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Music / King Crimson

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The Starless and Bible Black lineup: (L-R) John Wetton, David Cross, Robert Fripp, and Bill Bruford.

"Everything you've heard about King Crimson is true. It's an absolutely terrifying place... In Yes was an endless debate about should it be F♮ in the bass with G♯ on top with the organ, or should it be the other way round. In King Crimson, almost nothing was said. You were just supposed to know."
Bill Bruford, 2009 interview

King Crimson is one of the earliest and most influential Progressive Rock groups. The band was formed in 1968 in London. There have been many incarnations since, despite some pretty regular break-ups and reformations (1968–74, 1981–84, 1994–2004, 2007–08, 2013–).

Their music is characterised by really impressive instrumental technique, Uncommon Time signatures, Epic Rocking, pretty extreme dynamic contrasts, lots of Improv, lyrics that usually sound cooler than they read (when they appear), and a large percentage of tunes that seem specifically designed just to fuck with your head.

The only constant member of the band is guitarist and mastermind Robert Fripp. The band's most commercially successful period in 1968–74 was plagued by constantly shifting lineups. Crimson settled into some stability between 1981 and 1984, where they toured as a four-piece performing music influenced by gamelan and New Wave. From 1994 to 1998 Crimson toured as a "double-trio" format, introducing some industrial and grunge sounds. A quartet around 2000 leaned heavily into Progressive Metal elements. The most recent iteration was a seven-piece band formed in 2013 with three (!) drummers. It contained two new members along with five previous members, including Mel Collins, who'd hadn't played with the band for nearly 30 years. This incarnation toured almost continuously through 2021, mostly playing reworked versions of the 1970s-vintage Crimson music as well as their signature improvisations.

In a begrudging nod to current media consumption tastes, Fripp announced in 2019 that King Crimson's studio records would finally be available on streaming services. The 2021 tour was announced as the last King Crimson tour, but as Robert Fripp has "retired" several times in the past, fans aren't quite ready to declare the band done. Most recently the band released a 50th anniversary documentary, In the Court of the Crimson King, directed by Toby Amies.

Past and present King Crimson members have created multiple side bands to showcase their own take on the band's repertoire. Some are called ProjeKcts, intended as "research and development," according to Fripp. Some, like 21st Century Schizoid Band and The Crimson ProjeKCt, are comprised of former and current members who play older Crimson material. Others, like Stick Men or Adrian Belew's Power Trio, play a mix of original material and reworked Crimson songs. While Fripp for the most part gives his blessing to these groups, his reaction to them is mixed depending on how well they represent the band's aesthetic. note 

Band members:

Current band members:

  • Robert Fripp (1968–): guitar, guitar synthesizer, etc.
  • Mel Collins (1970–72, 2013–): saxophone, flute, Mellotron note 
  • Tony Levin (1981–99, 2003–): Chapman Stick, bass
  • Pat Mastelotto (1994–): drums, percussion
  • Gavin Harrison (2007–): drums
  • Jakko Jakkszyk (2013–): guitars, lead vocals
  • Jeremy Stacey (2016-): drums, keyboards note 

Former band members:

  • Ian McDonald (1968–69; died 2022): saxophone, flute, Mellotron note 
  • Greg Lake (1968–70; died 2016): bass, vocals
  • Michael Giles (1968–69): drums
  • Peter Sinfield (1968–72): VCS 3 synthesizer, lyrics, light show
  • Gordon Haskell (1970; died 2020): bass, vocals
  • Andy McCulloch (1970): drums
  • Boz Burrell (1971–72; died 2006): bass, vocals
  • Ian Wallace (1971–72; died 2007): drums
  • John Wetton (1972–74; died 2017): bass, vocals, piano
  • Jamie Muir (1972–73): percussion, drums
  • Bill Bruford (1972–97): drums, percussion
  • David Cross note  (1972–74): violin, Mellotron, piano
  • Richard Palmer-James (1973–74): lyrics
  • Adrian Belew (1981–2013): guitar, vocals note 
  • Trey Gunn (1994–2003): touchstyle guitar, Chapman Stick, fretless bass
  • Bill Rieflin (2013–2016, 2017-2020, died 2020): drums, keyboards

Additional musicians:

  • Peter Giles (1970): bass
  • Keith Tippett (1970–71; died 2020): piano
  • Jon Anderson (1970): vocals
  • Nick Evans (1970): trombone
  • Robin Miller (1970–71, 1974): oboe, cor anglais
  • Marc Charig (1970–71, 1974): cornet
  • Harry Miller (1971): double bass
  • Paulina Lucas (1971): vocals
  • Eddie Jobson (1975): violin, piano; recruited to add violin to the live album USA whenever Cross' contributions were lost to technical issues.
  • Chris Gibson (2017) : keyboards note 
  • Theo Travis (2019): keyboards note 


Studio album discography and notable songs:

  • In the Court of the Crimson King (LP, 1969) - "21st Century Schizoid Man", "Epitaph", "The Court of the Crimson King"
  • In the Wake of Poseidon (LP, 1970) - "Pictures of a City", "Cat Food", "The Devil's Triangle"
  • Lizard (LP, 1970) - "Cirkus", "Lizard"
  • Islands (LP, 1971) - "Ladies of the Road"
  • Larks' Tongues in Aspic (LP, 1973) - "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One", "Easy Money", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two"
  • Starless and Bible Black (LP, 1974) - "The Great Deceiver", "The Night Watch", "Fracture" note 
  • Red (LP, 1974) - "Red", "Starless" note 
  • Discipline (LP, 1981) - "Elephant Talk", "Matte Kudasai", "Thela Hun Ginjeet"
  • Beat (LP, 1982) - "Heartbeat", "Sartori in Tangier"
  • Three of a Perfect Pair (LP, 1984) - "Three of a Perfect Pair", "Sleepless", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part III"
  • VROOOM (EP, 1994) - "Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream"
  • THRAK (LP, 1995) - "Dinosaur", "Walking on Air"
  • The ConstruKction of Light (LP, 2000) - "FraKctured", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV"note 
  • Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With (EP, 2002) - "Eyes Wide Open", the title track note 
  • The Power to Believe (LP, 2003) - studio versions of "Level Five" & "Dangerous Curves" note , new versions of "Eyes Wide Open" and "Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With"

"ProjeKct" studio album discography:

  • (as "ProjeKct Two") Space Groove (LP) - 1997
  • (as "ProjeKct X") Heaven and Earth (LP) - 2000
  • (as "Jakko Jakszyk, Robert Fripp, and Mel Collins - A King Crimson ProjeKct") A Scarcity of Miracles (LP) - 2011

The band has released several live albums; the most-well known are arguably Earthbound (1972) from the lineup that recorded Islands, and USA (1974) from its John Wetton-led early lineup. Other live releases that rank highly amongst fans are The Night Watch and The Great Deceiver, both which document the Wetton-era lineup, and Absent Lovers, which represents the 1980's-era Belew-led four-piece lineup. Fripp has also released 50 King Crimson and ProjKct live albums between 1998-2019, independently through the King Crimson Collector's Club series, which was subscription-based at its inception, but of which all are now available individually.

The latest 'Mark VIII' line-up that formed in 2013 has yet to release a studio album, however, this line-up has released seven live albums/boxsets between 2014-2019, along with six 'Elements' sets, which are 2-disc sets that contain snippets of new studio material, along with live & rare tracks that are a mix of the current and past line-ups.

Fripp's label, Discipline Global Mobile, also has nearly six hundred recordings available for sale via download, ranging from full concerts (at times even entire tours) from every stage of the band, along with compilations of rehearsals, rare mixes, and demos. Fripp, ever the archivist, notes each recording's sound quality and source, at times along with notes from his diary. note 

The Tropes of the Crimson King:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Each verse of "Elephant Talk" is a list of words that mean "talk" that share the same first letter. This gets lampshaded in the fourth verse with the line "These are words with a D this time."
  • Alternate Album Cover:
    • Most releases of Islands depict a photo of the Trifid Nebula. The original US release, meanwhile, replaces this with the art from the original inner sleeve, depicting a group of watercolor blots (representing an island) against a solid white backdrop.
    • The original release of Discipline depicted a Celtic knotwork design by John Kyrk, based on a pre-existing one by George Bain. Because the Bain design turned out to be copyrighted and used without permission, the 2001 reissue replaced it with a new, specially-commissioned design by Steve Ball, titled "Possible Productions knotwork", and it's stuck ever since; Ball would later design various other knotwork logos for Robert Fripp's other projects.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In a live performance of "Thela Hun Ginjeet", Adrian Belew recounts how the gang he encountered wanted to "Kill me! Rip my limbs off! Smash my tape recorder!"
  • Berserk Button:
    • Robert Fripp hates (unsolicited) flash photography during concerts (and doesn't feel too hot about bootlegs, either), to the point of actually stopping concerts when it happens and having the roadies take away the camera. Don't ask him for an autograph either. Specifically, Fripp believes that such things screw with a musician's ability to perform music in a honorable fashion. If you're "the right person," (who isn't out to sell autographed material, disrupt performances, or ask anything of him so you can brag about it to your buds later), at "the right place," (namely, not at concerts or out of the blue on the street), at "the right time" (when he's prepared to do such things), you may just get lucky.
      • According to Tony Levin, Fripp was asked by a couple of fans if he was fine with them taking a photograph, and his reply was "Yes, provided I'm not in it."
    • Generally, anything to do with the inherently shitty nature of the music business (such as the folding of the record label King Crimson was under due to unsound business practices, ill-designed venues, self-serving promoters, jerkass "fans," and a consistent ignorance of anything KC did after 1974 by the press and the public alike) can cause the soft-spoken Englishman to make the word "fuck" REALLY stick more than any DI could hope to achieve. It took decades, with the discography passing through a few different labels, but Fripp now finally controls the Crimson catalog. Beginning in 2008, each album is being re-issued, with new stereo mixes, bonus material, and a 5.1 surround mix (coordinated by Fripp and produced by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree) on the majority of them. When we say bonus material, by the way, we mean a lot of bonus material. Some releases have as many as twenty discs.
    • For the longest time, Fripp was not a huge fan of digital distribution of King Crimson music—aside from the usual concerns with "Digital Piracy Is Evil", the fallout from the EG Records bankruptcy and subsequent sale of KC's pre-1990s catalog left control of distribution and publishing rights out of his hands (or any other band members) for over two decades. A very public row with now-defunct peer-to-peer sharing site Grooveshark did not help matters much. Starting in 2019, however, Fripp has apparently been satisfied with the state of the market to allow King Crimson music to be hosted on Spotify and YouTube, at least.
  • Bolιro Effect: They first tried this out with their simplified cover version of Gustav Holst's "Mars", and by five years on, "Starless" used this to the point where it could be considered an Ur-Example of Post-Rock. It's not their only usage of the trope; "Lizard", "The Talking Drum", "Dangerous Curves" and "The Devil's Triangle" are other good examples. note 
  • Breather Episode: Most of the band's early albums have a Surprisingly Gentle Song somewhere along the middle to provide a break from the otherwise unrelenting bleakness.
  • Broken Record:
    "I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat myself when under stress, I repeat-"
    "In the court of the crimson kiiiiiiiiiing... ahhhhhhhhhhhhh... ahhhhhhhhhhh..."
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The lyrics of "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum" include references to earlier Crimson songs, in particular "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" ("happy as a lark's tongue in cheek bone china doll") and "Frame by Frame" ("the world's my oyster soup kitchen door frame by frame").
    • "Walking on Air" (from 1995) includes the lyric "In between the deep blue sea and the sheltering sky", and one of their instrumentals (from 1981) is titled "The Sheltering Sky" (itself a reference to a novel by Paul Bowles).
    • Then there are "FraKctured", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part III", "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV", and "Fearless and Highly Thrakked", whose titles refer to earlier songs / instrumentals.
  • Control Freak: Robert Fripp in the early days of the band. It ended up driving multiple musicians, including vocalist Gordon Haskell, out of the band. He's mellowed out significantly since then, however.
  • Cover Version:
    • "Get Thy Bearings" by Donovan, "Mars, the Bringer of War" (from The Planets) by Gustav Holst, "Prism" by Pierre Favre, "'Heroes'" by David Bowie. note 
    • Early 1969 rehearsals included Michael from Mountains and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Unfortunately, said rehearsals were not recorded.
    • Don't forget "Tomorrow Never Knows"! (Well, sorta.)
    • An improv from the 1972 Summit Studios show includes Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan".
    • At the July 4th, 1984 show at the Agora Ballroom in Hartford, the band covered "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" during their usual "Entry of the Crims" walk-on improv.
    • On one live album, Adrian Belew does a version of The Beatles' "Free as a Bird" from The Beatles Anthology, but since this was a recording from just before the release of the documentary (and as such, the song itself), he only sings the Lennon bits (as those were available before on bootlegs).
    • The latest incarnation of the band played "Breathless", from Robert Fripp's solo album Exposure, a few times from 2017 to 2019.
  • Crapsack World: "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Epitaph" from In the Court of the Crimson King both describe this kind of world.
  • Creepy Circus Music: The 23 minute epic "Lizard" ends with about 2 minutes of warped, ghostly sounding carnival music following an incredibly heavy jazz section. "Cirkus", appropriately enough also qualifies.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • The whole Wetton, Cross and Bruford line-up could be considered this. After the complete personnel turnover from Islands to Larks' Tongues in Aspic, the band metamorphosed from a lush, symphonic prog band into almost a metal group. Starless and Bible Black is probably every bit as edgy as Red but just not quite as heavy.
    • Allmusic's review of In the Court of the Crimson King even refers to the trope by name.
    • The band's reliance on this trope is likely why King Crimson is one of the few Progressive Rock bands apart from Pink Floyd that critics like.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford.
  • Driven to Suicide: "The Letters" is about a woman who takes her own life when her husband's lover writes to her that she's pregnant with their child. Also a particularly unnerving example of Mood Whiplash in a song.
  • Drone of Dread: Many of their live improvisations use this to some extent. "Starless and Bible Black" is a particularly unnerving example, as is "Providence" on Red and the recently debuted live track "Ahriman's Ceaseless Corruptions".
  • Epic Rocking:
    • The best example from the band's studio work is the twenty-three-minute "Lizard", though they have done so much of this throughout their career that they practically count as the Trope Codifiers. (If counted as one song, "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" would be even longer, at around thirty-six minutes; however, it was released in five separate parts across three albums plus an LP).
    • Robert Fripp needs his own special tuning to rock this epically.
    • Adrian Belew also qualifies. His ability to make his guitar sound like another instrument or an animal call, combined with the dexterity of the other band members, is probably what Fripp meant on making Crimson a "Small, mobile, intelligent, self sufficient unit".
    • They indulged in this so much in their early years that their management advised them to give titles and track listings to the individual sections of their longer songs, the reason being that if you've got a song that's so long it takes up one entire side of an album, the composers only get royalties for one track, but if it consists of four or five tracks gathered into a "suite", they get royalties for each track.
    • The Islands era contains probably the most of this in terms of KC live performances; the live version of "21st Century Schizoid Man" from Earthbound is nearly 12 minutes long, while "Groon" lasts for 15:30. The 40th Anniversary re-issue of the album also includes a version of "Sailor's Tale" lasting over 14 minutes.
    • Probably the single longest composition by any lineup is the improv "Zoom Zoom" from the KCCC release Live at the Zoom Club. Its running time? Almost 45 minutes. And there's another improv from the same show lasting 22 minutes, which is almost as long as the Lizard suite. Other improvs from the Wetton-era lineups can get quite long, with a handful over 20 minutes.
  • Face on the Cover: Usually avoided, but Red has a photo of the band on the cover.
  • Foreign Language Title: "Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes Like Clouds)" ("Nuages" is French for "clouds"), and several tracks with Japanese names, of which the best known are "Matte Kudasai" and "Shoganai" (a longer list is below under Gratuitous Japanese).
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Lizard gives off this impression with its medieval aesthetic and more baroque sound combined with the band's usual heaviness.
  • Gentleman Snarker: With his habitual attire of a three-piece suit, soft-spoken delivery and lethal comic timing, Fripp is this trope in his interactions with the press and, on occasion, the public.
  • The Gift: Fripp says that Tony Levin has this, in that Levin's a natural musician who can fit into any context and who learns difficult-to-impossible parts with ease, whereas by contrast, when Fripp himself started to learn guitar he was tone-deaf and had no sense of rhythm, and only reached his current level of virtuosity by means of self-imposed Training from Hell.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: They have several songs with Japanese names. "Matte kudasai" ("待ってください") means "Please Wait". "Shōganai" ("しょうがない") means "it can't be helped", and is so common that there's a trope for it. "Mie gakure" ("見え隠れ", usually romanised as "miekakure") means "appear and disappear". "Shidare zakura" ("しだれ桜" seems to be the most common character reading, though "枝垂れ桜" and "シダレザクラ" are amongst the other possibilities) refers to a specific type of cherry tree (apparently this one), sometimes translated as "weeping cherry".
  • Gratuitous Panning: The studio version of "VROOOM" from the THRAK album is mixed with with half of the band members (Fripp, Gunn, and Bruford) on the left channel and the other half (Belew, Levin, Mastelotto) on the right channel. This was applied across the board to Jakko Jakszyk's 2015 remix of the album for the THRAK BOX, to mixed reception.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Faggot" in "The Great Deceiver" is intended to refer to a meatball, not as a gay slur. Richard Palmer-James was apparently pretty embarrassed when he remembered the word's alternate meaning (which was not commonly used in the United Kingdom at the time, so this could also be an example of Did Not Do the Bloody Research or Separated by a Common Language).
  • Hidden Track: Islands has one (see Studio Chatter below). Several other live recordings also sometimes contain them, though they're usually just speeches by Fripp or one of the other band members.
  • I Am the Band: Zigzagged. Fripp has been the only consistent member of the group over its long life, generally drives the recruitment and high-concept of the band's iterations, and is the most proactive in managing the group's catalog and archives. However, he's the first to acknowledge that he alone does not make King Crimson, and describes its way of doing things musically as more anarchic, with each member pulling the band in various directions to see where it will end up. He doesn't consider himself the "bandleader" of Crimson.
  • Instrumentals: Lots of them. Some King Crimson fans resent that they do songs with vocals at all. Every studio album except for In the Court of the Crimson King and Lizard includes at least one instrumental.
  • Improv:
    • From beloved ("Asbury Park", "Trio") to divisive ("The Illusion" section of "Moonchild"). A curious example is "The Deception of the Thrush", an improvisation featured on many King Crimson live albums. Each iteration follows the same basic structure, but with wild variations in actual content.
    • Of similar note is "Groon", a studio jam recorded by the Giles, Giles and Fripp trio during the Poseidon sessions as the B-side of the 1970 "Cat Food" single. Fifteen takes were recorded, and while they vary quite a bit their structure is nonetheless the same. The Islands band of 1971–72, however, never played it live the same way twice. While the recognizable intro is the same, everything after that is drastically different every time (usually culminating in a VCS 3-enhanced drum solo by Ian Wallace). Just compare these three versions.
    • Their 1996 live album THRaKaTTaK is almost an entire album full of it! It consists of "Thrak" as performed at various shows as well as improvisations involving the song.
    • They followed this up with Ladies of the Road, an album of live performances from the 1972 Earthbound-era band, that included an entire side of "21st Century Schizoid Man" with the improvisations from various performances stitched together into one massive montage.
  • Intercourse with You: Not many of their songs; two exceptions being "Ladies of the Road" from Islands and "Easy Money" from Larks' Tongues in Aspic.
  • Large Ham: Lake's vocals could be pretty hammy. Some of the others could get this way at times too.
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • "21st Century Schizoid Man" is probably the best known example, but the band use this trope pretty often. It's especially commonplace during live improvisations.
    • The screechy bike horns at the climax of "The Talking Drum" can easily scare someone. That they come right before the very hard-rocking "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part II" doesn't help things—and they also fall off the beat which makes it even easier to catch the listener off guard.
  • Lead Bassist: The band has a history of this. Greg Lake, Boz Burrell and John Wetton are good examples, but although Tony Levin only sings backing vocals he's still more of a showman than Fripp. In the 2014– lineup of the band, Jakko Jakszyk is the lead singer and he, too, is less of a showman than Levin.
  • Lighter and Softer: Islands is a lot softer and airier than the albums that came before and after it.
  • List Song:
    • "Elephant Talk" lists ways to say talking ("Arguments, agreements, advice, answers...")
    • "Coda: I Have a Dream" (from "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part IV") lists major events of the 20th century.
    • "Coda: Marine 475" (from "VROOOM") lists things related to "a Lloyd's insurance syndicate which suffered huge financial losses...", an allusion to King Crimson's former label, E.G. Records' management. note 
  • Longest Song Goes Last: A "longest song, then outro" variant occurs with In the Wake of Poseidon, which closes with "The Devil's Triangle" (11:30), followed by "Peace — An End" (1:54).
  • Long Title: "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum", "Mother Hold the Candle Steady While I Shave the Chicken's Lip".
  • Loudness War: Thankfully, almost always completely averted, as Robert Fripp hates modern recording industry practices. One release that dips into this a slight amount is the second disc of Ladies of the Road, but it's extremely rare for this problem to plague even modern releases of Crimson's music.
    • Earthbound is heavily compressed; the aforementioned sound quality issues contribute to this. Ladies of the Road actually contains some material originally released there.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Quite often. "21st Century Schizoid Man", for example, is a swaggering, jazzy hard rock song with apocalyptic lyrics about the horrors of the modern world.
  • Metal Scream: Lake uses a type 4 throughout "21st Century Schizoid Man", made even more unsettling because his vocals are processed through a distortion filter. Boz Burrell goes even hammier in 1972 performances.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art:
    • Every single album they've made between 1973 and 2000. These guys don't usually go for Design Student's Orgasm. Earthbound has only the band name and album name on a black background. Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair each have a symbol, the band name, and album name on a solid-color background; the former was designed by longtime Joy Division and New Order designer Peter Saville, a master of this trope. Red just has a picture of the band's lineup at the time (Fripp, Wetton and Bruford), with text and title. Larks' Tongues in Aspic probably takes the cake, having just a symbol on a stark white background.
      • The cover art for Starless and Bible Black, although pretty minimalist (just the band's name and the title on the front, in a military-styled stencil font), probably would give a design student an orgasm, because it's by noted English artist Tom Phillips, who was Brian Eno's tutor in Ipswich College of Art.
    • Most of Crimson's archival releases and box sets released from 1998 onward are done by the same artist, P.J. Crook. She also did the artwork for A Scarcity of Miracles.
  • Mood Whiplash: They were masters of this, starting from the first album. The Last Note Nightmare of "21st Century Schizoid Man" transitions almost directly into the Surprisingly Gentle Song "I Talk to the Wind".
  • Motor Mouth: Adrian Belew in "Neurotica".
  • Mundane Made Awesome: "The Night Watch" is in part a description of Rembrandt's painting of that name, and in part just a 17th century middle-class Dutch guy talking about his life, but it's still remarkably moving.
    The smell of paint, a flask of wine
    And turn those faces all to me
    The blunderbuss and halberd-shaft
    And Dutch respectability
    They make their entrance one by one
    Defenders of that way of life
    The redbrick home, the bourgeoisie
    Guitar lessons for the wife
  • Music Is Politics: "Lament" is an example, containing some quite scathing comments on the commercialisation of the record industry. That's not to get into the band's troubles with record labels and royalties from streaming sites over the years.
  • Mysterious Waif: The titular figure in "Moonchild" seems to be one.
  • New Sound Album: One of the kings of this trope. A few particularly famous examples:
    • Islands was more orchestral than most of the band's other work, to a somewhat mixed reception.
    • Larks' Tongues in Aspic brought in some subtle World Music influence thanks to percussionist Jaime Muir, and it also came close to Heavy Metal at times. Though the latter was nothing new (as seen on "21st Century Schizoid Man"), Larks' Tongues and its two follow-ups (Starless and Bible Black and Red) are usually considered the band's heaviest works (although this is not showcased on every song). Interestingly, although Muir left after Larks' Tongues, traces of the world music influence remained, in part since Bill Bruford altered his playing style as a result of performing with Muir.
    • Discipline has a foundation in New Wave Music without completely abandoning Progressive Rock. The band also incorporated World Music influences, adding up to a sound that was similar to Peter Gabriel's Melt and Talking Heads' Remain in Light released the previous year. It's not that surprising when you know that Tony Levin and Robert Fripp have a long history of playing with Gabriel (both Levin and Fripp even play on Melt), Adrian Belew played on Remain in Light, and Belew's voice is a dead-ringer for David Byrne. Fripp is also a Fandom VIP and collaborater with Talking Heads. The band additionally makes occasional delves into more experimental material heavily rooted in Belew's previous experiences working with Frank Zappa, particularly the proggier tracks on Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti. The next two albums, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair, mined the same vein.
    • THRAK incorporates elements of Progressive Metal and Nirvana-influenced Alternative Rock into the sound of the Belew-led lineup's previous three albums, resulting in an overall harder sound without outright abandoning the New Wave Music elements that defined the band's output in the 1980's, effectively acting as a modernization of Larks' Tongues in Aspic. The progressive metal elements would then come to completely envelop the band in 2000 with The ConstruKction of Light.
  • New Wave Music: Wholeheartedly embraced with Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair.
  • Non-Action Guy: Peter Sinfield, despite being considered an official member of the band, almost exclusively contributed lyrics and played very little instrumentation (he only did very brief synth parts) and running the band's light show.
  • The Not-Remix: The "40th Anniversary Series" of album reissues, and two tracks ("Cadence and Cascade" and "Bolero - The Peacock's Tale") on the compilation Frame by Frame. While the Frame by Frame mix of "Cadence and Cascade" was sung by Adrian Belew, yet another version, sung by Greg Lake, was unearthed and appeared on the Elements Of King Crimson Tour 2014 boxset. This version actually pre-dates the one that appeared on In the Wake of Poseidon that was sung by Gordon Haskell. Coincidentally, the version of "Bolero" that includes the overdubs by Tony Levin from Frame by Frame appeared again on the 2015 tour box.
  • Post-Rock: As mentioned above, "Starless" is sometimes cited as an Ur-Example for this genre. The lengthy Bolιro Effect-laden instrumental passage is a major reason for this.
  • Progressive Metal: "21st Century Schizoid Man" could be considered the Ur-Example of progressive metal, being extremely harsh and heavy compared to most music from that time perioid. Some of their work in the 1970s also has a strong heavy metal feel to it. THRAK saw the band embracing prog-metal completely, and they haven't looked back.
  • Progressive Rock: One of the Trope Makers and Trope Codifiers.
  • Protest Song: They have a few. "21st Century Schizoid Man" protests The Vietnam War, "Lament" protests record industry politics, etc.
  • "Psycho" Strings: The instrumental Bolιro Effect passage of "Starless" is pretty much a guitar-based equivalent.
  • Pun-Based Title: In addition to the examples under Mythology Gag, a lot of their improvs get these (which also double as Mythology Gags). "Clueless and Slightly Slack", "The Fright Watch", "Sharks' Lungs in Lemsip"...
  • Quieter Than Silence: "Trio" was recorded as a quartet improvisation, but drummer Bill Bruford never made a sound, deciding in the moment that the piece was better without percussion. The band loved the choice, and Bruford was given a co-writing credit. His contribution was later described by Fripp as "admirable restraint."
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The vocal sections of "Thela Hun Ginjeet" come straight from Adrian Belew's frazzled story of being confronted by gangsters just minutes earlier. As Belew began his story, Robert Fripp signaled to the studio engineer to begin recording. This was lampshaded when the band performed on the American sketch comedy show Fridays.
    Belew: Hello, America! I'd like to tell you the true story about how I nearly got killed while making the Discipline album.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: When the showmanlike, somewhat flamboyant Adrian Belew and the focused, intellectual Robert Fripp are put on the same stage, this kind of interaction inevitably results.
  • Revolving Door Band: King Crimson's lineup changes so frequently that only two albums in their discography (Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair) feature the exact same personnel as a previous record. In fact, by their second album, Robert Fripp was the only founding member left. The amount of people who've been in and out of the band is so great that Wikipedia has an entire article dedicated to the subject.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: "The Devil's Triangle" has some obvious similarities to "Mars, the Bringer of War" from Gustav Holst's The Planets, but different enough to not be a copyright violation. (They either didn't ask for permission or were denied permission to record it at that time. Later on, some archival live albums such as Epitaph included recordings of their adaptation of "Mars, the Bringer of War" that they performed live in 1969, titled simply "Mars".)
  • Rock Trio: The lineup just before their mid-'70s hiatus. In the '90s, King Crimson's six-man lineup was billed as being two Rock Trios put together.
  • Sampling: In a rather unexpected move, the Title Drop of "21st Century Schizoid Man" was sampled in Kanye West's "Power" from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as were parts of the line "Neurosurgeons scream for more".
  • Scare Chord:
    • Several, but the one in "The Devil's Triangle" is particularly jarring.
    • Another one happens at the end of "Dangerous Curves", after about six minutes of tension building up.
    • "The Talking Drum", as mentioned above.
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted. King Crimson are one of the most terrifying bands ever, but Fripp is a polite, soft-spoken intellectual. note 
  • Self-Deprecation: Fripp loves to quote the band's more negative reviews, and adopted as a badge of pride one '80s music journalist's description of the band as "prog rock pond scum, set to bum you out".
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Rupert Bear are depicted on the cover of Lizard.
    • The lyrics of "Happy Family" (from Lizard) are widely believed to be a thinly-veiled reference to The Beatles' breakup ("Silas" = George, "Rufus" = Ringo, "Jonah" = John, "Jude" = Paul), which would explain the cover illustration.
    • The cover image of Red was a conscious homage to the cover of With the Beatles.
    • The opening lyrics to "Epitaph" are either a reference to Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence" or a reference to The Bible. Same with the Simon and Garfunkel song.
    • The live performance of “21st Century Schizoid Man” from Meltdown: Live in Mexico City featured a sax solo that briefly played the melody of “Take the A Train.” The drum solo also mimicked the riff from “Smoke on the Water
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: One section of "Epitaph" is called "Tomorrow and Tomorrow", which is fitting since the song is about death and despair.
  • Signature Instrument: In the 1969-1974 lineup, Fripp's black 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom, seemingly the only guitar he ever used at the time. In the 1981-84 lineup, his Roland guitar synthesizer. Since the mid-90s, his Fernandes Goldtop Custom.
  • Silly Love Songs: You wouldn't expect to see this trope here, but there you are. "Cadence and Cascade".
  • Something Blues: "ProzaKc Blues".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A French porn studio in the mid '70s used "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part II" in one of their films (Emmanuelle). While Fripp was irked that they didn't ask for his permission to use the track, he commented / joked in his online diary that they actually couldn't have picked a better KC song to use (honestly, the song does have certain raunchy, sexy overtones). Nonetheless, the heaviness of the piece might seem a bit off to some.
  • The Spartan Way: Bill Bruford's descriptions of what playing in King Crimson was like almost make the band sound like this.
    Bruford: In Yes, there was an endless debate about should it be F natural in the bass with G sharp on top by the organ. In King Crimson... You were just supposed to know.
    Bruford (on joining King Crimson): It was like going over the Berlin Wall... into East Germany.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Elephant Talk," "Indiscipline," "Thela Hun Ginjeet," "Neurotica," "Dig Me", "Coda: Marine 475"note  "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One", near its end, includes a recording of the play "Gallowglass": "[...] you shall be hanged by the neck upon a gibbet until you are dead", with a Scare Chord at the same time as the word "dead".
  • Studio Chatter: Right at the end of the Islands album, there's a recording of the string and woodwind musicians rehearsing "Prelude: Song of the Gulls". It also doubles as a Hidden Track. This has been used as King Crimson's walk-on music for The New '10s' incarnation of the band.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: There is often at least one of these per album in their '60s and '70s work. "I Talk to the Wind", "Cadence and Cascade", "Peace - A Theme", "Lady of the Dancing Water", "Prelude: Song of the Gulls", "Islands", "Book of Saturday", "The Night Watch", and "Trio" provide examples for the first six albums (Red arguably does not possess an example). If we're counting Robert Fripp's work outside King Crimson, his collaborations with Brian Eno would also count (for Fripp, anyway), as they consist of serene ambient music that is light-years removed from the chaotic, dissonant prog Fripp was known for at the time. "Matte Kudasai" is becoming Crimson's iconic Surprisingly Gentle Song, thanks to cover versions from Kurt Elling and k.d. lang, among other people. From Beat there's "Two Hands".
  • Textless Album Cover: In the Court of the Crimson King, In the Wake of Poseidon, Islands, and Larks' Tongues in Aspic. Also the ProjeKct Two albums Space Groove and Live Groove.
  • Title Confusion:
    • The last song on Red is titled "Starless" on the album cover, but Fripp sometimes announced it as "Starless and Bible Black" in concert. The reason for the shortened title apparently was that the previous album, Starless and Bible Black, contained an improvisation titled "Starless and Bible Black", which was completely different from the song "Starless". The confusion is understandable, given that "Starless" actually contains the lyrics "starless and bible black," whereas "Starless and Bible Black" does not (being an instrumental). Whew. This was actually because Wetton wrote "Starless" as the title track for the previous album, but the rest of the band rejected it and went with the improvisation. For "Red," they brought the song back, but since the original title was already taken, they shortened it.
    • The band often had (private) parody titles for their LP's. Hence Braless and Slightly Slack, or Tree of a Perfect Pear.
    • They do this in their improvs as well; one is called "Sharks' Lungs in Lemsip".note 
  • Title Track: An unusual case, in that all but one of their studio albums have title tracks (and even the one that doesn't, Beat, has a song called "Heartbeat"). It appears that Robert Fripp finds the inclusion of a title track vitally important. The most amusing example of this is the album Starless and Bible Black — although they had begun writing a song whose chorus included the title phrase, it was eventually rejected from the album, and a live improv was just added in its place and titled "Starless and Bible Black". The originally intended title track made its way onto Red, where it was entitled just "Starless".
  • Trope Codifier: For Progressive Rock in general. Arguably also for some tendencies of the genre, such as Epic Rocking and Uncommon Time.
  • 12-Bar Blues: Even King Crimson has written a twelve-bar blues, in an Uncommon Time, to boot. "Cat Food". The 1971 band live album Ladies of the Road features a brief extract from a version of "In the Court of the Crimson King" played as a Chicago blues number. "Matte Kudasai" isn't twelve bars (it's five) but it's blues-inspired and has a shuffle feel.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: The title Three of a Perfect Pair suggests this trope, though the album itself isn't really a straight example; regardless, it's almost universally agreed to be the final part of a trilogy with Discipline and Beat.
  • Uncommon Time: All over the place. Possibly the Trope Codifier for this trend in Progressive Rock. Discipline really takes this up to eleven with some almost impossible-to-follow polyrhythms on tracks like "Frame by Frame", "Thela Hun Ginjeet" and "Discipline". It's probably not possible to express in concise terms just how mind-boggling the last of these gets, so have a Wikipedia article.
  • War Is Hell: "Prince Rupert's Lament," the fourth segment of "Lizard", is an instrumental depiction of the death and destruction left in the wake of the horrific Battle of Glass Tears. "21st Century Schizoid Man" also gets into this with its mention of "innocents raped with napalm fire", which was likely inspired by news reports of the Vietnam War.
  • Word Purιe Title: "Thela Hun Ginjeet", an anagram of "heat in the jungle".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Some of their lyrics, especially the ones by Adrian Belew or Peter Sinfield (the latter may also be Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory).
  • Word Salad Title: "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream", "This Night Wounds Time", "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum", though the latter of these isn't quite as word salad-y as it looks at first glance since it consists of a number of commonly used phrases mashed together ("oyster soup", "soup kitchen", "kitchen floor", etc.).
    • Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind, a live box set released in 2016.