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


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.89 | 1306 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars There's no other way to say it - King Crimson got arrogant. As complex as Larks was, Crimson had a whole other side to their performance style - the kind of endless improvised jams that categorize much of The Night Watch. These jams actually gained this incarnation a LOT of infamy and popularity (in limited circles, of course) - no other rock band had a jamming style quite like this - and as such the band seemed to conclude that capturing these jams for use on a pseudo-studio recording would be a good idea for an album. Unfortunately, this is definitely not the side of Crimson that makes me consider them a great band - it's the side that makes my head hurt and long for some friggin' Ramones. It takes the delicate balance of chaos and structure shown on Larks and pushes it firmly in the chaos direction, which is not for the better. Add in worse production and an annoying reduction in Cross' overall impact, and it should be little wonder that I don't relish this album much.

To be fair, three of the eight tracks don't actually match the above description, so that kinda helps. One of them kind of blows, though - the softer part of "Lament" is pretty, with a good vocal performance from Wetton, but the more "rocking" part has some obnoxious screaming vocals to go with instrumental parts that have an overall clumsy feel to them. On the other hand, though, the opening "The Great Deceiver" is one of the best songs Crimson ever did, full of whacky melody twists, gruff and fast rhythm work, and a NEAT electric violin line on top of it all. It also has some hilarious lyrics against organized religion, inspired by a band trip to Rome. Supposedly, Fripp visited The Vatican and nearby living areas, and found his way to a gift shop in the area. He went in, and sure enough, saw that they sold, among other things, cigarettes, ice cream bars, and figurines of the Virgin Mary. Needless to say, he was disgusted, and related the tale to the band - the result was the text found here.

The other "conventional" song, "The Night Watch," can basically be categorized as "King Crimson plays The Moody Blues." The lyrics are nothing special whatsoever, but the melody is rock solid balladeering, and even Fripp's guitarwork, bizarre sounds for a ballad and all, manages to shape the song into something quite moving. Not surprisingly, it was issued as the lead single for the album - even though it had little to do with Crimson's new direction as a whole, it certainly was a better impetus for buying the album than the instrumental stuff...

Ah yes, the instrumental stuff. One of them, the closing "Fracture," is a Fripp-penned piece recorded at the aforementioned Amsterdam concert. I'm not in love with it, to tell the truth - at 11:17, it's dreadfully overlong, taking way too much time to develop itself through its various themes. As a six minute piece or so, though, it would rule mercilessly - Fripp does a great job here of making the whole-tone scale-based themes (at least, that's what they are according to my brother; I've never actually sat down and figured out the scale for myself, and I'm taking his word for it) quite engaging (in limited doses, of course), and the parts where it starts to rock hard and loud are a pleasure-and-a-half to headbang to. So yeah, it can stick around.

The rest, though, is pure improvisation with audience noises edited out. "The Mincer" has some overdubbed vocals in the last half (the song just stops out of nowhere at the end, by the way, as if the tape just stopped), but the rest of the track is just a sort of ok groove. As opposed to "We'll Let You Know" and the title track, which are less-than-ok attempts at grooves. "We'll Let You Know" occasionally TRIES to congeal into something solid, but it basically spends the entire time trying to figure out what it wants to do, and in the end accomplishes nothing. As for the title track, it enters a VERY intense groove for a short time in the middle of the piece, but that's only a very small bit - the rest just kinda diddles around, hoping that something interesting will happen.

One slightly redeeming instrumental comes from "Trio" - as with the other improvs, it takes a while to figure out what it wants to be, but eventually, the mellotron, violin and bass are able to circle around each other in a very delicate manner. I'd prefer it if they'd taken this idea into the studio and polished it up, but I guess there's something to be said for the spontaneity of improvisation, so whatever.

Overall, I don't hate this album, but it's definitely nothing great. Reviews of the album from that time tended to rave about how dynamic and complex it was, but for crying out loud, if you're just making stuff up as you go along, of COURSE what you produce is not going to have a trivial structure. Point is, this album has aged much worse than the albums bookending it, and I'd only recommend it to people who really love those albums (and even then, no guarantees of liking this much).

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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