Written on January 1, 2010
King Crimson released their first studio album in 1969, and their last studio album in 2003 (as of 2011). In those 35 years, they released 13 regular studio albums. I say “regular” because they released a ton of other irregular studio albums, many under what they consider part of their improvisational “ProjeKcts” collections. In addition to the 13 “regular” studio albums, they have released a ridiculous number of live albums and other improvisational albums. In terms of Personnel, they have had at least 30 different members, and they have spent more time broken up and disbanded, then they have spent together. Lastly, they have covered an abundance of different musical styles and sounds, so very few albums sound alike. Thus, their music is not for the average listener. It is extremely complex, challenging, and sometimes, it is just plain confusing. So, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll try to further explain King Crimson in just two Points:
#1 Robert Fripp
King Crimson is really not a band, but rather an idea. The idea that music should be ever changing and progressing. Over their long history, the only constant member has been Robert Fripp, so Fripp really is King Crimson, kind of in the same way that Ian Anderson really is Jethro Tull, but with one major difference. Ian Anderson is not only the leader of Tull, but he has always been the primary songwriter. Fripp on the other hand is certainly the leader of Crimson, but he often delegates the writing duties to other band members, and I think that’s why they have been able to successfully master so many different styles of music.
#2 Progressive Rock
Several bands had incorporated progressive rock tendencies into their music before King Crimson, but King Crimson really put progressive rock on the map with their debut release “In the Court of the Crimson King.” After that seminal album was released, progressive rock really took off and progressive rock bands were everywhere, but here’s what really makes King Crimson different; they didn’t stop progressing. After the release of their first album, they released 3 more albums (all within 3 years) in that same style of original progressive rock. Then in 1971, they pulled out, and they called that style of music (that they invented) out dated. They then took 3 years off, and returned with a new line up for 1973-1974, and they recorded 3 more albums in a completely different style. Once again, this style of music was completely new to the rock world, and I think it is best described as improvisational proto-progressive metal. They then pulled out again, only to return for another run from 1981-1984 with three more albums of a completely different style. This time around, the music is probably best described as progressive new wave, and during this period they were heavily influencing and being influenced by other new wave bands. They then took about 10 years off, but they returned again in 1995 and recorded 3 more albums. This time around, I would classify their sound as industrial and avant-garde progressive metal, and it was heavily influential to other bands such as Tool, with whom they toured.
My point with all this is that they are truly progressive in the sense that they keep progressing and pushing the boundaries of music in completely innovative and new directions. All in all, King Crimson is a really difficult band to get into. Their music is not easily digestible, and they have covered so many different styles that every album is completely unpredictable, but it is for these reasons that they are such an interesting band, and it is worth it to explore at least one album from each of their four main periods that I’ve highlighted.
Styles and Genres
Original Band Line-Up
Robert Fripp – guitar
Ian McDonald – flute, clarinet, saxophone, vibes, keyboards, mellotron
Greg Lake – bass, vocals
Michael Giles – drums, percussion
Peter Sinfield – lyrics, illumination
Other Key Member
Adrian Belew – guitar, lead vocals (1981- Present)
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