KING CRIMSON — In The Court Of The Crimson King (review)

KING CRIMSON — In The Court Of The Crimson King album cover Album · 1969 · Proto-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
UMUR
"In the Court of the Crimson King" is the debut full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act King Crimson. The album was released through Island Records (UK) and Atlantic Records (US) in October 1969. King Crimson officially formed in November 1968, but the history of the band began in August 1967 when brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass) recruited guitarist Robert Fripp and formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Although the trio were clearly skilled composers and gifted musicians, they only managed to release a couple of singles and the 1968 "The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp" album, before disbanding as a consequence of a lack of commercial success. Maybe disbanding isn´t the correct word to use though as Giles, Giles and Fripp more or less just sequed into being King Crimson with the departure of Peter Giles and the addition of Ian McDonald (keyboards, reeds and woodwinds), Greg Lake (vocals, bass) and Peter Sinfield (lyrics, illumination).

"In the Court of the Crimson King" is quite the adventurous and progressive musical journey and it´s obvious that especially the addition of Ian McDonald and his contributions on the mellotron and the flute had a major impact on the band´s sound. Lake doesn´t have the most distinct sounding voice, but his delivery is pleasant and suits the music perfectly (helped along by the incredibly beautiful melody lines and abstract psychadelic lyrics, which sometimes also feature more direct political/social references). The musical influences are many and ranges from heavy blues rock, jazz, to classical music. As mentioned above the album is a journey, and as a listening experience it´s best appreciated in full. From the ultra heavy opening track "21st Century Schizoid Man", which not only features a proto-doom metal riff of crushingly heavy proportions, but also a pretty complex saxophone driven jazz rock middle section and a couple of avant gardish moments. Not that it´s a contest but "21st Century Schizoid Man" is arguably heavier and also pre-dates the proto-doom metal riffs on Black Sabbath´s February 1970 debut album.

Opening the album with such a noisy, heavy, and incredibly busy track, the mellow nature, soaring beautiful melody lines and soft folky flute playing on "I Talk to the Wind" do come as a bit of a surprise to the listener, but the effect of light and dark and heavy and mellow are contrasts often used on "In the Court of the Crimson King". "Epitaph" follows and it´s an epic track featuring massive and effectful use of the mellotron. I feel like Lake is telling me a dark and gloomy fairytale about the end of the world, and I´m moved by the words and how they are performed. There´s a little glimmer of hope, but ultimately the narrator (Lake) isn´t holding on to any illusions.

The next track is "Moonchild". The 12:11 minutes long track is divided into two parts. The first part only last around 2:30 minutes and it´s a beautiful and gloomy folky opening to the full track. The almost 10 minutes of remaning playing time of "Moonchild" are not quite as interesting to my ears. In fact it more or less just sounds like the band improvise and play little noodly bits of notes. It´s uneventful, quite tedious, and a little pointless, not to mention that it seriously disrupts the flow of the album. Thankfully the album closes with the the effectful and epic "The Court of the Crimson King". The mellotron is again used to great effect and the there is a great ominous atmosphere surrounding the track, which suits the mood of the rest of the album.

It can not be argued how important and monumental the release of "In the Court of the Crimson King" was for the progressive rock movement. It´s one of the seminal releases of the genre and of course mandatory listening for those interested in late 60s/early 70s progressive rock. It features everything you could wish for on a progressive rock album. Heavy riffs, acoustic guitar parts, jazz rock influences, epic mellotron driven moments, organic folky parts with flute, majestic and beautuful vocal melodies, and a healthy dose of musical experimentation. The latter unfortunately is a bit too much on "Moonchild" and the improvised section of that track does drag my rating down a bit. Had that part of the album featured something equal in quality to the rest of the material on the album, "In the Court of the Crimson King" would have been a sure 5 star (100%) rating from me, but as it is, a 4 star (80%) rating it is.
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