It has been said that if one group embodies prog-rock, it is certainly King Crimson, and after hearing this disc, you'll have to agree. Prog before it was a genre, and forever uncool, the mighty Crim has always been in the thick of the experimental rock subculture, frequently breaking apart and gloriously returning stronger than before.
The first lineup had been together less than year at recording time - four devotees of the London club scene who had made a name at the free Hyde Park concert of July 5, 1969. The band committed to tape five of their best tunes and had the whole album ready in a few days - "21st Century Schizoid Man" was actually done in one take! The results spoke for themselves.
Let's take a look at the album track by track:
"21st Century Schizoid Man"
The brilliant tune that made Crimson's name and remains their signature piece, sporting the heavy-to-end-all-heaviest of guitar riffs.The sheer avant-gardeness of the comically fast improvised midsection continues to blow listeners' minds to this day. Robert Fripp's demented free-modal solo remains one of his shining moments as a guitarist.
"I Talk To The Wind"
In the time-honoured KC tradition of contrast, this mellow tune winds down nicely from "Schizoid Man". Multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald provides some wonderful flute over Greg Lake's excellent vocals and the ever underrated Michael Giles' jazzy percussion.
It's not Crimson without a Mellotron-based ballad, and "Epitaph" doesn't disappoint. Fripp's layers of electric riffs and fingerpicked classical guitar work perfectly with McDonald's memorable keyboards.
Eerie and nocturnal, this tune introduces yet another mood with its delay-drenched guitar and Tolkienesque lyrics. After the initial song, the band improvises an abstract free-form jam of vibraphone, guitar, and percussion for nearly 10 minutes of mysterious, quirky noise. Not the easiest song to get into but worth the effort.
"The Court of the Crimson King"
This medieval epic scales all manner of choral vocals, trippy synth, and classical melodies. Not to give anything away, but a hint: There's more to this song then you'd think...
Robert Fripp: Guitar
Ian McDonald: Woodwinds, Brass, Mellotron, Keyboards, Vibes, Piano, Vocals
Greg Lake: Vocals, Bass Guitar
Michael Giles: Percussion, Vocals
Peter Sinfield: Words, Illumination
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars