King Crimson is one of the most important bands in the history of music.
Founded in 1968, the band has over the decades seen many different line-
ups, that played very different styles of music, and that have changed music in
several ways. King Crimson’s groundbreaking debut album In The Court of
the Crimson King (1969), can be regarded as the Big Bang of prog rock.
The amazing 1972-74 line-up of the band, which had at its core guitarist
Robert Fripp, violinist David Cross, bassist and vocalist John Wetton, and
drummer Bill Bruford, produced three studio albums of stunning impact and
originality: Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and Bible Black (1974),
and Red (1974).
Robert Fripp has been and remains the only continuous member of King
Crimson throughout all the many incarnations of the band. Since the band’s
debut album, Fripp has taken most major band decisions, repeatedly
dissolving and reforming King Crimson, and determining who the other band
At the end of 1974 Fripp called the band’s first major hiatus. For two years
Fripp studied and practiced the teachings of the Armenian philosopher,
spiritual teacher and mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1877-1949) and his
English follower J.G. Bennett (1897 – 1974).
However, in 1976 returned to the world of music, first working with Peter
Gabriel on the singer’s debut solo album, and a year later with Brian Eno and
David Bowie’s on the singer’s legendary album Heroes. Fripp’s solos on the
title track have become iconic.
Fripp also worked as a producer and/or guitarist with Blondie, Talking Heads,
The Roches, Daryl Hall, and again with Bowie, on Scary Monsters, and on
Gabriel’s second and third album
By 1978, Fripp started doing solo performances as what he called a “small,
independent, mobile and intelligent unit,” using what he called Frippertronics,
a two-tape recorder set-up that created long delays, resulting in slow, ambient
Fripp released his first solo album, Exposure in 1979. It was followed by God
Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners in 1980. In that same year Fripp
founded The League of Gentlemen, which was influenced by the New Wave,
with straightforward rhythms and catchy synth lines, over which Fripp played
angular and often atonal guitar parts, usually with a clean tone and again
making use of his fast cross-picking technique.
BACK TO THE BIG LEAGUE
By late 1980, Fripp decided that he wanted to play in a top-level band again.
He enlisted drummer Bill Bruford, bassist Tony Levin, and guitarist and singer
Adrian Belew, and initially called the new band Discipline.
During May and June of 1981, the band recorded its debut album at Island
Studios in London, with Rhett Davies engineering and producing. The
resulting album, Discipline, was released in September 1981, under the name
Over time Discipline has come to be universally regarded as a timeless and
hugely influential masterpiece. With Belew as a fellow guitar player, and Levin
often playing the Chapman Stick, Fripp’s rapid-fire guitar ostinatos resulted in
the band’s signature sound of complex interlocking guitar parts. The circular
rhythmic patterns have echoes of Indonesian gamelan music, as well as
minimalism, pointillism, and African music.
There also are many striking and unusual sounds, from industrial clangs,
clashes and sirens to Belew imitating shrieking elephants, in “Elephant Talk”,
to seagulls, in “Matte Kudesai,” a track that was based on music from The
League of Gentlemen.
The modern musical influences on Discipline include progressive rock, art
rock, new wave, post-punk, industrial rock, and math rock, while classical
influence include The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, musique concrete, George
Antheil’s, industrial pieces, and John Cage’s mindset of going beyond any
kind of accepted musical form.
Discipline remains a remarkable achievement to this day, and one of the most
influential albums of all time.
Similar to the two previous incarnations of the band, the fourth incarnation of
King Crimson produced three studio albums, and lasted for around three
years. The band’s second album was recorded in March and April 1982 at
Odyssey Studios in London, again with Rhett Davies at the controls.
Beat was released in June 1982, was stylistically a direct extension of its
predecessor, with more pop influences. The album contains many highlights,
including “Neal and Jack and Me,” “Heartbeat,” and “Requiem.”
King Crimson Mark 4’s third album was recorded over the course of 1983, at
Arny’s Shack near Poole in Dorset, England, Marcus Studios in London, and
Bearsville Sound Studio in Woodstock, New York. The sessions were
produced by the band, with Tony Arnold and Brad Davis engineering.
The resulting album, Three of a Perfect Pair, was released in March 1984,
and is also regarded as uneven but with amazing highlights, including the title
track, and the single “Sleepless,” with a monster bass riff by Levin. Side two is
more experimental, and closes with “Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 3.” Both the
title and the music refer back to the first album by the third, 1972-1974
incarnation of King Crimson.
In July 1984, Fripp again dissolved King Crimson. It was a logic next step for
Fripp to explore collaborations with others. He had already recorded an album
with The Police guitarist Andy Summers, I Advance Masked (1982), and in
1984 worked with him on Bewitched.
At the end 1984, Fripp started Guitar Craft. Fripp presented a new approach
to playing the flat-picked acoustic guitar, incorporating some of the spiritual
teachings of Gurdjieff and Bennett. He also introduced a new tuning, C-G-D-
A-E-G, which he called the New Standard Tuning, and which he used from
this point onwards.
During the late eighties Fripp was also active as a performing musician in a
band with his wife Toyah Willcox called Sunday All Over The World. In the
early nineties he collaborated extensively with singer David Sylvian.
Fripp and Sylvian released three joint projects, a studio album, The First Day
(1993), a remix album Darshan (The Road to Graceland) (1993), and a live
album, Damage: Live (1994). In 1992, Fripp set up his own label, Discipline
Global Mobile, together with producer David Singleton.
In that same year, Fripp judged that conditions for King Crimson to reform
were finally right again. Building on the considerable achievements of the
Sylvian/Fripp project, he invited two musicians who had been part of the
project, drummer Pat Mastelotto, and Chapman Stick and Warr guitar player
Trey Gunn, who also had been a Guitar Craft student.
Joined by Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford, the result was King
Crimson Mk 4, with the addition of Mastelotto and Gunn. It is also known as
the double trio line-up.
The double trio first met on April 18th 1994, and wrote and recorded its debut
EP VROOOM in Applehead, a boutique studio in Woodstock, New York,
engineered and produced by David Bottrill. Crimson Mk 5 recorded its first full
studio album at Real World Studios in the fall of 1994, again with Bill Bottrill
engineering, mixing and co-producing. Thrak was released on April 3, 1994.
Several pieces on the album are developments of tracks that appeared on
The music is in many ways a fusion of the music of the 1972-74 and the 1981-
84 bands. Just like in the seventies, there are the heavy, menacing, atonal
tracks in the style of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part II” and “Red.” Examples
are the title track, “Thrak,” “Vrooom,” and “Vrooom Vrooom.” The eighties
influence is obvious in the multi-rhythmic, interlocking guitar patterns.
Reviewers have called the music “high-quality prog,” and “erratic, off the wall,
bizarre, incredibly complicated,” and one reviewer wrote that King Crimson
was, “The only progressive rock band from the sixties to be making new, vital,
progressive music in the nineties”
The double trio line-up of King Crimson toured extensively during 1995 and
1996. In 1997, after Bill Bruford left, the decision was taken to break up in
smaller groups, called ProjeKcts, to make it easier to improvise and work on
new material, and incorporate different styles of music, including jazz,
industrial, techno and drums ‘n’ bass. In 1999, Levin left the ProjeKcts, due to
other touring and session commitments.
In that same year, the sixth incarnation of King Crimson came into being. It
consisted of Fripp, Belew, Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto, and has been called
a double duo. It recorded the album The Construkction of Light (2000).
The album, incorporated industrial influences to a larger extent than ever
before, and received mixed reactions, with some calling it “backward looking.”
Fripp also was strongly dissatisfied, calling the sum of the parts greater than
In 2019, the album was re-released as The Reconstrucktion Of Light. It had
been reworked, with new drum overdubs, by drummer Pat Mastelotto, and
new mixes by Don Gunn, with help from Mastelotto, Fripp and David
Three years later, King Crimson released its thirteenth and to date final studio
album, The Power To Believe. It featured the same line-up as its predecessor,
of Fripp, Belew, Gunn and Mastelotto.
Similar to what happened with VROOOM and Thrak, The Power to Believe
contains a lot of music that is a development of an EP that was released
earlier, in this case Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With (2002).
The Power to Believe was released in March 2003, and by all accounts the
band was happy with the result. One reviewer called the album “simply
stunning,” and another “a revelation for a few young metal heads.”
The album includes several updates of the pounding, multi-meter and multi-
tonal “bulldozer riffing” that was pioneered with “Red.” This is most strongly
the case in a track like “Level V.” The album also contains the funk-crunch of
“Elektrik,” which incorporates clean guitar cross-picking, and gentler tracks,
like “Eyes Wide Open,” and “The Power to Believe II,” which has echoes of
“Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part 1.” The Power to Believe” is a worthy
conclusion of King Crimson’s studio output, if it so turns out.
LIFTING THE VEIL
This sixth incarnation of King Crimsom toured in 2003, but by the end of the
tour Trey Gunn left, and was replaced by Tony Levin. In 2004, King Crimson
went on hiatus again, and it reformed in 2008 for a series of live concerts, with
Fripp, Belew, Levin, Mastelotto, and Gavin Harrison, who had played with
Porcupine Tree, as a second drummer.
In 2010, Fripp began working with guitarist, singer and producer Jakko
Jakszyk. Fripp also had the idea of a band with three drummers, and invited
R.E.M and Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin. The group was nick-named ‘The
Seven-Headed Beast,’ and performed with the three drummers, Harrison,
Mastelotto and Rieflin, at the front of the stage, and Fripp, Belew, Jakszyk and
Collins behind them.
In 2015, Rieflin was replaced by drummer Jeremy Stacey, who had played
with Robbie Williams and Eric Clapton. Stacey has remained in the band ever
The seventh-line-up of King Crimson, has remained in place until its last
performance on December 8 th , 2021. It is unclear whether there will be any
more performances by the band.
Over the last two decades, Fripp and Singleton’s label DGM has released a
seemingly limitless flow of live albums and boxed sets. This includes at least
eight live albums by the seventh incarnation of King Crimson alone.
In addition, the boxed sets are dazzlingly extensive. For example, Starless,
released in 2014, with studio and live music from the 72-74 band, contains 23
CDs, 2 Blu-ray audio discs, and 2 DVD-A’s, adding up to a grand total of 400
tracks. The boxed set Heaven & Earth, Live and in the Studio 1997-2008, was
released in 2019, and contains 18 CDs, 4 blu-ray discs, and 2 DVDs, with a
total track count of almost 1200.
Is it possible to overdose on King Crimson? It clearly is possible to try.
However, what is beyond any doubt is that King Crimson has, over the course of its 13 studio albums, pushed the boundaries of music on many different ways
and influenced countless musicians. Active in a stunning seven decades, the
band has consistently been a force of nature, that has torn through the fabric
of music, and lifted the veil on many new and exciting musical vistas.
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