King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black” 40th Anniversary Series
England has produced some of the best bands in progressive rock music from the 60′s and 70′s, accounting for one of the largest collections of genres to be infused during any one period of time. One band that sits among the top in terms if innovation, influence, creativity and technicality is King Crimson. Classical chamber music, folk, electric blues, jazz improvisation, proto metal and so much, the areas of sound from the constantly changing line ups of Crimson over 40 years of time are all timeless in origin. Mainly centered around the compositional works of multi-instrumentalist Robert Fripp, King Crimson embodies all the possibilities that become true despite the lack of radio attention and formal networks of media. Having released their first album in 1969, King Crimson is one of the few groups to pull off dynamics that range in as much extremes in power and delicate subtle compositional works as they have shaped in the groups 40 year existence. The tonality is always in motion from record to record with Robert Fripp being the only surviving member from beginning to end. It was in 1969 when opening up for The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park to 600,000+ people that really gave the group a reputation and gave the world a new type of sound to love. 40 some odd years later and Robert Fripp is unearthing the original King Crimson masterpieces as collectors sets with expanded video, 5.1 surround sound mixes and much more. Starless and Bible Black, a hybrid live album cut with many studio overdubs and songs built inside the studio, is the record out of all the 70′s era Crimson albums that we have been dying to see a release on. Last year our wishes came true as Starless and Bible Black has been given the special 40th anniversary treatment.
Starless and Bible Black was the first record to really present the weight and gravity that existed in the live King Crimson sound of the mid 70′s. Starless and Bible Black features the acrobatic lyrical work of John Wetton who doubles on bass duties, the highly detailed and complex drumming of Yes’ previous drummer Bill Bruford, and multi-instrumentalists David Cross and Robert Fripp’s highly complex tandem work outs. The influential and successful band Yes had just lost their drummer to King Crimson during this time, a very intriguing reality considering the level of success Yes had just created and the unstable band member fluctuation that had occurred in King Crimson since the bands first year in 1969. With musical vision that became democratic in live presentation and improvisation at the heart of the live show vehicle, this was a band who became very well versed in becoming something new with every performance. Starless and Bible Black’s material was mainly recorded in Europe during 1973 with added studio edits that are hard to identify at times from the superb sense of pitch and tuning the band had. They could add layers to backing live tracks and the seamless quality was something at the forefront of possibility as recording technology improved. There is a gusto and strength to the recordings on Starless and Bible Black that still stand up to today’s standards of progressive rock music. Each piece highlights intense moments and breaks of complex guitar, bass, melotron and violin/viola and percussion, never breaking spirit to fulfill any kind of obligation to anyone but themselves. There is an uncompromising flow of complex, charming and at times sonically violent dynamics that is all its own and out of this world. Jimi Hendrix was very fascinated with classical music and had hinted where the worlds could go. King Crimson is the embodiment of these visions and something entirely unique from before, during or after it.
The inclusion of recording engineer George Chkiantz was another element and approach King Crimson took in crafting multi-layered new ideas through their albums. George Chkiantz had become very well known in London’s recording scene at the famous Olympic studios. George Chkiantz would be hired by The Jimi Hendrix Experience engineer for the recording of Axis: Bold as Love and added many of the 3d aspects of the record, most notably the phasing that exists on the title track and the overall dreamy sound of ‘Little Wing’. These innovative recording techniques helped King Crimson plot out sound in a way that allowed people with headphones and a dedicated attention span to absorb every nuance they had mapped out in their minds. King Crimson is truly a band of many perceptions as the listen you give reveals different aspects of the music every time. With much of the content recorded on the road, there was little manipulation that could occur, but the end result of Starless and Bible Black is a testament to how powerful of a visionary George Chkiantz had become behind the scenes and on the boards.
Starless and Bible Black has some of the most uplifting sections that lead into some of the most subtle and soft. The attention to detail is never put to the side and the mixing becomes a really strong aspect to this record. Robert Fripp plays really complex guitar lines that run around Wetton’s vocals in one of the most controlled yet wild ways. John Wetton and Bill Bruford’s rhythm section really pushes one another around the framework of each song, tastefully adding rhythms that cross between the jazz and classical idioms. ‘The Night Watch’ starts out with a live recording that shows a flare and spattering of colors that highlights the groups approach towards collage work and sound painting. The music becomes very dreamy and smooth after the live intro section and Robert Fripp really glides over the music with small shades of processed vocal parts from Wetton that radiate under the mix. The balance of dynamics is untouched and each little drum nuance, electric piano part, melotron section and guitar sheet becomes intertwined into the King Crimson legacy note after note. The all live piece ‘Trio’ is one of the most touching and beautiful songs created in the King Crimson canon. Including all of the members besides Bill Bruford, his credit detail on the album work showed the groups deep respect for the spaces where musicians choose not to play. Majestic, heartfelt and enthralling; bass, violin and melotron account for some of the lightest and beautiful tones to ever grave a progressive rock record in the 70′s. As much light that fills this piece, the album is full of sharp turns and sudden abrupt changes. The live recording of ‘The Mincer’ might serve as the darkest number on the album, drawing out the spirit of the Miles Davis electric voodoo sound of the 70′s and highlighting the penchant for deep lush fusion grooves that stretch into the outer realms and inner darkness of the deepest caverns. Improvisation is at the center of this song along with many other pieces from the album, a true breaking point of any other era before this one in the King Crimson world. John Wetton’s overdubbed vocals at the last passage of ‘The Mincer’ serve as the perfect ending and opens up for the soulful bluesy guitar modes that Robert Fripp tapped into during the beginning of the bands career.
Side two of the original 1974 Starless and Bible Black presents two length instrumental work outs from the band, highlighting all the dynamic ranges of the artists in the group in stunning live quality. The title track is a very avant-garde song that showcases an intense moment of improvised spontaneity in the King Crimson sound. New methods were being adopted by the year and Bill Bruford, John Wetton and David Cross pushed Robert Fripp to more extremes than he had ever been pushed before. By the ending section of the number, the band is in full velocity, interlocking in a primitive groove that breaks down as fast as it builds. Robert Fripp has a commanding approach in bridging each section with drifting guitar lines that rise up into clouds of heavenly atmosphere. The band pulls Fripp back down to earth and puts all energy into lethal waves of energy blasts that highlight the tight rope disposition of ideas that only the most seasoned musicians can pull off this well in a live show. There are so many moments all over Starless and Bible Black that pull you out of feeling like you are hearing a live recording, something masterfully pulled off with the editing out of concert crowd noise. King Crimson selected the perfect to end the original 1974 release of Starless and Bible Black with the inclusion of the 11 minute number ‘Fracture’. Serving as one of the most complex vehicles of expression in the entire King Crimson body of works, ‘Fracture’ moves into every imaginable cycle of what King Crimson had become and the future that lay ahead on the last 70′s record from the group, Red. With snake like and frantically intricate guitar patterns and some of the heaviest proto metal guitar riffs to ever grace a record up to that time, ‘Fracture’ is one of the highest achievements in guitar culture and one of the most expansive songs to come out of England’s progressive movement. The essence of classical, jazz and rock modes in ‘Fracture’ create a tension and release in each cycle of the song that shows the bands in John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Starless and Bible Black as a whole is music that is still paving the way for progressive music and is still presenting new ideas for musicians to expand upon.
The expanded 40th anniversary of Starless and Bible Black includes bonus live material that fits the era perfectly. In the 90′s, the posthumous live release The Night Watch highlighted a lot of the source material for Starless and Bible Black, having been recorded at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands on November 23, 1973. The bonus live material found on Starless and Bible Black gives further light into the mystery of this King Crimson line up during the 1973 era. The inclusion of video of the group performing in 1973 is some of the best I have seen and is worth the purchase alone. The two numbers at the end of the CD portion show the band at some of there edgiest and hardest sounding with the songs ‘Dr. Diamond’ and ‘Guts On My Side’. The DVD also adds to the mixes available by presenting the original mix, a 5.1 surround sound mix and more. The entire package, photos included, is one of the best I have seen for a King Crimson release. These final touches on the 40th anniversary series edition really add to the raw yet immaculate nature of Starless and Bible Black and the era it represents in the King Crimson legacy.
Starless and Bible Black (40th Anniversary Series)
- The Great Deceiver
- We’ll Let You Know
- The Night Watch
- The Mincer
- Starless And Bible Black
- The Law Of Maximum Distress Pt 1
- Improv: The Mincer
- The Law Of Maximum Distress Pt 2
- Dr Diamond
- Guts On My Side
Bill Bruford / Percussion
David Cross / Violin, Viola, Electric Piano
Robert Fripp / Guitar, Mellotron, Electric Piano
John Wetton / Bass and Vocals
From the official King Crimson site:
As with other albums in the King Crimson CD/DVD-A series, the stereo CD features a new stereo mix by Robert Fripp & Steven Wilson, while the DVD-A features 5.1 mixes of the album by Steven Wilson, high resolution stereo mixes of the original & new stereo mixes, the full Law of Maximum Distress parts 1 & 2 improvs with The Mincer in their original unedited form/running order, Lament, The Night Watch & Fracture from the same Zurich concert, (completing the show presented in part on The Great Deceiver boxed set), a 1973 live recording of the concert favourite Dr. Diamond & an audio restored bootleg recording of the played once only Guts on my Side.
The DVD-A also features live footage from New York’s Central Park in 1973 of Easy Money & the improv Fragged Dusty Wall Carpet the track that formed the basis of Guts on my Side.
* As a result of lost multi track tapes Trio & The Mincer have been up-mixed to 5.1 by Simon Heyworth & Robert Fripp.
King Crimson performing at Central Park New York City New York 1973