King Crimson
In the Court of the Crimson King



by Nagrarok USER (219 Reviews)
March 13th, 2010 | 64 replies

Release Date: 1969 | Tracklist

Review Summary: When every man is torn apart... with nightmares and with dreams.

When thinking of ways to describe King Crimson, there are several words that immediately come to mind: unique, innovative, compelling, experimental, daring, avant-garde. The world’s longest-lasting prog-rockers made their mark in 1969, when they released their nearly impeccable debut In The Court of the Crimson King. And truthfully, in the 40 years that have passed since its initial release, I asked myself: what can be added to the praise and (sometimes) criticism the album has already long received" Not much, surely. Therefore I decided to tackle this work with a lyrical perspective. Not for naught is Peter Sinfield, solely responsible for the group’s lyrics (or as stated: words and illumination) cited as an official member, and is his departure is seen as the end of a Crimson era. Sinfield has a gift with words: his writings do not tell a coherent story, but invoke powerful images to go with the music, leaving the listener with a perfect understanding of what the song is about in his mind, while not actually having the ability to properly explain it. This kind of writing has left a lasting mark on King Crimson long since his departure, but it is still the group’s first and best record that shows his abilities to a full extent.

'Cat's foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia's poison door
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Blood rack barbed wire.
Polititians' funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Death seed blind man's greed
Poets' starving children bleed
Nothing he's got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.'

Opener 21st Century Schizoid Man paints a manic, deeply disturbing image of violence and hatred. The frantic guitar/saxophone lead by Fripp and McDonald, the song’s trademark, hits you in the face unawares, further cementing the violent feel. Giles’ often underrated, point-perfect drumming is at his best here, and continues to support the powerful image, but it is Lake’s vocals that top things off: his distorted singing is very unsettling, which only contributes to the overwhelming monster of a track. King Crimson made their entrance a sure thing...

'Said the straight man to the late man
Where have you been
I've been here and I've been there
And I've been in between.

I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear.

I'm on the outside looking inside
What do I see
Much confusion
All around me.

You don't possess me
Don't impress me
Just upset my mind
Can't instruct me or conduct me
Just use up my time

I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear.'

Even before the violence of the opener manages to fade out, a very sudden change of pace takes place. The album switches surprisingly from the dark and disturbing to the light and airy. McDonald’s soothing flute work largely carries I Talk to the Wind, a track that can carry you away for a moment completely. Guitar and drums take a large step back, while Lake first showcases his actual, nothing short of superb voice. He once again perfectly translates the essence of Sinfield’s words; calm and determined. With him, King Crimson had the finest vocalist they would ever have.

'The wall on which the prophets wrote
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,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
When silence drowns the screams.

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back
And laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.

Between the iron gates of fate,
The seeds of time were sown,
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools.

Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back
And laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying.'

As improbable as it may seem after the experience of the first two tracks, Epitaph will top all that which came before it. It is truly a magnificent centrepiece. The lyrical imagery displays a futuristic, dystopian world, and are perhaps Sinfield’s finest. The sweeping mellotron arrangement and soft guitar picking that drive the track are haunting, and the opening can still send the chills down your spine after many listens. Lake’s performance is indescribably perfect, and could very well be the best of his career. He sings with the exact right amount of emotion, intonation and power, and no other vocalist could have given the words so much meaning. Epitaph is, and it is not often I claim this, a perfect song.

'Call her moonchild
Dancing in the shallows of a river
Lovely moonchild
Dreaming in the shadow
Of the willow.

Talking to the trees of the
Cobweb strange
Sleeping on the steps of a fountain
Waving silver wands to the
Night-birds song
Waiting for the sun on the mountain.

She's a moonchild
Gathering the flowers in a garden.
Lovely moonchild
Drifting on the echoes of the hours.

Sailing on the wind
In a milk white gown
Dropping circle stones on a sun dial
Playing hide and seek
With the ghosts of dawn
Waiting for a smile from a sun child.'

In the Court of the Crimson King, however, is not perfect. Moonchild is the only problem, and considering the amazing other material, it is even more of a shame. The initial melody is dreamy and ageless, suiting the lyrics as expected, but from there, things go wrong. The very lengthy improvisational section that forms the rest of the track is unnecessary; it keeps promising to go somewhere and it fails to live up to that promise every single time. If the section had been omitted and Moonchild had thus been reduced to a two-minute break between the epics, it would have suited the album just fine.

'The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament's begun.
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sing;
Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
For the court of the crimson king.

The keeper of the city keys
Put shutters on the dreams.
I wait outside the pilgrim's door
With insufficient schemes.
The black queen chants
The funeral march,
The cracked brass bells will ring;
To summon back the fire witch
To the court of the crimson king.

The gardener plants an evergreen
Whilst trampling on a flower.
I chase the wind of a prism ship
To taste the sweet and sour.
The pattern juggler lifts his hand;
The orchestra begin.
As slowly turns the grinding wheel
In the court of the crimson king.

On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gentle pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.'

Next to Epitaph, the title track is, with its strongly medieval-inspired words, lyrically the finest piece on the album. The wordless chorus followed by Giles’ recurring drum pattern remains a unique trademark, and the whole song has a fitting, majestic feel to it. An excellently-placed closer, and a testament to what this first incarnation of King Crimson is all about. It is without doubt that the work by this formation remains their most compelling, which only saddens the fact that they only remained together for about a year.

That is the interesting fact about Crimson though. As Fripp stated: ‘King Crimson has a life of its own, regardless of the members that compromise it’. There couldn’t be more truth to that claim. King Crimson is an ever-changing spirit, and through the years, they have incorporated so many musical genres and ideas into their sound they have become one of the most versatile bands ever to exist. In the Court of the Crimson King is just the beginning of a long and windy road with many unexpected twists and turns. Regardless of pioneering an entire movement and being one of the most innovative records of its generation, it is just a fantastic experience. You must hear this before you die.

In the Court of the Crimson King’s King Crimson was:

- Robert Fripp ~ Guitar
- Ian McDonald ~ Reeds, Woodwind, Vibes, Keyboards, Mellotron, Vocals
- Gregory Ron Lake ~ Bass Guitar, Lead Vocals
- Michael Rex Giles ~ Drums, Percussion, Vocals
- Peter John Sinfield ~ Words and Illumination

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Comments:Add a Comment 
March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

This record has become quite special to me, hope it shows. To be honest, I have no idea how this review turned out. I could have done the same old praise of the album, but I eventually decided on this. It seemed a fitting 111th review.

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

Inspiring review.

March 13th 2010


Well done. a pos for you.

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

Incredible album.

And the review is just as good. Delightful stuff all round.

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

I listened to the album while reading the review and decided to bump my rating to a 5, that's how good

this is.

Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

one of my all-time favorite records.

a masterpiece.

and that goes for EVERY record they issued in the '70s.

totally agree with the summary.

Digging: Fleurety - The White Death

March 13th 2010


Very cool.

Album captures a special time and place for me.

March 13th 2010


Man I need to hear this. Great review, pos'd.

March 13th 2010


rules hard

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Thanks all. Typos fixed, and yes, get on this Ryan.

March 13th 2010


Your right about Epitaph. Lakes vocal delivery is absolutely perfect!

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

i have yet to hear this, but i certainly will after seeing how highly you and everyone else hold this album. excellent review even though i haven't heard this yet, pos'd

March 13th 2010


Awesome, awesome stuff. Love the format of this review. Also Epitaph is one of the greatest songs ever.

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

I thought you might review this after you did Script For a Jester's Tear, good work, album is godlike

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Cheers Mike and Conor. Expect more Crimson reviews from me, but not soon. Can only access sputnik during the weekends.

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

An utterly fantastic record

March 13th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

I've read your review quite fast,,I'm soon gonna redo it more deeply.

You got my vote by now though.

It must be the first KC review based around the contributions of Pete Sinfield. :thumb: Did you know the guy released a solo album called 'Still' in 1973? (I own a 1993 re-edition copy which was called 'Stillusion'). Great album with some outstanding melodies (dreamy, folkish, bluesy) with a solid line up including here or there Ian Wallace, Mel Collins, John Wetton and Greg Lake (all KC members yes) among others.

March 14th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

That sounds interesting Jethro. I'll have a look into it.

March 14th 2010


it could be a trap

March 14th 2010


Album Rating: 4.5

Not a bad track on here

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