Robert Fripp - Guitar
Ian McDonald - Reeds, Woodwind, Vibes, Keyboards, Mellotron, Vocals
Greg Lake - Bass Guitar, Lead Vocals
Michael Giles - Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Peter Sinfield - Lyrics
Let me start this off on the right foot by stating that this is probably one of the most influential and important albums by anyone, ever. Now with that out of the way, take a gander at the cover. This is the coolest cover art known to man. "In The Court Of The Crimson King" was probably the first complete Progressive Rock album (although NOT the first album to which one could apply the Progressive Rock genre label), and it is still light-years ahead of its time even today, thirty-plus years afterwards. If you have anything more than a passing interest in Progressive music, you own this. And if you don't, you should. This, the first KING CRIMSON album, turned the Rock scene on its collective ear almost overnight. In doing so, a genre was defined and a legion of fans that were not quite satisfied with the simplistic tunes on their radios and turntables were quickly sated.
The album opens up with the scorching "21st Century Schizoid Man". Greg Lake's distorted, apocalyptic vocals are laid awash with a pulsating, chaotic mellotron-enhanced riff. The song transitions into a mind bending, jazz-infused instrumental section that lurches along at a breathtaking rate while remorselessly breaking the boundaries of style and genre before slipping back into the fold of the beginning verse. It's some awesome stuff that everyone should hear at least one before writing off Progressive Rock as music for stodgy intellectuals with no sense of style or purpose. "Schizoid Man" is Metal before Metal was; and is probably the most bombastic opener (relatively speaking and adjusted for era) ever put to vinyl, compact disc, or tape.
A sudden shift in mood is found in the second track, "I Talk To The Wind". "…Wind" is a light ballad punctuated with some beautiful woodwinds by McDonald. Fripp exchanges the abrasive shredding and dissonant riffs found in the opener for the role of the understated backing player to great effect. Mellow and harmonious, "I Talk To The Wind" is the complete opposite of what you would expect to hear from the band that just assaulted the listener with "Schizoid Man" (unless that band happened to be as versatile as KING CRIMSON!).
The mellotron-washed Symphonic Rock tracks "Epitaph" and "In The Court Of The Crimson King" are perfectly suited to be discussed in the same breath. Listeners predisposed towards hatred of the mellotron are advised to stay far, far away from these songs, as they will not be pleased with what comes forth from the speakers. Endless layers of pre-synth orchestral goodness are everywhere here, and although this dates the sound of the album somewhat, at the time of recording this was very forward-looking. Lake's vocals shine on both tracks, and his ability to convey a degree of seriousness to Sinfield's over-the-top lyrics is nothing short of admirable. And if you thought that the band had managed to cover enough ground for one release, the eleven-minute "Moonchild" rears its head in dissent. What starts as a short song comprised of dark motifs and atmospheric minimalism, "Moonchild" dissolves into an extended improvisational jam devoid of both clutter and hope. Fripp's amazing intuition and timing are present here, and are merely a foreshadowing of the other excellent improvisational projects with which he would busy himself later in his career.
"In The Court Of The Crimson King" is daring, bombastic, self-indulgent, and definitive in more ways than I can even begin to fathom. The influence of KING CRIMSON, and to a lesser degree Robert Fripp, has been cited by a plethora of artists ranging from TOOL to Steven Wilson (PORCUPINE TREE). Endlessly rewarding and still fresh to this day, "In The Court Of The Crimson King" is among the finer of the first era KING CRIMSON releases, and no lover of adventurous music should be without it. (Online November 3, 2003)
Guest Reviewer Dan Pritchard