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


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.63 | 4188 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars In The Court Of The Crimson King has become not only one of the most important albums of King Crimson but also one of the quintessential albums that spawned the progressive rock movement. Often quoted as the birth of prog rock, the album certainly encompasses all of the characteristics of the genre that we have grown to love: weird, jagged guitar licks, devastating drum time signatures that move outside the standard 4/4 rock signature, keyboards and mellotron pieces that balance the insanity, and all this punctuated by blazing blasts of saxophone that spiral out of control. In other words King Crimson at their best.

The influences of Jazz are prominent throughout and the band are so tight the music tends to punch holes within the fabric of the musicscapes. An example of this is in the awesome '21st Century Schizoid Man'. This song introduced me to the band and I have never looked back, getting hold of any King Crimson I can, I am proud to say I have been Krimsonized. You have to love a band that uses music to express themselves the way King Crimson does. Greg Lake's vocals in '21stCSM' are processed through a vocal transposer that make him sound like some terrible alien machine that is telling mankind where he is going wrong: "Politician's funeral pyre, Innocents raped with Napalm Fire."The lyrics are as potent as the Crim's can be. The feeling of alienation and a barren soundscape are exemplified in the way the song is structured. During the lyrics, a sense of minimalism is produced, then the wall of sound kicks in. The incredible sax and Robert Fripp's screaming guitar complement each other brilliantly throughout the opening half, and then it slows down for a moment before the time signature changes completely and there is an erratic saxophone that locks in and continues while a strange lead guitar howls and reverberates. One of the best things about this section is the way the music seems slightly off kilter, almost out of tune but not quite. There are moments where all instruments cease at once, pause and then begin on cue only to stop again in various rhythm patterns. It is quintessential listening for anyone interested in progressive rock.

Following this maelstrom of sound, the album settles down surprisingly, for where else could it go, into a very melancholy type of song, 'I Talk to the Wind'. This features Ian McDonald's woodwind and the soft vocals of Greg Lake. To be honest, it's not one of my favourite pieces, it all seems so safe and tranquil in comparison to the rest of the album, but I guess as a contrast it works well enough. 'Epitath' is a great track that has been partly resurrected by Greg Lake on ELP's excellent live epic 'Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends' (the last few seconds on CD 1). It has a symphonic component that is created with a heavy blend of mellotron, keyboards and vibes. The lyrics are thought provoking "the wall on which the prophets write is cracking at the seams, upon the instruments of death the sunlight brightly gleams, when every man is torn apart with nightmares and with dreams..." this is where prog rock got its reputation for thought provoking lyrics. The stanzas are confusing, though enlightening and the lyrics revitalise the music, rather than detract. The two cannot exist without the other and are of equal importance. Peter Sinfield was responsible for some of the most provocative lyrics of the prog movement and he is credited on this album for 'words and illumination' interestingly enough.

'Moonchild' is the longest track and annoyingly tends to just go on and on, almost as a complete improvisation in the studio recorded without forethought at times. I know this is one of the most annoying things about this band that I love, but it is also the reason that they are outstanding; they do improvise in concert substantially, and it has garnered their reputation for jazz fusion. So it's a catch 22 - if you are into a band as experimental as King Crimson there are going to be moments in their repertoire that will infuriate you. Michael Giles drum patterns are interesting enough but unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, 'Moonchild' is just about the worst they have recorded. It should have been cut by about 6 minutes and there is too little going on for my tastes to even make this memorable. It is more or less a jazz improvisation and doesn't really go anywhere. Maybe this is why some fans adore it.

'The Court of The Crimson King' ends the album on a positive high note, although the album cover looks like the Crimson King is slowly being tortured to death. I absolutely cherish this song and it is one of the best prog tracks I have heard. Lake's vocals have never been better, and there are amazing flourishes of sweeping keyboards that send a chill down your spine. The sound goes from intense to very soft in waves and all is complimented by a stirring lyrical content: "The black queen chants the funeral march, the cracked brass bells will ring, to summon back the fire witch in the court of the crimson king."

On that note, in conclusion I will end this by stating the facts: if you care about the birth of progressive rock, if you like your prog jazzed up with a fusion of heavy mellotron, if you love saxophone interlaced with jagged guitar rhythms, if you have heard of this album but were worried to purchase it because it's so old, if you are into Emerson Lake & Palmer: look no further! This album encompasses all that makes prog rock so enticing, and in a sense it captures all that made King Crimson one of the leading progressive masters, brilliant but flawed geniuses. The Court of The Crimson King is, hands down, an essential purchase.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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