in 1974. Finally, the album closer is the nine-minute title track, which alongside "Schizoid Man" is a quintessential fan favorite. The purpose of this cut is clear; to combine the motifs and elements of all tracks which precede it in one great musique concrete finale. Much of the track's emphasis is placed on the mellotron, which provides an invincible foundation and medium for perhaps one of the greatest choruses in rock music history.

There is no argument as to whether ITCOTCK is seminal to the progressive rock genre or not. It simply is. With that said, this album is especially deserving of a five-star rating, and should be one of the (if not the first), albums to listen to as a newcomer to the genre. It is only fitting as this IS the first progressive rock album, and is an incredible, enlightening, and powerful listen. While much of King Crimson's catalog may not sound like this album as the group has undergone major creative changes under Fripp's guidance from 1969 to 2019, I cannot recommend this band's music more. They are the band on which progressive rock was birthed; even contemporaries such as Yes noted that the band encouraged them to turn towards a progressive style as opposed to more conventional pop rock.

Montrose31 | 5/5 |

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