Progressive Rock

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King Crimson
United Kingdom

Years: 1969 - present
Styles: Art Rock, Experimental Rock, New Wave, Progressive Rock, Symphonic Rock


Michael Giles - Backing vocals, Drums, Percussion (in band: 1968 – 1969)
Ian McDonald - Backing vocals, Bass Clarinet, Clarinet, Flute, Keyboards, Mellotron, Reeds, Saxophone, Vibraphone , Vocals, Woodwind (in band: 1968 – 1969)
Greg Lake - Bass Guitar, Lead vocals (in band: 1968 – 1970)
Peter Sinfield - Keyboards, Synthesizer, VCS3 Synthesizer (in band: 1968 – 1971)
Robert Fripp - Celesta, Electric piano, Frippertronics, Guitar, Harmonium, Keyboards, Mellotron, Organ (in band: 1968 – 1974; 1981 – 1984; 1994 – present)


Gordon Haskell - Bass Guitar, Lead vocals (in band: 1970)
Andy McCulloch - Drums (in band: 1970)
Peter Giles - Bass Guitar (in band: 1970)
Keith Tippett - Keyboards, Piano (in band: 1970 - 1971)
Mel Collins - Bass Flute, Flute, Saxophone (in band: 1970 – 1972; 2013 – present)
Ian Wallace - Backing vocals, Drums, Percussion (in band: 1971 - 1972)
Boz Burrell - Bass Guitar, Lead vocals (in band: 1971 - 1972)
Jamie Muir - Drums, Percussion (in band: 1972 – 1973)
John Wetton - Bass Guitar, Guitar, Lead vocals, Piano (in band: 1972 – 1974)
David Cross - Flute, Keyboards, Mellotron, Viola, Violin (in band: 1972 – 1974)
Bill Bruford - Drums, Electronic Drums, Percussion, Slit drum (in band: 1972 – 1974; 1981 – 1984; 1994 – 1997)
Tony Levin - Backing vocals, Bass Guitar, Chapman stick, Funk fingers, NS Upright Bass, Synthesizer (in band: 1981 – 1984; 1994 – 1998; 2003 – present)
Adrian Belew - Guitar, Lead vocals, Percussion (in band: 1981 – 1984; 1994 – 2013)
Trey Gunn - Ashbory Bass, Backing vocals, Chapman stick, Warr Guitar (in band: 1994 – 2003)
Pat Mastelotto - Drums, Electronic Drums, Percussion (in band: 1994 – present)
Gavin Harrison - Drums, Percussion (in band: 2007 – 2016)
Bill Rieflin - Backing vocals, Drums, Keyboards (in band: 2013 - 2015)
Jakko Jakszyk - Flute, Guitar, Lead vocals (in band: 2013 – present)
Jeremy Stacey - Backing vocals, Drums, Keyboards (in band: 2016 – present)

Biography Picture     King Crimson are an English rock band formed in London in 1968. Developed from the unsuccessful trio Giles, Giles and Fripp, the band was seminal in the progressive rock genre in its first five years with its standard of instrumentation and complex song structures. King Crimson's debut album, "In the Court of the Crimson King" (1969), remains its most successful and influential, with its elements of jazz, classical, and experimental music.[1]

    King Crimson made its live debut on 9 April 1969, and made a breakthrough by playing the Rolling Stones free concert at Hyde Park, London in July 1969 before an estimated 500,000 people. Its debut album, "In the Court of the Crimson King", was released in October 1969 on Island Records.[1]

     The group's definitive album, and one of the most daring debut albums ever recorded by anybody. At the time, it blew all of the progressive/psychedelic competition (the Moody Blues, the Nice, etc.) out of the running, although it was almost too good for the band's own good -- it took King Crimson nearly four years to come up with a record as strong or concise.[2]

      Ian McDonald's mellotron is the dominant instrument, along with his saxes and Fripp's guitar, making this a somewhat different-sounding record from everything else they ever did. And even though that mellotron sound is muted and toned down compared to their concert work of the era (e.g., "Epitaph"), it is still fierce and overpowering, on an album highlighted by strong songwriting (most of it filled with dark and doom-laden visions), the strongest singing of Greg Lake's entire career, and Fripp's guitar playing that strangely mixed elegant classical, Hendrix-like rock explosions, and jazz noodling. Lineup changes commenced immediately upon the album's release, and Fripp would ultimately be the only survivor on later King Crimson records.[2] Picture

    King Crimson opened 1970 scarcely in existence as a band, having lost two key members (Ian McDonald and Michael Giles), with a third (Greg Lake) about to leave. Their second album"In The Wake Of Poseidon" -- largely composed of Robert Fripp's songwriting and material salvaged from their stage repertory ("Pictures of a City" and "The Devil's Triangle") -- is actually better produced and better sounding than their first. Surprisingly, Fripp's guitar is not the dominant instrument here: The mellotron, taken over by Fripp after McDonald's departure -- and played even better than before -- still remains the band's signature.[2]

    The record doesn't tread enough new ground to precisely rival "In the Court of the Crimson King". Fripp, however, has made an impressive show of transmuting material that worked on stage ("Mars" aka "The Devil's Triangle") into viable studio creations, and "Cadence and Cascade" may be the prettiest song the group ever cut. "The Devil's Triangle," which is essentially an unauthorized adaptation of "Mars, Bringer of War" from Gustav Holst's "The Planets", was later used in an eerie Bermuda Triangle documentary of the same name.[2]

    During the writing sessions for the third album, "Lizard", Haskell and McCulloch had no say in the direction of the material, since Fripp and Sinfield wrote the album themselves, bringing in TippettMark Charig on cornet, Nick Evans on trombone, and Robin Miller on oboe and cor anglais as additional musicians. Haskell sang and played bass. Jon Anderson of Yes was also brought in to sing the first part of the album's title track, "Prince Rupert Awakes", which Fripp and Sinfield considered to be outside Haskell's range and style. "Lizard" featured stronger avant-garde jazz and chamber-classical influences than previous albums, as well as Sinfield's upfront experiments with processing and distorting sound through the EMS VCS 3 synthesiser.[1]  

     The weakest Crimson studio album "Islands" from their first era is only a real disappointment in relation to the extraordinarily high quality of the group's earlier efforts. The songs are somewhat uneven and draw from three years of inspiration. "The Letter" is an adaptation of "Drop In," a group composition that was featured in the early set of the original Crimson lineup from 1969, while "Song of the Gulls" goes back to the pre-King Crimson trio of Giles, Giles & Fripp for its source ("Suite No. 1"). There are also a few surprises, such as the Beatles-like harmonies on the raunchy "Ladies of the Road" and the extraordinary interweaving of electric guitar and mellotron by Robert Fripp on "A Sailor's Tale", which is one of the highlights of the early- to mid-period group's output. Some of the music overstays its welcome -- several of the six tracks are extended too far, out of the need to fill up an LP -- but the virtuosity of the band picks up most of the slack on the composition side: Collins' saxes and Wallace's drums keep things much more than interesting in tandem with Fripp's guitar and mellotron, and guest vocalist Paulina Lucas' keening accompaniment carries parts of "Formentera Lady" that might otherwise have dragged.[2] Picture

     The third major line-up of King Crimson was radically different from the previous two. Fripp's four new recruits included  free-improvising  percussionist Jamie Muir, drummer Bill Bruford, who left Yes at a new commercial peak in their career in favour of the "darker" King Crimson, bassist and singer John Wetton, and violinist and keyboardist David Cross whom Fripp had encountered through work with music colleagues. With Sinfield gone, the band recruited Wetton's friend Richard Palmer-James as their new lyricist. Unlike Sinfield, Palmer-James played no part in artistic, visual, or sonic direction; his sole contributions were his lyrics, sent to Wetton by post from his home in Germany.[1]

     In January and February 1973, King Crimson recorded "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" in London which was released that March. The band's new sound was exemplified by the album's two-part title track – a significant change from what King Crimson had done before, emphasising instrumentals and drawing influences from classical, free, and heavy metal music. The record displayed Muir's free approach to percussion, which included using a drum kit, bicycle parts, toys, a bullroarer, hitting a gong with chains, and a joke laughing bag. After a period of further touring, Muir departed in 1973 to quit the music industry.[1]

     "Starless and Bible Black" is even more powerful and daring than its predecessor, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic", with jarring tempo shifts, explosive guitar riffs, and soaring, elegant, and delicate violin and mellotron parts scattered throughout its 41 minutes, often all in the same songs. The album was on the outer fringes of accessible progressive rock, with enough musical ideas explored to make "Starless and Bible Black" more than background for tripping the way Emerson, Lake & Palmer's albums were. "The Night Watch," a song about a Rembrandt painting, was, incredibly, a single release, although it was much more representative of the sound that Crimson was abandoning than where it was going in 1973-1974. [2]

     In 1981, Fripp wished to form a new rock group with no intentions of reforming King Crimson. After Bruford agreed to join in, Fripp asked singer and guitarist Adrian Belew, the first time Fripp was in a band with another guitarist and therefore indicative of Fripp's desire to create a sound unlike any of his previous work. After touring with Talking Heads, Belew agreed to join and also become the band's lyricist. Bruford's choice of Jeff Berlin as bassist was rejected as his playing was "too busy", auditions for musicians took place in New York. On the third day, following roughly three auditioners, Fripp left, only to return several hours later with Tony Levin, who got the job after playing a single chorus of "Red". Fripp later confessed that, had he initially known that Levin was available and interested, he would have selected him as first-choice bass player without holding auditions. Fripp named the new quartet Discipline, and the band went to England to rehearse and write new material. By October 1981, the band changed their name to King Crimson.[1] Picture

    In 1981, the band recorded "Discipline" with producer Rhett Davies. The songs were shorter in comparison to previous King Crimson albums, with Belew's pop sense and quirky approach to writing lyrics. The music incorporated additional influences including post-punk, latterday funk, go-go and African-styled polyrhythms. While the band's previous taste for improvisation was now tightly reined in, the instrumental "The Sheltering Sky" emerged from group rehearsals. The noisy, half-spoken/half-shouted "Indiscipline" had been partially written to give Bruford a chance to escape from the strict rhythmic demands of the rest of the album and to play against the beat in any way that he could.[1]

     "Beat" is not as good as its predecessor (1981's "Discipline"), but it's not too shabby, either. The '80s version of King Crimson (Robert Fripp, guitar; Adrian Belew, vocals/guitar; Tony Levin, bass; and Bill Bruford, drums) retains the then-modern new wave sound introduced on "Discipline". The band's performances are still inspired, but the songwriting isn't as catchy or strong. The moody love song "Heartbeat" has become a concert favorite for the band, and contains a Jimi Hendrix-like backward guitar solo. Other worthwhile tracks include "Waiting Man," which features world music sounds (thanks to some stunning bass/percussion interplay), and "Neurotica" does an excellent job of painting an unwavering picture of a large U.S. city, with its jerky rhythms and tense vocals.[1]

     The short version for this review would be this: not as good as "The Noise: Live at Frejus '82". This just feels disjointed and choppy, and the video quality stinks, quite frankly. The low-tech new wave video tricks also serve more as a distraction than anything else. It is nice to see the "Three of a Perfect Pair" songs in a live context -- but many of these being longer noise epics (specifically "Industry"), the lousy videography will cause even the most die-hard King Crimson fan to yawn. Long silences (with audience clamor edited out) fill the spaces between songs, and Adrian Belew appears in places to be cuing the video crew in these silences. Also interspersed throughout are brief, seemingly pointless, candid shots of the group: Robert Fripp complaining about his tremolo bar, Tony Levin getting his head polished, and Bill Bruford digging his jacket. One candid shot shows Fripp practicing in the corner with his characteristic stone face -- no amplification for his electric guitar -- and if one listens closely it can be heard that he is playing "Fracture" from 1973's "Starless and Bible Black". This is the only real scrap that falls from the table here. Listeners do get to see Belew as a drummer on both "Sartori in Tangier" and "Indiscipline" -- a lot of fun.[1]

    In the early 1990s, Belew met with Fripp in England with an interest a reformed King Crimson. After a tour with David Sylvian in 1993, Fripp began to assemble a new version of the band with Belew, Levin, Bruford, guitarist Trey Gunn, and drummer Pat Mastelotto. In October and December 1994, King Crimson recorded their eleventh studio album, "Thrak". Formed of revised versions of most of the tracks on "Vrooom", the album was described by Q magazine as having "jazz-scented rock structures, characterised by noisy, angular, exquisite guitar interplay" and an "athletic, ever-inventive rhythm section," while being in tune with the sound of alternative rock of the mid-1990s. Examples of the band's efforts to integrate their multiple elements could be heard on the complex post-prog songs "Dinosaur" and "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" as well as the more straightforward "One Time" and the funk-pop inspired "People".[1] Picture

     Bruford left King Crimson altogether to resume his work in jazz. At the same time, Levin's commitments as a session and touring musician affected his time in the band. The remaining members, Fripp, Belew, Gunn, and Mastelotto, wrote and recorded "The ConstruKction of Light" in Belew's basement and garage near Nashville. All of the pieces were metallic and harsh in sound, similar to the work of contemporary alternative metal, with a distinct electronic texture, a heavy, processed drum sound from Mastelotto, and a different take on the interlocked guitar sound that the band had used since the 1980s. The band recorded an album at the same time, under the name of ProjeKct X, called "Heaven and Earth". [1]

    King Crimson released their thirteenth album, "The Power to Believe", in October 2003. The album incorporated reworked and/or retitled versions of "Deception of the Thrush", tracks from their previous two EPs, and a 1997 track with added instrumentation and vocals. King Crimson toured in 2003 to support the album; recordings from it were used for the live album "EleKtrik: Live in Japan".[1]

    In early 2014, the group had no plans to record in the studio, instead playing "reconfigured" versions of past material. After rehearsing in England, they toured North America from 9 September 2014 across 20 dates. Recordings from the Los Angeles dates were released as "Live at the Orpheum". Tours across Europe, Canada, and Japan followed in the later half of the year. A live recording from the Canadian leg of the tour was released as "Live In Toronto". A European tour is planned for 2016 with drummer Jeremy Stacey of Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds in place of Rieflin, following his decision to take a break from music.[1]

1. Source:
2. All Music Guide to Rock. The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul. 3rd Edition 2002. Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Published by Backbeat Books, page 617 - 618;  Bruce Eder


In The Court Of The Crimson King (Oct 10, 1969)
In The Wake Of Poseidon (May 15, 1970)
Lizard (Dec 11, 1970)
Islands (Dec 3, 1971)
Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Mar 23, 1973)
Starless and Bible Black (Mar 29, 1974)
Red (Oct, 1974)
Discipline (Sep 21, 1981)
Beat (Jun 18, 1982)
Three of a Perfect Pair (Mar 27, 1984)
THRAK (Apr 3, 1995)
ConstruKction of Light (May 23, 2000)
The Power to Believe (Feb 24, 2003)

Singles & EPs

The Court Of The Crimson King (Oct, 1969)
Cat Food (Mar 13, 1970)
The Night Watch (Mar 22, 1974)
Epitaph (Feb 20, 1976)
Matte Kudasai (Nov, 1981)
Heartbeat (May, 1982)
Sleepless (Feb, 1984)
VROOOM (1994)
Dinosaur (1995)
Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream (1995)

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