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King Crimson - Level Five  CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

3.75 | 127 ratings

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Black Max
3 stars "Level Five" is a concert recording made in 2001 while KC toured with Tool, and formerly only available at live shows. As with much of KC's live work, it's now available from the site.

The recording is only 45 minutes long, and consists of three tracks from the then-current "Power to Believe" album, the title track from the previous "ConstruKCtion of Light," and "The Deception of the Thrush" from the ProjeKCt recordings. The recording is quite clean, with virtually no audience noise. It's also almost all instrumental, with Belew's vocals only appearing at the second portion of "TCoL."

No, it's not for everyone, and even casual KC fans won't miss this one in their collections. However, it's a much stronger recording than many have previously reviewed. The CD opens with "Dangerous Curves," not often a show opener for Crimson, which makes me wonder if this recording doesn't begin in the middle of the show; however, being as I didn't see any of this particular tour's gigs, and they were double-billing with Tool, it's possible that this 45 minutes of music comprises the entire evening's offerings. If so, it's an odd, but overall satisfying, song selection. "Curves" is a terrific choice to open with, a slow build eventually leading to a heavy, harsh guitar-driven frenzy of rhythm and melody. The second track, "Level Five," is the showstopper, this iteration of the band's take on the "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" series of instrumentals. Previous incarnations of the band have taken off into extended improvisational stretches; this band, whether because of the different rhythm section of Gunn/Mastelotto or a different approach, weaves short bursts of improv into a much tighter song structure. "Level Five" is as close to "shredding" as KC gets, with howling dual guitars from Fripp and Belew anchored by a frenetic yet tightly structured rhythm. Belew gets a bit of room to play with his solo. "Virtuous Circle" will become "The Power to Believe II" on the album, and is much looser here than on the studio track, with a lovely Arabic-sounding percussion run opening into a melodic, almost sweet instrumental piece. "The ConstruKCtion of Light" is a holdover from the previous album, and quite nicely done, though fans who know the original won't hear a lot of differences between this and the studio track; the song is basically a series of chromatic runs playing off one another until it segues into a vocally driven midtempo song with chiming guitars underpinning Belew's near-chanted lyrics. The last song is a personal favorite. "Thrush" begins with Trey Gunn's distorted spoken vocals leading into a slow, heavy, beautiful instrumental featuring lovely interplay between Gunn and Fripp.

After the end of "Thrush," KC surprises the listener with an "additional" track that I can't identify, probably an improv. Lots of chirping synthy percussion -- a Mastelotto trademark -- underpins what sounds to me like a Gunn solo fleshed out by Frippertronic soundscapes, seguing into a harder piece featuring a typically minor-chord Fripp solo.

Except for his high-end soloing with Fripp on the last two tracks, Gunn's contributions to the music are quite restricted, providing me with the biggest disappointment of this album -- in concert, Gunn was often the highlight of the evening, leading the band out of whatever doldrums they might have found themselves in, and providing alternatively thunderous bass support and lovely, Frippish high-end solos. But that's a minor caveat. Mastelotto has no interest in taking center stage with his drum chops as Bruford did; instead, he lays down complex yet unobtrusive backbeats augmented with a variety of programmed and manually performed fills. Belew fans won't like the fact that he isn't more prominently featured on this album, either. Fripp fans should be quite happy.

Overall, this is not a groundbreaking album, but KC fans will not be disappointed. It's also a decent CD to give to someone curious about the direction the band went after Levin and Bruford departed, though I'd direct them first to "The Power to Believe." Until the band decides to get back together (2006?), this will help ease the pain of not having anything new to enjoy. Certainly a worthy, if relatively minor, addition to the KC catalog.

Black Max | 3/5 |


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