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Seltzer 01-21-2008 06:25 PM

In the Court of King Crimson - The King Crimson Education/Review Thread
I've been working on this thread on another forum, but I thought I'd copy it here too, even if Boo Boo has already done this. Reviews take a long time to write, so please be patient!

King Crimson is truly a dinosaur of progressive rock. As a band which is constantly changing its sound, progressing and innovating, they are the very definition of a prog rock band. King Crimson's sound has evolved over time and is darker than that of their peers. While King Crimson is undoubtedly incredibly skilled in the technical department, they place great emphasis on originality and songwriting, and apply a more textural approach to songwriting than many prog bands.

Robert Fripp, Michael Giles and Peter Giles formed Giles, Giles and Fripp in 1967 which was largely unsuccessful. Having broken up, Robert Fripp and Michael Giles planned the formation of King Crimson with the lyricist Peter Sinfield, Ian McDonald of Foreigner fame and Greg Lake who would later form Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The band name was Sinfield's creation and intended as a synonym for Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons. Given their experimentation and some of the chilling music they would later create, and the fact that they've been described as 'organised chaos', this name is apt.

Since their inception in 1969, King Crimson have gone through 20 members and Robert Fripp has been the only constant member. Aside from the members already mentioned and Robert Fripp, the genius himself, some notable members are:
  • Tony Levin - Extremely influential prog bassist, having also written material for and played with Yes, Peter Gabriel, Liquid Tension Experiment, David Bowie, Deodato, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd etc. He is well known for his use of the Chapman Stick as well. He is very technically adept, yet is also a master of minimalism and groove. Levin is a current member of the group and has been with Crimson for 22 years.

  • Bill Bruford - The granddaddy of prog drummers, having also played for Yes in their prime era, Genesis, Gong and fusion jazz group Brand X. Bruford's style is highly complex, polyrhythmic and jazz-influenced. Bruford spent 26 years with Crimson.

  • Mel Collins - A well-travelled saxophonist/flautist, having also played for the Alan Parsons Project, Camel, Caravan, Bad Company Humble Pie, Joe ****er, the Rolling Stones, Uriah Heep, Roger Waters, Robert Palmer, Eric Clapton and Meat Loaf. With this impressive resume, he only ended up sticking with Crimson for 4 years.

  • Adrian Belew - His primary role in King Crimson is that of guitarist and vocalist. He is often overlooked in light of Fripp's presence, but he is a fairly remarkable guitarist himself and his vocal style is often compared to David Byrne of the Talking Heads. He has contributed to Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Talking Heads, Cyndi Lauper and Porcupine Tree. Adrian Belew is a current member who has been with Crimson for 26 years.
So despite the numerous lineup changes, there have also been musicians who have held a long tenure within King Crimson. As an interesting side note, Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree's drummer) has recently joined King Crimson. Robert Fripp himself has said that King Crimson is a 'way of doing things rather than a particular group of musicians'. This leads to their varied discography, but even then, King Crimson have consistently delivered interesting, innovative and challenging music with few exceptions. And this brings us to Robert Fripp who, being the only constant member and a primary songwriter, plays a big part in Crimson's sound. He is quite simply, a musical genius, and I don't use that word lightly. He and Belew are the primary proponents of the quirkiness and textural songwriting style of King Crimson. Fripp is known for his use of Frippertronics, and pays as much attention to soundscapes as post-rock musicians - in fact, he created the soundscapes/audio for Windows Vista. Along with his solo material, Fripp has also written for and played with Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie and Porcupine Tree.

As for where King Crimson stands in the music world... aside from influencing practically every prog rock/metal band, they reach surprisingly far into the metal crowd too. In fact, Tool and Mars Volta, two of the biggest prog bands around today, were both hugely influenced by King Crimson.

Current Line-Up:
* Robert Fripp — guitar and mellotron (1969–present)
* Adrian Belew — guitar and vocals (1981–present)
* Tony Levin — bass and Chapman stick (1981–1999; 2003–present)
* Pat Mastelotto — drums (1994–present)
* Gavin Harrison — drums (2007–present)

Best album to start out with:
In the Court of the Crimson King
Best album full stop (IMO): Red
Most underrated album: THRAK
Most overlooked album: The Power to Believe
Greatest song: Starless


Seltzer 01-21-2008 06:30 PM

  • Robert Fripp – Guitar
  • Greg Lake – Bass Guitar, Lead Vocals
  • Michael Giles – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
  • Ian McDonald – Flute, Saxophone, Woodwind, Keyboards, Mellotron, Backing Vocals
  • Peter Sinfield – Lyrics
  • Barry Godber – Cover Illustrations


Now before jumping into the deep end, let's take a trip back in time to the second half and the close of the 60s. This was a fairly experimental period on many fronts... the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's and Abbey Road. John Coltrane was experimenting with free jazz and Sun Ra had been there even longer. Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart were experimental forces of the era too. Psychedelic rock was simply everywhere. With the long jams, hippie themes and higher degree of virtuosity required, the musicians of the era experimented with a hard rock type of sound and broke through barriers. Most of these psychedelic bands would go on to be forgotten in the sands of time, but there were some more popular ones who stuck around (the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd etc.).

As psychedelic musicians experimented more and more, they ushered in a new type of music, progressive rock, and the border between the genres can be rather blurred at times. Some of the bigger pioneering bands of progressive rock were the Doors with their darker lyrical themes, the Who with their rock operas, Deep Purple with their organ fitted heavy prog sound, and Can, Pink Floyd and the Beatles with their pure experimentation. The German psychedelia scene would later give rise to krautrock (a subgenre of prog rock), but before that came King Crimson. Now while it is arguable as to whether King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King was the first pure progressive rock album ever, it is certainly the most important album in the creation of the genre, and is the earliest progressive rock album I have ever heard. King Crimson created progressive rock and propelled themselves forward as a major direct influence on the other big early prog bands like Yes, ELP and Genesis. In fact, they went on to influence those who influenced them.


Seltzer 01-21-2008 06:31 PM


01 - 21st Century Schizoid Man:
21st Century Schizoid Man isn't exactly jam packed with lyrics, but the ones that are there are very poignant. In my mind, it attempts to paint a portrait of a man from the future. With lines like "Cat's foot, iron claw", "Poets starving, children bleed" and "Innocents raped with napalm fire", the lyrics give the impression that our schizoid man harks from a time where technology is absolute, art has been forgotten and war and conflict are rife.

The song starts out with ambience pockmarked with 'industrial' noises, and at about the 30 second mark, the song kicks in with what I call 'the monster riff', and upon hearing it, my reasoning will be obvious. And after this grandiose and heavy opening, Greg Lake starts chanting the first verse in a distorted caustic voice. After dipping back into the monster riff which signifies that the first section isn't yet over, Lake comes in with the second verse which is more bellicose in nature and is followed by one more rendition of the monster riff. A three note buildup which breaks into a circus-like saxophone riff marks the beginning of the energetic jam section. Robert Fripp's guitarwork is abrasive, and his 'anti-guitar solo' adds to the chaos, and though he is soloing, it's worth pointing out that Greg Lake on bass is practically soloing at the same time too, without overcrowding the song. Lake might not be Tony Levin, but at this point and throughout the song, his basswork is actually stunning. While the saxophone gives the song a jazzy feel at certain times, it is nothing short of demonic at other times - most notably around the halfway mark of the song where Ian McDonald comes in with a beautifully dissonant and distorted sounding saxophone solo, which is followed by a 'normal' jazzy sax solo (if I can call it normal). The monster riff concludes the jam as Lake shouts the third verse. And to finish off the song we have an incredibly frenetic burst of instrumental 'contributions' as every musician speaks his part at once.

02 - I Talk to the Wind:
Instantly following the frenetic ending of the last song, in an arrant contrast, we are met by the calm dulcet tones of McDonald's flute playing which is the lead instrument throughout this song. With the enchanting beauty of the flute-playing, the addition of woodwind instruments, Fripp's occasional harmonics and the amazingly precise and delicate drumming of Giles which doesn't deviate from the song at all, Lake delivers all four of the song's verses in a flowing and dreamy fashion. The opening lines "Said the straight man to the late man. Where have you been?" eloquently suggest a conversation between a straight man (a conventional everyday working man) and a late man (an unconventional and peaceful man of his own ways, a hippie). The rest of the lyrics, in essence, are the late man's reply to the straight man's question which occupy three and a half verses. From his reply, my impression is that the late man is at peace with nature but largely disillusioned with and disconnected from society. Following that, McDonald plays a lush flute solo which is followed by a very gentle Fripp solo. Lake rejoins in the vocal deparment as he repeats the chorus and the first verse. And just as the flutework sounds like it's adding the finishing touches to a sculpture and you think the song is about to end, McDonald's flute soloing comes back into the fray, if possible, even better than before. The song finishes as McDonald's flute fades away.

03 - Epitaph:
With a drum-roll, Epitaph commences and Fripp provides some extremely sorrowful sounding guitar wails backed by arpeggiated acoustic notes and drenched in mellotron. Then all goes silent and Greg Lake comes in, soulfully singing over his 3 note bass arpeggios, and this is really where the song starts to scream epic. Lake truly sounds like a prophetic doomsayer in this song, as if he's warning of imminent disaster looming over the world. And the vocals/lyrics are the major focus of this song. In the credits, Epitaph is divided into two halves, March for No Reason and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. In the first verse, the protagonist puts forward the idea that the world is troubled, the end is near, and everyone is deeply unhappy but no-one will step up and do anything about it. This verse is followed by the mellotron punctuated chorus which shows that the protagonist understands exactly what is happening, but he is possibly confused as to why no-one else understands. He professes the idea that he will be unhappy forever. Fripp's wailing guitar separates this from the second verse, in which the protagonist goes back a bit in history and talks of the seeds of time being sown at the start of the world. He mentions that the world has been shaped by those who are well known (possibly referring to people who aren't fit to rule but pick up the baton and hold tenure by birthright). This interpretation is reinforced by the last lines of the verse as Lake laments that "The fate of mankind I see, is in the hands of fools". Now, I am not exactly sure where the song is divided but I'm guessing that Tomorrow and Tomorrow starts after a one note mellotron crescendo which grows in volume and bursts into some acoustic arpeggios. What follows is some long acoustic chords strummed in a medieval manner and a flute/woodwind section. Lake comes back in with the first verse and the chorus, and the song finishes with Lake wailing the last line over and over and the last word even more so, accompanied of course, by strong mellotron notes.

04 - Moonchild:
Now Moonchild is quite an interesting song. Like Epitaph it is divided into 2 parts: The Dream, which has a duration of approximately two and half minutes, and the Illusion, which spans the rest of the song (almost ten minutes). The Dream is as pretty and delicate as I Talk to the Wind, but rather different in mood - it's much more eerie and spacey and is perfected down to the drumbeat. I don't really know what to make of the lyrics - my interpretation is that they simply describe a lady called Moonchild in all her elegance, but it's quite possible that there's a reference I don't understand here. Regardless, Sinfield's poetic eloquence shines through here as he pairs up "Dancing in the shallows of a river" with "Dreaming in the shadow of the willow."

Around the 2:30 mark, The Dream transforms into the Illusion which is a freeform improvisation. Most reviewers would agree that The Dream is a pleasant section, but many of those reviewers would consider Moonchild a weak song because of presence of the Illusion, the ten minute improvisation. Personally, I don't think the Moonchild is a bad song at all, but I do think it's the weakest on the album and that the Illusion could be shortened in length. I'm not going to pretend that the Illusion doesn't contain any musical noodling, but it's noodling of the free jazz type rather than the musician shredding type. And if anything, that makes it more inaccessible to the contemporary listener, but better in my opinion. I find it rather relaxing and I enjoy listening to the instruments 'talking to each other' in short bursts. It is most cohesive in the last two minutes or so, but it doesn't really climax in any way. It's not bad, but it certainly pales in comparison to the improvisational brilliance of Providence from their later album, Red.

05 - The Court of the Crimson King:
This song opens with mellotron and both the music and lyrics conjure medieval imagery. The Crimson King supposedly refers to the 13th century Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. Each verse is concluded by a choral 'Kiiiinnnnggg. Aaaaaaah' sound which really adds to the dramatic/epic elements of the song. After the second and third verses, we have instrumental sections full of acoustic guitar, flutes, mellotron and woodwinds. A few drumstrokes signal what seems to be the end of the song, but after that there is a flute buildup and the true ending of the album unfolds in all its beauty. This song in particular, laid the foundations for symphonic prog, where bands like Yes and Genesis would start from.


With virtuosity of the highest degree, brilliant songwriting, eclectic influences, brutal originality, ambition, use of textures, amazing ability to convey imagery and Sinfield as his lyrical peak, it is easy to see why this album was so influential in the creation of progressive rock. King Crimson provides quite a range of music here... we see heavy metal, jazz, folk, rock and avant-garde. Fripp certainly nods to classical and medieval music too. Little has a mellotron seen such great use before this.

While this may not be considered King Crimson's classic lineup, I do wish they wrote more albums with this lineup. Before their next album, they would lose Ian McDonald who played a huge part in this album. While this is a stellar debut, King Crimson would go on to change their sound over time and progress, as is the nature of progressive rock bands.


EDIT: I rushed this review a bit and haven't really had a chance to check it properly. I'll do it when I wake up.

Seltzer 01-21-2008 06:32 PM

IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON (1970).______________ COVER

  • Robert Fripp - Guitar, Mellotron, Devices
  • Peter Giles - Bass
  • Michael Giles - Drums
  • Mel Collins - Flute, Saxophones
  • Keith Tippett - Piano
  • Greg Lake - Vocals (all except Cadence and Cascade)
  • Gordon Haskell - Vocals (Cadence and Cascade)
  • Peter Sinfield - Lyrics
  • Tammo De Jongh - Cover Artwork (1967)


Now, where could King Crimson go after releasing their stellar debut? By this point, Ian McDonald had departed, to be replaced by Mel Collins of Camel fame (amongst many other bands). Greg Lake stayed on for this album, but he would leave in order to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the same year. Peter Giles was introduced as a bassist, which would leave Lake to take care of the vocals. And indeed, he was the vocalist for every track apart from Cadence and Cascade, where Haskell took over, foreshadowing Lizard for which Haskell would both sing and play bass. The jazz pianist, Keith Tippett came aboard too. In the Wake of Poseidon is often criticised for following the same basic blueprint of their debut, which it does in some ways. But I prefer to think of it as a fine companion album to In the Court of the Crimson King, which it is. It is quite a strong album.


01 - Peace - A Beginning:
This is a nice little 50 second acapella introduction to the album. The theme of peace is conveyed through Greg Lake's ethereal echoing vocals.

02 - Pictures Of A City:
This song is opened by a brass buildup and funky saxophone riff which wouldn't be out of place in a marching band. This is the ITWOP version of 21st Century Schizoid Man, as it even has the same structure. We have two verses featuring Lake's 'not as caustic as last time' vocals backed by fuzzy and bombastic distorted instrumentation and Giles' bass is quite high in the mix. And like its predecessor, the vocal part ends, there is a build up and the song is thrown into a jam section where Fripp plays some frenetic and edgy guitar riffs which start to become more genial until a galloping part overlayed by what sounds like some dissonant saxophone. Then there's a bit of a spacey 'breakdown' with a simple yet haunting bassline. Gradually it builds up with Giles' precise drumming and Fripp's anti-solo, and the jam is concluded as Lake finishes with the third verse and we have that familiar cacophony of instruments.

03 - Cadence and Cascade:
This song serves the purpose of being the calm after the storm, much like I Talk to the Wind from their debut. Worth noting is that this is the only track featuring Gordon Haskell on vocals. Cadence and Cascade presents us with delicate acoustic work from Fripp, two beautiful flute sections from Mel Collins (again like I Talk to the Wind) and equally harmonious piano work from Tippett.

04 - In the Wake of Poseidon:
This track opens with an unsettled and almost distressed mellotron melody embellished by percussive acoustic strumming which calls to mind Epitaph. From the point that Lake breaks into his deeply introspective sounding verses, Fripp's acoustic backing becomes much more interesting and he has some fascinating fills going on there. Each verse becomes more dramatic towards the end and after the third verse, the song moves further into mellotron territory. In fact the mellotron buildup from about 3:55 to 4:50 is my favourite part of the song - it gives the song an anguished, yet strangely triumphant feel. After the final verse, we have a strong outro mostly based around one chord progression. Giles' drumming throughout the song is quite dynamic - it holds interest without stealing the show.

05 - Peace - A Theme:
The first half of this short interlude played by Fripp on acoustic guitar is mostly an instrumental version of Peace - A Beginning but it spreads its wings out and flourishes with grace.

06 - Cat Food:
This is the song which truly defies any comparison of ITWOP to ITCOTCK. And I cannot for the life of me understand why it receives negative criticism from some reviewers. Frankly, it's a cool and fun song. Cat Food opens with a driving bassline - I suppose it is comparatively regular sounding in order to preserve some kind of sanity in the song as it progresses. And what follows is a mad flurry of piano notes all over the place from Tippett - almost as if someone were beating up a piano. It sounds random, yet at the same time sounds musical - it's a testament to what jazz musicians are capable of. Lake delivers some pretty catchy verses, and with lines like "Never need to worry with a tin of Hurri Curri. Poisoned especially for you!", the song has quite a dark and satirical vibe to it. I believe that the lyrics are protesting about processed foods, and likening them to cat food. The rest of the song consists of Tippett's maniacal bursts of piano playing, Fripp's 'solos' and a larger input from the Giles brothers - it has a bit of a start-stop feel to it.

07 - The Devil's Triangle:
The Devil's Triangle is an interpretation of Gustav Holst's Mars: The Bringer Of War, which is a masterpiece, although it may prove itself to be a more challenging listen than the rest of ITWOP. The Devil's Triangle starts with a bass/drum rhythm overlayed by mellotron, which invokes images of armies marching to battle. It builds up in tension until the song suddenly stops with the sounding of a battle horn. After this, the song resumes its marching rhythm and adds layers upon layers ensuing in utter chaos and pandemonium. The sounds of winds blowing breaks it all up, but again the song resumes its rhythm at an even more frantic intensity. Synths enter and Giles' bassplaying deviates from the marching rhythm as they both intertwine to form some kind of manic circus music (Arcturus anyone?). And the song concludes with a wall of sound. A fine interpretation.

08 - Peace - An End:
This album outro features Fripp on acoustic guitar and Greg Lake describing peace in even greater detail. A pleasant way to finish the album.


I believe that there was much tension with lineup issues around the ITWOP period and this led to the band playing it safe by releasing an album which echoed their successful debut. It could possibly have been intended as a companion album given their names (In the Court of the Crimson King and In the Wake of Poseidon) - regardless, I consider it one. I do however feel that the criticism surrounding this album for having a few similarities to their debut is rather undeserved.

Pictures of a City is a good effort to recreate the magic of 21st Century Schizoid Man, and Cadence and Cascade resembles I Talk to the Wind. While the self-titled track starts out in a similar vein to Epitaph, I feel that it finds its own way after the introduction. And ITCOTCK certainly contained no songs like Cat Food or the Devil's Triangle.

While I don't consider ITWOP as good or as influential as ITCOTCK, I believe that it is a more consistent album as King Crimson's particularly experimental songs worked better the second time around. Sinfield again proves his lyrical brilliance as he paints poetry - perhaps more cryptically and less poignantly than he did for their debut, but nonetheless quite eloquently. Mel Collins filled the void of Ian McDonald rather well and Keith Tippett's piano contributions to the album are pivotal. Despite the criticism, there is easily enough originality and songwriting skill in this album to warrant it a listen.


Kevorkian Logic 01-21-2008 06:34 PM

wow. excellent review I must say, the only thing I would differ on is giving the album a 9.5/10 instead of just a 9/10. Which was your favourite song, you might have said it but I just didn't catch it?

Comus 01-21-2008 11:25 PM

Nice review, I'd be inclined to disagree about most underrated album however. Lizard is always overlooked in favour of In the Court and their early 70's output. And I've always found it to be their strongest album after all these years I found it's aged the best.

Well, nice start anyways.

Comus 01-21-2008 11:31 PM

Aha, the proper thread, I probably shouldn't be up until half six in the morning.

Your In The Court review was pretty good but your In The Wake of Poseidon score is incredibly generous for what was really a lackluster performance by KC trying to hard to replicate In The Court. Which has led to In The Wake not aging very well at all and suffering tremendously because of it. Also song by song reviews normally don't work at all (Especially for progressive rock) but you've managed quite well.

Seltzer 01-21-2008 11:45 PM


Originally Posted by Comus (Post 434108)
Aha, the proper thread, I probably shouldn't be up until half six in the morning.

Your In The Court review was pretty good but your In The Wake of Poseidon score is incredibly generous for what was really a lackluster performance by KC trying to hard to replicate In The Court. Which has led to In The Wake not aging very well at all and suffering tremendously because of it. Also song by song reviews normally don't work at all (Especially for progressive rock) but you've managed quite well.

I consider ITWOP to be more consistent than their debut but not as good. I don't doubt that the album formats are similar, but I guess I'm fairly forgiving with this because of how drastically they would progress in the future between albums. There wasn't much progression from their debut to ITWOP by KC standards, but I guess on the scale of things (compared to other bands), it's forgivable.

I'm especially looking forward to reviewing Red. :)

Comus 01-21-2008 11:53 PM

Red is pretty good, but I'm a die hard lizard fan to be quite honest. Nothing beats the title track as the best KC song. Lizard would be imho their most innovative and risky album, and man it paid off.

Seltzer 01-22-2008 07:56 AM


Originally Posted by Comus (Post 434106)
Nice review, I'd be inclined to disagree about most underrated album however. Lizard is always overlooked in favour of In the Court and their early 70's output. And I've always found it to be their strongest album after all these years I found it's aged the best.

Well, nice start anyways.

Lizard is indeed fairly overlooked, especially considering how close it is in timing to their debut and ITWOP.

I don't think THRAK is so much overlooked as underrated - I think it's quite a high quality album and maybe doesn't get as much credit as it should. I think the Power to Believe is quite overlooked because so many KC fans (i.e. loyalists to their earlier albums) would have abandoned them by this point, after all their different changes in sound.

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