King Crimson
In the Court of
The Crimson King
40th Anniversary

Release Date: November 10, 2009
Produced by: King Crimson
Format: CD/DVD



Bob Metcalf


In the Court of the Crimson King has been around (and always available in some form) since 1969, but I know people who have never even heard of King Crimson.   If you have not experienced King Crimson before, then you have a lot of catching up to do, since the band is still producing powerful music today.  As I stated in my Red review, I break up the KC lifespan into periods, of which this is the first, and the first album of that period.  This line-up of Robert Fripp – guitar, Ian McDonald – brass, woodwinds, mellotron and keyboards (later in Foreigner), Greg Lake – bass and vocals (later in Emerson Lake and Palmer) and Michael Giles – drums and percussion, lasted less than a year and yet created a unique and influential album of incredible power and delicacy that sounds fresh today.  If you love sweeping mellotron, insane guitar histrionics, blazing sax, delicate flute, one of the best vocalists ever, and a rhythm section of incomparable technical skill, then this is for you.  In all the various musical forms on this LP, there are dynamics galore – soft to hard, cool to hot, loud to quiet, jazz to rock – a little bit of everything, including beautiful melodies that stick in your head.

The first track, "20th Century Schizoid Man," begins with the sound of electronic wind, which fades to total silence.  Then it erupts into complete controlled chaos of pounding runaway rhythm, searing guitar, saxes, bass and drums, all driving along with Greg Lake’s treated vocal.  It is a sound wall that will catch you off guard and leave you breathless and sweaty at the end.  This track is the total opposite of everything else on the LP.  "I Talk to the Wind," a ballad of soft beauty is graced with mellotron, soft guitar and flute.  Epitaph keeps to the quieter side as well, but has more surging atmospheres and an incredible chorus “And I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying” which could have easily been scored for full orchestra (the mellotron does well here).  This track musically sets the listener up for things to come.  "Moonchild," closer to "I Talk to the Wind," contains a long passage of improvisation, where the instruments gently play back and forth in delicate, percussive moments.  A triplet on the cymbals, a stroke on guitar, flutter back and forth across the stereo mix in calm but interesting counterpoints.  And finally "The Court of the Crimson King" launches with a mellotron sweep and a melody line that is unforgettable.  Divided into four movements, with Court on either end and "The Return of the Fire Witch" and "The Dance of the Puppets" the middle two, this one track sums up the beginning of the modern progressive rock movement and all it came to be.  The Beatles arguably struck first with the mellotron, then the Moody Blues brought it to the fore, but King Crimson launched it into a force to be reckoned with. 

As stated in the interesting liner notes by Sid Smith, when Jimi Hendrix saw them perform in 1969, he declared them to be the best band in the world.  When Pete Townsend heard the album, he called it an uncanny masterpiece.  I can’t really say more about how fantastic this album is, so you’ll just have to listen to it and decide for yourself.  But now I want to talk about this particular version of this recording.

There is a lot of detail about the album and the remastering in the liner notes.  But I want to just pull out a few of the interesting highlights.  Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree and a host of other projects) and Robert Fripp worked together on this reissue.  If you purchased the recent Beatles remasters, a lot is made of the “Bouncing Down” of tracks when recording in the 60s.  In other words, with limited number of recording tracks (eight) on the tape, artists would record parts on one track then re-record those parts with other parts on another track, effectively combining and adding to create more tracks than the actual eight available.  What Steven and Robert did is to isolate as far up the chain as possible, isolating the original tracks, and then proceeding to digitize and remix them.  This requires a lot of hours to do, but I can tell you it was worth it.  The sound on the stereo mix is nothing short of breathtaking.  Purity: as I listened to it for the second time, it was the one word that kept popping into my head.  Each instrument stands on its own.  There is no harshness, no “digitalness”, if you know what I mean; the brightness, so common on CDs, has been replaced by true warmth.  The stereo mix is fabulous too.  Where the original mix had instruments going back and forth across the soundstage, this does the same with so much more depth – you never have to strain to hear the slightest tap or stroke – it is all there with such accuracy and trueness that you forget completely that this is forty years old!

The alternate tracks, unlike so many reissues, are worth your time as well.  They also have been lovingly restored and are so interesting and unique that they could have been combined as a separate release.  The real highlight is the alternate mix on the DVD – a mostly instrumental version of the LP with different solos that will keep you captivated.  Kudos to Steven and Robert for taking such care in presenting all this material.  The video from Hyde Park is short and not the best quality, but it sounds not bad and to see the musicians, even briefly during this period, is a rare occurrence.

If you are a fan, and have purchased this recording multiple times now, you owe it to yourself to buy this one more time.  I can’t imagine it ever getting better and the extra tracks are superb.  I don’t have 5.1, but it has to be amazing based on what I hear in the new mix.  I highly recommend this classic to anyone who likes their rock with a heady blend of jazz and even folk.  The music is so hard to describe on paper; I hope you are intrigued enough to at least listen to one of the great classic albums of the rock era.

CD – original album plus 5 bonus tracks
DVD – original album in MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround/DTS 5.1 Digital Surround, PCM Stereo, MLP Lossless Stereo, the original master edition, the five extra tracks as per the CD, a wonderful alternative mostly instrumental take of the album and finally
a live video edit from Hyde Park, 1969. 










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212 Frech

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