King Crimson's "In the Court of the Crimson King" Reviewed

Saturday, November 17, 2007

King Crimson is a British Progressive Rock and Psychedelic band that's come back in several incarnations since their inception in 1969. I happened upon a CD of their debut album from '69, In the Court of the Crimson King. The band, and this work especially, are casually referenced more than a few times in horror and fantasy circles. The likes of Thomas Ligotti and Stephen King, among others, have mentioned the band and their lyrics in both interviews and stories. Listening to the five fairly lengthy tracks from the disc makes their appeal to dark and fantasy minds rapidly apparent.

The first piece, "21st Century Schizoid Man," sounds the most traditionally psychedelic. Screeching lyrics and early electronic effects combine, producing a buzzy acid trip not unlike something from America's own Strawberry Alarm Clock. It is full of distorted, politicized lyrics suggesting mental breakdown by the demands of the new century, with era-specific references to war and social change. This song was also the inspiration for the unmistakable cover by the late artist, Barry Godber. The howling madman, painted in vibrant colors, is a horrific bonus in its own right to the music.

Of greater interest to fans of horror and fantasy, however, are the remaining four songs. The second track isn't particularly weird, unless one takes its title and repeated chorus, "I Talk to the Wind," at literal level. It is a whimsical, pipping story that nicely balances the chaotic roar of the preceding Schizoid Man. The third track, "Epitaph," is another reflection on the dark pains of modernity. It's unclear whether or not the effect was intentional, but one can notice the themes and words growing progressively more fantastic when compared with the earlier songs. Allusions to nightmares, dreams, and suffering underscore this impression.

Finally, "Moonchild" dances onto the scene with ethereal feelings of ghostly peace. To this blogger, it suggests an escape--forced or otherwise--into realms of pure fantasy, a result of the crushing madness laid upon humanity by modern features. The song is a haunting, near-poetic description of the Moonchild, who could easily find her place in the weird folklore of Britain. Traditional fairy nymphs, or the otherworldly Gods of Machen and Dunsany, conjure up similar imagery. Gentle verses are separated by even gentler serenades of quiet notes, effectively strengthening the new turn toward pure fantasy. The final title track, "In the Court of the Crimson King," completes this transformation and brings the CD to a rousing finale. Despite being fantasy-driven like "Moonchild," this one has a darker feel. It concludes with the hideous suggestion that escape through fantasy from reality's horrors is not a perfect transition. The Crimson King and his world, illuminated in the song, hold weird, unsettling terrors of their own. The attraction to horror writers is beyond obvious here. Allusions to puppets, funeral marches, and cracked bells mesh well with Thomas Ligotti's themes of dereliction and decay. Perhaps because it reference another color-patterned King, it's difficult to avoid fleeting thoughts of the King in Yellow. Certainly, aside from the hue, the Crimson Court could easily reside in shadowy, lost Carcosa.

As with previous music reviews here, this one comes with the usual disclaimer: due to personal tastes, neither King Crimson nor this album will appeal to everyone. However, if you too have wondered about this epic band after catching mention by your favorite authors, then In the Court of the Crimson King is likely to hold many strange delights. Beyond that, if a deeper taste for psychedelic music exists or you find yourself lacking in fantasy-driven tunes, then this one is not to be missed. Several different editions, including a recent 30th Anniversary CD, only add to the album's collectibility. Amazon prices ranging from $15-50, depending on the version picked, also make it an excellent value for five fascinating tracks of powerful, dreamy quality.

-Grim Blogger

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