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King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King, 40th Anniversary Edition (5CD's + DVD) CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.78 | 105 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars The 40th Anniversary of King Crimson's legendary debut album is a tour de force of 5 CDs and 1 DVD and a beautifully designed booklet. The debut album is arguably responsible for prog rock as we know it. Often quoted as the birth of prog rock, the album certainly encompasses all of the characteristics of the genre that we have grown to love: weird, jagged guitar licks, devastating drum time signatures that move outside the standard 4/4 rock signature, keyboards and mellotron pieces that balance the insanity, and all this punctuated by blazing blasts of saxophone that spiral out of control. In other words King Crimson at their best. The influences of Jazz are prominent throughout and the band are so tight the music tends to punch holes within the fabric of the musicscapes. It is easy to understand the impact of this music when one is confronted with the barnstorming power and innovation of "21st Century Schizoid Man" and there are many versions here to indulge in that I can never grow tired of. It is impossible to get through this colossal box set in one sitting but there is a lot here worthy of digesting. Mixed & produced by Steven Wilson, it is definitely a labour of love and it is wonderful to hear these unearthed treasures at last in their undeveloped formats through to the finished product.

Moving straight on to CD 3, one has to listen to the alternative takes of the studio recordings, and this was my first move; it was mesmirising. The trio version instrumental of "21CSM" is stunning, even without Lake's vox. It still exudes raw power and dynamism. "I Talk to the Wind" [studio run-through] is even dreamier without Lake crooning over as is "Epitaph" [alternate version]. The take of "Moonchild" [take 1] is actually better without the weird mid section of kanoodling, it is short and to the point, Lake mixed to the front noticeably.

It is great to hear the band members dialogue at the intro of the pieces, making it feel as though you were right there in the studio with them. "The Court of the Crimson King" [take 3] is totally different, more acoustic and no vocals at all. The acoustic treatment is interesting but I missed the Mellotron here. The flute does sound very nice though, more folk like in atmosphere throughout.

The next portion of CD 3 is the whole album as a de-clicked vinyl transfer of the first Island Records stereo UK pressing run. It is almost as if you can hear the vinyl crackling and this is how it was originally heard before all the remastering and studio fiddling so a nice touch to include it here. I could tell occasionally the differences from the remastered CD that I had heard mostly, especially the intro to "21st Century Schizoid Man", that is louder. The sax solo and Fripp's lead break are squeakier and very shrill which surprised me as I was not that impressed with the brain searing nails down the blackboard effect this had. At this point I will post in here some of my initial thoughts of these tracks as I reviewed them years ago. "21st Century Schizoid Man" has that distinct vocal transposer vox that make Lake sound like some terrible alien machine that is telling mankind where he is going wrong: "Politician's funeral pyre, Innocents raped with Napalm Fire." The feeling of alienation and a barren soundscape are exemplified in the way the song is structured. During the lyrics, a sense of minimalism is produced, then the wall of sound kicks in. The incredible sax and Robert Fripp's screaming guitar complement each other brilliantly throughout the opening half, and then it slows down for a moment before the time signature changes completely and there is an erratic saxophone that locks in and continues while a strange lead guitar howls and reverberates. One of the best things about this section is the way the music seems slightly off kilter, almost out of tune but not quite. There are moments where all instruments cease at once, pause and then begin on cue only to stop again in various rhythm patterns. It is quintessential listening for anyone interested in progressive rock. On this version the ending is as mind melting as the remaster and indeed sounds even more raucous and insane.

Following this maelstrom of sound, the album settles down surprisingly, for where else could it go, into a very melancholy type of song, 'I Talk to the Wind'. This features Ian McDonald's woodwind and the soft vocals of Greg Lake. On this version the vocals are mixed to the front, and it always seemed so safe and tranquil in comparison to the rest of the album, but I guess as a contrast it works well enough. 'Epitath' is a great track that has a symphonic component that is created with a heavy blend of mellotron, keyboards and vibes. The lyrics are thought provoking "the wall on which the prophets write is cracking at the seams, upon the instruments of death the sunlight brightly gleams, when every man is torn apart with nightmares and with dreams..." this is where prog rock got its reputation for thought provoking lyrics. The stanzas are confusing, though enlightening and the lyrics revitalise the music, rather than detract. The two cannot exist without the other and are of equal importance. Peter Sinfield was responsible for some of the most provocative lyrics of the prog movement and he is credited on this album for 'words and illumination' interestingly enough. This version is not too different but some elements jump out more.

'Moonchild' is the longest track, though Fripp trims 3 minutes off which suits me fine. The full version is available elsewhere. If you are into a band as experimental as King Crimson there are going to be moments in their repertoire that will infuriate you. Michael Giles drum patterns are interesting enough but unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, 'Moonchild' is way too indulgent, as more or less a jazz improvisation.

'The Court of The Crimson King' ends the album on a positive high note, although the album cover looks like the Crimson King is slowly being tortured to death. I absolutely cherish this song and it is one of the best prog tracks I have heard. Lake's vocals have never been better, and there are amazing flourishes of sweeping keyboards that send a chill down your spine. The sound goes from intense to very soft in waves and all is complimented by a stirring lyrical content: "The black queen chants the funeral march, the cracked brass bells will ring, to summon back the fire witch in the court of the crimson king."

Okay moving on, the box set has many versions of the classic debut. CD1 (in mini-lp sleeve of UK Island 2nd Pressing) is basically the whole album the way I have heard it many times over the years, though it is a 2009 version that Robert Fripp & Steven Wilson re-mixed from the original multi-track master tapes. There are some interesting new sounds emanating and it is noticeable for those who have heard this album many times. Then this is followed by very intriguing bonus tracks "Moonchild" [full version], the same as the CD remaster, "I Talk to the Wind" [Fripp and McDonald duo version], "I Talk to the Wind" [alternate take], "Epitaph" [backing track], "Wind session" [extracts from the session that produced the intro to "21st Century Schizoid Man"], and all alternative takes from the original studio session. This material is excellent and worth getting hold of outside of all the album versions and remixes.

CD2 (in mini-lp sleeve of Canadian Release with artist's name sticker on the front cover),is the whole album again re-mastered, and transferred from the original 1969 vinyl mix. It is followed by "21st Century Schizoid Man" [early instrumental recording], and BBC Radio 1 sessions of "I Talk to the Wind", from bootleg, and "21st Century Schizoid Man" from a BBC transcription disc]. After this is the "The Court of the Crimson King (Part 1 and 2)" which is the A-side and B-side from the original vinyl single, a broken up expurgated version. It is interesting to hear but not essential in my opinion as it is of questionable quality at times.

CD3 we have already visited but on CD4 (in mini-lp sleeve of Argentina release [name of album printed on the front cover] in original paper stock),there are some real treasures as we have a restored bootleg, recorded live at Hyde Park, London, 5 July 1969, featuring an incredible set with "21st Century Schizoid Man", "The Court of the Crimson King", "Get Thy Bearings", "Epitaph", "Mantra", "Travel Weary Capricorn", and "Mars". It is a bootleg quality sound similar to "Earthbound" but it is fantastic to listen to the Crims during this era. After this is another live set, Live at Fillmore East, New York, November 1969 featuring "The Court of the Crimson King", "A Man A City", "Epitaph", "21st Century Schizoid Man" and again it has drop out sin sound and is archival quality but in its restored state is very listenable, perhaps moreso than other live albums I have heard from this early period. It is great these have been captured for this set and they are the songs really worth returning to once you have become sick and tired of listening to the studio album over and over. Again the live tracks are a genuine drawcard to this box set that all Crimson addicts will gush over.

CD5 (in mini-lp sleeve of US promotional release [with artist's name sticker] in original paper stock, plus three stickers in the sleeve [two, one red and one yellow stating ) "Promotional d/j copy monaural Not For Sale" and the third, orange, stating "Promotional Copy Not For Sale"). This is very raw material of the recording of the album, as it is the mono album mix used for radio promotion only in the USA. As a rarity it is worth hearing and sounds weird without the stereo. At the end of the CD is the edited short version of "The Court of the Crimson King" used as a mono single mix for radio promotion in the USA. This is not a CD I would recommend outside the actual album remaster but again it is interesting in itself.

Finally the piece de resistance is the DVD (in mini-lp sleeve of original Japan release with Rock Age obi strip and original paper stock). Here we have the best sound you can get for this album. The 5.1 Surround Sound mixes available in DTS 5.1 are mixed & produced by Steven Wilson, and of course the sound is out of this world; and it must be played loud. The sound virtually envelops the room and it is very intense. The speakers literally boom with power when the sax solo grinds out during the 2ist solo. Even "Moonchild" sounds incredible here though I am still not a fan. Every instrument blares out strong in this format. Also there is a 24/48 High Resolution Stereo mix of the album, and a 24/48 High Resolution Stereo mix of alternative takes from the original studio session, which is CD3's alternative tracks in even better quality sound. The 24/48 High Resolution Stereo mixes of 2004 re-master, transferred from the original 1969 vinyl mix is here too from CD2. Finally there is some video and it is glorious to see; "21st Century Schizoid Man" from Hyde Park concert 5 July 1969. It is really the same as is seen on the ELP DVD with a bit extra; there was not much filmed back then unfortunately so this is all we can get. In essence the DVD is all you really need to hear the album at its best. Though it does not have the live concerts, perhaps as the quality is so archival.

The packaging is a real drawcard. The packaging is incredible full of innovative sleeve art that merges into one picture and lots of goodies that seal the deal for purchase. You may get sick of seeing the screaming face as it is on display on all the covers including the booklet, even the badges. The book looks similar to the album sleeve including the lyrics. It comes with 2 black and white photos on quality stock paper. The CDs have bits of the screaming face and back cover art work which is a nice touch as they are identified by this quite easily. The CD back covers make up the entire original artwork as much as the front covers make up the screaming face like a jigsaw. The booklet has tons of info on the making of the remaster and snippets of info on the making of the 1969 album. There are some photos but mostly just info and all worth a look while you are cranking the album for the tenth time. It has a diary of events leading up to the album and after, similar to the style in the 2 box sets "21st Century Guide to King Crimson". It has an examination of the Hyde Park concert and all the tour dates are here and a stirring essay about the changes of Prog Rock since the album was released.

In conclusion, the facts remain the facts, this album is the birth of progressive rock. If you like your prog jazzed up with a fusion of heavy mellotron, with saxophone interlaced with jagged guitar rhythms, you have to indulge. This album encompasses all that makes prog rock so enticing, and in a sense it captures all that made King Crimson one of the leading progressive masters, brilliant but flawed geniuses. It is an expensive set to get, though is available in a smaller package with all the alternative takes that may be enough for some listeners. Really the only CDs you need are the Live takes CD and the DVD which features best sound and all the alternative takes. In any case "The Court of The Crimson King ? 40th Anniversary Edition" is one of the most impressive box sets released, it is indulgent but for the interested progger, it is a must, along with the recent Pink Floyd Immersion Box Sets.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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