To mark down a debut record in 1969 that is more recognizable and more influential than King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King would take some deep digging. Between the cover art created by Barry Godber or the sampling done by modern kings like Kanye West, In the Court Of The Crimson King is able to correctly identify some precursor to a progressive rock take over full of horns and merry men to make up the ensemble.
For the introductory track “21st Century Schizoid Man” that captures this frantic nature and marching band styled break downs of percussion that is a rage of jazz influence. The horns that blast and melt the audiences’ faces are less heaven-sent and more of a spiritual awakening from within. King Crimson can jam and switch methods of time signature which creates two bookends of tracks throughout the record. These bookends form with both the first track “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the final track “The Court Of The Crimson King” which are the grand opening and finale of the record.
The way that King Crimson is covered by five instrumentalists and writers holds this council of overarching talent on the storyboard. Robert Fripp covers the electric and acoustic guitars, which then forms Michael Giles as the percussion leader and backing vocals. As Greg Lake handles the leading vocals and bass guitar, Ian McDonald is in full control of the woodwind instruments and keyboards which includes the saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, mellotron, harpsichord, piano, and organ, as well as the vibraphone which makes a striking performance on “The Court Of The Crimson King.” Throughout the record, there is this somewhat English theme that carries throughout, but King Crimson is more of a fantasy history lesson that trades stories passed down by fires. Similar to the idea of ancient wise tales, In The Court Of The Crimson King makes a deeper dive to create whimsical backings through the flute solos and percussion that is played like a lead instrument.
As the three middle pieces “I Talk To The Wind,” “Epitaph,” and “Moonchild” begin to play out before the listener, there is this vibrancy to the tracks that is more underneath the surface and desires a more profound look. These three tracks hold intricacies that are easily missed when going through on a single listen and in The Court Of The Crimson King is a record that will easily demand multiple listens to fully capture every piece of the puzzle. From the storytelling elements to the grand exposure to the frames of the record, In The Court Of The Crimson King is almost overpowering at first glance.
Then as the listener is able to step back in observation, King Crimson reveals this renaissance oil painting of levels upon levels of detail. Time has since pressed on and In The Court Of The Crimson King pushes now 50 years later, somewhere in this mystical land surrounded by an iron hand, the screams of the Schizoid Man can still be heard through those melancholy eyes.