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DUST OFF THE VINYL: ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ holds up as progressive rock classic

ROMAN TYLER

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It’s rare to run into a single artist or album that can be attributed to launching an entire genre, but it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the progressive rock (or prog rock) genre was almost single handedly kick started by King Crimson’s 1969 album In the Court of the Crimson King. This album laid a lot of the groundwork that prog artists like Yes would pick up on in the future, combining traditional rock music at the time with elements of jazz artists, like John Coltrane, and the work of classical composers.

This combination of elements from various genres with a focus on rock and roll music is what defines this album and the prog genre in general. The instrumentation, while having a focus on guitar, also explores jazz instrumentation like the blaring saxophones on the track “21st Century Schizoid Man” or the lighthearted flute segments on “I Talk To The Wind.”

The influence In the Court of the Crimson King takes from various genres goes even further than just the instrumentation though, there are several long winding instrumental sections that break up several of the songs and have names of their own, such as “Mirrors” which comes in the middle of “21st Century Schizoid Man” or “The Dream” which breaks up the track “Moonchild.” These instrumental sections hark back to classical jazz artists like Coltrane as well as the classical composers these artists took inspiration from themselves, imbuing the energy and style of rock and roll music with the smoothness and mysticism that comes with these other genres.

The experimentation on this album lends itself to an energy and mood unique to prog entirely, in that it’s easy to get lost in the moods and energies created by it. It’s only 5 tracks long, with the longest track “Moonchild” including “The Dream” exceeding 12 minutes in length, but at no point does it feel drawn out or repetitive. The album launches into an explosive opening with the first track, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” which is a literal explosion of pounding drums, saxophone, and electric guitar, only broken up by Greg Lake’s distorted screaming vocals. This musical explosion tapers off into the instrumental section “Mirrors” after about 2 minutes which feels like a free form jazz section itself punctuated by intense guitars and high strung cymbals and high hats, carrying the listener through an intense soundscape before exploding back into the lead vocal section.

It’s easy to see why this album is so influential and genre defining, every single song is meticulously crafted yet feels very loose and flowing, and the album in its entirety creates a sonic landscape and experience unlike any other. While the prog genre would fracture out and explode into popularity with artists like Yes and Jethro Tull, King Crimson remains one of the founding fathers of the genre and their debut album still holds up over most of the artists and albums that came after them.

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