King Crimson- In the Court of the Crimson King
I think we all, at one point or another, whether we knew what it was or not, have all seen the screaming face that adorns the cover of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’. This face, in many facets, describes the innovation, sound and intensity of this album. Crimson’s music is not to be taken lightly. Nearly all aspects of it are creative, whether it be the touches of mellotron added to the melody, or Robert Fripp's blistering guitar solos. This sole album, as King Crimson’s very first, basically defined the genre of what we call ‘prog rock’. Ironically enough, the band has always denied allegations that they are slapped with the ‘prog’ label. But on the contrary to what the band may think, this stunning five song, forty-five minute album is by all means, the true definition of the progressive rock genre. It’s not exactly easy to pinpoint their music with two words, as their lyrics tend to focus on darker, creepy subjects, but the combination of classical instrumentation, as well as 7-minute plus suites, and interesting percussion, make this one of the most interesting, and well-respected albums of all time.
From the moment that the very first song, the staple of Crimson’s catalogue, ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ hits you, you are in for a very intense and provocative listen. Between the heavy guitar riffs and eerie voice of Greg Lake (whom we all know to be the front man of later progressive icons, Emerson, Lake and Palmer), ‘Schizoid’ proves to be a very worthy intro tune. On the subject of dark lyrics, you’ll get the jist of it when you hear Lake’s voice combined with the words ‘Blood rack, barbed wire. Politician’s funeral pyre. The combination of various woodwind instruments, mellotron, and distorted guitar carries the eerie ambience, but only before a 3 minute jam between the three. Lake, being a multi-talented musician, provides a creamy bassline, as well as an exotic staccato rhythm during the jam session. The waves of monstrous feedback from Fripp are just another benefiting factor, letting you know what is yet to be heard. As you may have noticed, Crimson is responsible for some very interesting sounds, as well as unique instrumentation and choice, for that matter. Therefore, it should not come as any surprise to you when you hear a wistful flute play a piece that depicts memories of the film ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. For the entirety of ‘I Talk to the Wind’, you will feel relaxed. The mellotron tastefully plays a few stray notes between lyrical phrases, but it's Greg Lake's voice that welcomes me. As opposed to the previous song, where his voice was raspy, throaty with lots of attack, now his voice is soothing and subtle, taking you into a deep feeling of subconscious, as if you were floating. The most bombastic section is the flute solo, which is easy to connect to where Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull found his inspiration.
It is always necessary to have a powerful, yet slow paced song on a progressive album. What that song is about is not relevant, whether it be love or death, happiness or depression, rich or poor. The next piece showcases the latter of the many subjects, touching up on darker matters. But there is no precedent saying which you must choose, and that is what sets ‘Epitaph’ apart from other ballads in the genre of rock music. Mellotron, as well as keys, and a rich orchestral string section, provide a tender foundation on which Lake's voice soars above. His voice is easily one of the best in rock music. The highlight for me is undoubtedly the string etude, which provides a classical spin on a jazzy song. Fripp's acoustic work is utterly picture perfect, and everything just seems to be top notch before the song comes to a closing. Progressive music wouldn’t be progressive music if it didn’t have an ambient theme to it. ‘Moonchild’ fills that gap, being an electronic and synth jam session. One thing that grabbed my attention was the cymbal hits during the verses. As stupid as it may sound, a mere three taps on a hi-hat could never have sounded more appropriate and attentive. Clocking in at merely 2:30, ‘Moonchild’ is nothing more but a relaxing, ambient interlude, taking you toward a nine-minute suite that will prove to be the epitome of the word ‘epic’.
I'm guessing that a title track for this album would be quite a listen, and I was right. I’d expect a song that lasts nine-and-a-half minutes to have separate movements, and mood swings. Once again, that is the case for this title track. ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ is a medieval, epic movement that displays nothing more than sonic brilliance. Between the classical, finger-picked acoustic guitar, string arrangements, dark piano, choir etudes, flute solos, Greg Lake’s soaring voice, and without a doubt, the best drumming on the album, ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ sprawls a melodic, yet heroic sound. The shift from lyrical verses to instrumental choruses is nothing short of uplifting, and the strings combined with the choir are brilliant and rich in sustain. The drumming is superb and rhythmically stunning. They really outdid themselves with this medieval suite. I’d like to ask yourself what you define as ‘epic’. Chances are, that your definition is totally crushed by this song.
Those wanting hard rock and great guitar work will take a liking to the music of King Crimson. Those who like progressive music and enjoy in-depth arrangements will like it even more. My point is, you don’t have to like only one aspect of a genre of music in order to enjoy King Crimson’s music. Whatever suits your tastes will probably find a home on this album. Every bit of this album was brilliant, intense, and epic. And who knew all of that could happen within 45 minutes?
Robert Fripp: Guitar
Ian McDonald: reeds, winds, vibes, mellotron, keys, vocals
Greg Lake: Lead Vocals, Bass
Michael Giles: Percussion, vocals
Peter Sinfeld: words and illumination