King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969) - Album Review

By Sergio Ariza

An earthquake in rock 

Few times in the history of rock can we speak of an album so groundbreaking and innovative that it represents the beginning of something, but In The Court Of The Crimson King is one of those few. Maybe the Canterbury scene, with the seminal Soft Machine, or the Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed arrived before, but the debut of King Crimson is the true beginning of that which ended up being called ‘progressive rock’.

From the moment the album opened with the spectacular riff of 21st Century Schizoid Man and Gregg Lake's distorted voice entered, one had the impression of being faced with something totally new. This feeling accentuated when the strange instrumental bridge arrived and the band's guitarist started playing in a way that made everyone wonder where this guy who mixed jazz, psychedelia, hard rock and progressive had come from. He didn't seem to have any relation with the other ‘guitar Gods’ of the time, beyond the model of his guitar, a Les Paul Custom from the late 50s.


Inevitably ‘after the storm’ a wonderful calm arrived with the pastoral I Talk To The Wind, in which the other great protagonist on the record began to stand out, beyond that guitarist called
Robert Fripp; none other than Ian McDonald This is the man who plays several instruments, among them the omnipresent mellotron, and who is responsible for the wonderful melodies of the aforementioned I Talk To The Wind, The Court of the Crimson King, as well as contributing, along with the rest of the band, to the gigantic Epitaph. This latter song is one of the best songs of the genre and the track that closed the first side in an absolutely masterful way. And we are talking about what is possibly the most perfect melody by the band, in a wonderful group performance - with a perfect Lake on vocals, Fripp doubling between acoustic and electric, and McDonald coloring the whole song with the mellotron.

The second side only had two songs, one over 12 minutes and the other over nine. The former was Moonchild, a song that begins as a quiet ballad before becoming a kind of jam, first with a calm and melancholic Fripp, and then moving on to an unhinged part, with which the guitarist shows that he is one of the few progressive musicians capable of improvising without falling into the pedantry and excesses that would end up ruining this genre. Of course, it is also worth applauding the expertise of the other members, especially Michael Giles, who is on fire on drums.


The album closes with the epic The Court of the Crimson King, with Fripp again on acoustic, in a song that begins almost folk and gives way to a colossal and symphonic chorus, as well as having several wonderful instrumental sections in which McDonald shines with his flute.

When it was released in October 1969, In The Court Of The Crimson King anticipated the sounds that were to appear in the following decade. The great figures of the 60s knew how important it was - the Stones took the band as an opening act at their mythical free Hyde Park concert,
Hendrix called them the best band he had ever seen live and Pete Townshend said that their debut was "an extraordinary masterpiece". Rarely has a band achieved such an earthquake with a single album as King Crimson did with In The Court Of The Crimson King.