March 23, 2018 King Crimson – Larks’ Tongues in Aspic 45 Years Later
In the Progressive Rock world, King Crimson is regarded as one of the earliest purveyors of the genre. This is a well-deserved attribution, for the enduring and still currently active English band is also among the first of the league to release an album, alongside Moody Blues (Days of Future Passed), Jethro Tull (This Was), Van der Graaf Generator (The Aerosol Grey Machine), and Caravan (Caravan). Despite its sporadic, on-and-off career, King Crimson remains an influence to many contemporary bands that operate in the same sonic sphere – such as Dream Theater (“A Mind Beside Itself”), Porcupine Tree (“Anesthetize”), and The Mars Volta (“Roulette Dares [The Haunt Of]”).
Formed in 1968, in London, England, King Crimson, to date, has released 13 studio albums – from 1969’s seminal In the Court of the Crimson King to 2003’s The Power to Believe. Influential and popular as the band continues to be, King Crimson, with its music, remains worthy of reintroduction especially to the current generation’s young music lovers who prefer cerebral and complex types of music. Right now, the best way to get reacquainted with King Crimson’s legacy is to start with the band’s symphonic fifth, because it is turning 45! Almost golden, it was already gold anyway, a long time ago!
Released on March 23, 1973 through Island Records, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is the debut of King Crimson’s fifth incarnation, which was comprised by founder and Guitarist Robert Fripp and the then new members John Wetton (vocals, bass, piano), David Cross (violin, viola, Mellotron, electric piano, flute), Jamie Muir (percussion, drums), and Bill Bruford (drums, timbales, cowbell, wood blocks). Its overall sound was distinct, drawing elements from the often rigid sensibilities of 20th-century Eastern European Classical music—in particular, Béla Bartók (“Romanian Folk Dances”) and Igor Stravinsky (“The Rite of Spring”) – but also allowing space for free, Jazz-inspired improvisation and Heavy Metal excursions.
King Crimson’s fifth album opened with the thirteen-and-a-half-minute instrumental epic, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part I,” which started with three minutes of rustles, bells, and chimes that then segued into alternating sections of Wagner-reminiscent violin staccato and Black Sabbath–inspired metallic indulgence. After this breathtaking intensity, Fripp and his new sonic cohorts spiced the track up with some feedback-laden jazzy experimentations. Then, rising like smoke after the seeming chaos was an Oriental-influenced violin solo. King Crimson then took the listener back to the cacophony with cinematic flourishes, and then treating the track with a sinister and eerie conclusion.
The album’s first proper song, “Book of Saturdays” was a short, semi-acoustic, and drum-less foray into something rustic, folky, and heady – a rather perfect vehicle for introducing King Crimson’s then new Vocalist/Bassist Wetton. This was followed by “Exiles” – another cryptic and Folk/Classical-styled song that was preluded by a short instrumental bit that conjured images of impending battle ships and then progressed into becoming a string-adorned romantic ballad. The ensuing “Easy Money” concluded the album’s triumvirate of songs – angular, looser, and much more improvised, exuding a freer jam feel and featuring an extended instrumental interlude.
Then, finally, Fripp and the rest of the reinvigorated King Crimson finished off the savory larks’ tongues with two instrumentals more: the sparse, filmic, virtually monotonic, and violin-led “The Talking Drum” and the opening track’s sequel – “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part II,” whose ascending chord progression, guitar distortion, ominous and driving bass lines, relentless drum chops as well as poundings, along with melodic violin ad-lib made for a great, ultimate closer for this grandiose masterpiece.
Like any other genre, Progressive Rock continues to evolve, with its proponents fusing more and more styles together as well as incorporating different sounds from whatever sources are available to them. After all, eclecticism is the basic characteristic of this kind of music. However, no matter how far the genre has traveled, how expansive it has covered, and how deep it has explored the well of musical possibilities, the bricks laid down by the old vanguards such as King Crimson will always remain an important and indispensable foundation of Progressive Rock. Commemorate King Crimson’s legacy and pay homage to the entire genre itself, by celebrating Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’s 45th anniversary in full volume and with an undivided attention.