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


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.92 | 1866 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Poor, poor sandwich album... the relative "bread" is so appetising; it could be ANY record wedged in between 'Larks' Tongues in Aspic' and 'Red' and it would look mediocre in comparison. 'Starless and Bible Black' is unlucky in this respect, but deserves to be heard for the simple reason that it is very good.

The line-up from '73 remains, sans Jamie Muir, but he had influenced Bruford enough for the drummer to incorporate similarly crazy percussiveness into the music on this album. The angluar and distorted guitars, linear compositions and immense dynamic range that so characterised this incarnation of the band are also present. But now we are seeing improvisation taking a bigger role, even in the studio, as well as an effort to create more succinct, straight-rock pieces. Of these, 'The Great Deceiver' is the most successful; an action-packed, hard-rock anthem that wouldn't be too out-of-place on a Led Zeppelin record. 'Lament' is also cool with its contrasting vocal sections and excellent polyrhythms. The other one I'll mention is 'The Night Watch', the token symphonic piece, which could benefit from being longer and even more epic, as it carries all the emotion of a great 'Epitaph' or 'Exiles'.

To pass the rest of the material on here as improvised noodling would be harsh, but a lot of it seems that way until one gets one's head firmly around it. The pieces are all of a different feel, 'We'll let you know' bluesy and rocking, 'Trio' calm and sublime, the title track rather dark and climactic. 'The Mincer' is aimless, building up to what seems like an introduction (making the first 3 minutes a pre- introduction?) and then being cut-off just before anything interesting happens. But overall, and when interspersed with the composed songs, the effect of these ditties is a flowing and successful album with great balance, if a little unmemorable.

However, there is a grand finale that I haven't mentioned. A strictly composed, mega-composition made of interlocking themes; some dark, some pretty, some fiendishly quick and some blisteringly loud. I of course refer to the wonderous rock bolero 'Fracture', an achievement for Robert Fripp and the pinnacle of guitar composition in the 20th century. It is proof of this band's staggering technical ability (and sheer power) that the recording is actually live, but with essential overdubs by Fripp. The piece builds in speed and volume but each time it reaches a peak, quietens down again to add a new layer of complexity. 'Fracture' must refer to the state of Robert's finger bones after he plays it! Without that song, 'Starless and Bible Black' would seem a bit more directionless, a bit less satisfying and a lot shorter.

But with it, I really like the feel of the album, and the marriage of (apparent) chaos and absolute order. I only ask that it isn't ignored because of the big guns that surround it. Cross is featured less and Wetton more, but that isn't so much of a bad thing, and Bruford has improved since Yes. 'Starless and Bible Black' is a defining album of King Crimson's second era, featuring some immense music but sadly a little filler too.

thehallway | 4/5 |


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