Starless and Bible Black - Reviews
Date Submitted: 24-Jun-96
By: Chris Mitchell (squonk at utkux dot utcc dot utk dot edu)
"If one were to pick the definitive recording by the '73-4 King Crimson, Starless and Bible Black would be as good a choice as any. The secret to this album's success is the high proportion of live material; only two tracks were fully conceived and recorded in the studio. As a result, the listener can hear the true-to-life sound of this KC incarnation, with minimal overdubs and editing.
"'The Great Deceiver' and 'Lament' are the studio tracks, as inventive and as accessible as anything the 70's Crimson offered. Hard rock meets intelligent arrangement and rhythmic schemes. Most of 'The Night Watch' was done in the studio, and this tune ranks among Crimson's more developed and poignant material.
"Elsewhere, the live Crimson animal comes to life. The title track is typical of the live free-improvs at the time, assembling itself out of thin air. 'Trio' is the drumless, major key etude that stands out among the other harsh tracks. And 'We'll Let You Know' is a funky, lurching outro that came out of a live 'Easy Money.'
"The musical highlight of SaBB, though, is the impeccable monument of all things Crimson, 'Fracture.' Fripp lays down a few of his first definitive cross-picking riffs, favoring a whole-tone scale action. Wetton adds just the right notes, making this tune not just a spectacular guitar exercise but a moment of high drama. Crimson was miles ahead not just in technique but in a dynamic sense, a sense that so obviously works in such a pinnacle track as 'Fracture.'
"The Starless album might not have the notoriety of either its predecessor or its successor, but it is closer than those albums in bringing the true sound of that band to disc. Fans of Starless will definitely want to consider the boxed compilation The Great Deceiver, which more fully examines the live performances of this Crimson."
Date Submitted: 8-Aug-96
By: Bill Nicholas (newguy at buttercup dot cybernex dot net)
"Generally, there are a lot of elements on this album, and it is all a bit fragmented. But if the album is somewhat of a failure in that it is a bit incohesive, then it is probably one of the best failures ever in rock. What it lacks in unity it makes up for with moments of true adventure, like SBB and FRACTURE. Great Deceiver is also a lot of fun. This album is basically a brilliant mistake. ***1/2"
Date Submitted: 14-Feb-98
By: George Selinsky (selinsky at worldnet dot att dot net)
"This is probably one of the most unusual, exciting, and magical albums in rock's repetoire, creativley blending live performance and studio work. A truly progressive album, with a very appropriate structure, somewhat akin to (and more succesful than) Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma". It begins like an entirely conventional hard rock album. Then, it segues into a peaceful, free-floating state, after which it plunders into dark and dangerous territory. Finally, it tops off with an unbelievable instrumental, that punctuates the album with a strong feeling of buildup and release.
"The album begins like a normal rock record, with Crimson at it's tightest on "Great Deciever". This is a very uncanny pop tune that manages to bear it's marks as a Crimson composition, not an easy combination! It goes into "Lament", initially beginning like a Beatle-esque pop tune, then drops directly into heavy Crimson during it's second half. My favorite part of "Lament" is the ending, where after the lyrics "Just say when you want to go and dance all night", a hard rock rhythm begins, then abruptly ends, as if mocking that phrase.
"After "Lament", the album completely changes pace with "We'll Let You Know". This live instrumental improv changes the mood entirely from the past two heavy rhythm driven melodies, relaxing you in preparation for the "Night Watch". "The Night Watch" is a very beautiful song, with an outstanding subdued Fripp performance, and a solid Wetton vocal (particularly effective is the Leslie vocal harmony). "Trio", which occurs right afterwards, is perhaps the most beautiful Crimson improv. Wetton plays the bass as seamlessly as a guitar, while Fripp and Cross exchange some mellow violin and 'tron flute lines. Bruford keeps his sticks to his chest, and is thus credited for "willful restraint". Indeed, a few bangs from Bill would have ruined this excellent moment.
"The next improv, "The Mincer", takes the listener through darker waters. The Mincer is an overdubbed improv. Because of the off key Mellotron, and the abrupt end of the tape, the Mincer feels like a very incomplete composition, which is a very suitable segue to the next instrumental. The truly wordless and bold improv "Starless and Bible Black" is a foray into uncharted musical territory, a very exciting, scary, and beautiful place to be.
"After the improv, the slow creeping arpeggio of "Fracture" begins, a very strong, tight, intelligent, and dynamic Fripp instrumental that serves as the ultimate musical statement for the album. This track essentially serves the same purpouse as Lark's Tounges In Aspic part II did on the previous album, and takes the musical interplay a level higher. The interplay between the musicians on this track is shearly telepathical, and has perhaps never been bettered by any band in history. This composition alone proves Fripp's musical genius, as well as the potential of the surrounding musicians, and leaves you with an amazing feeling of awe, as the last squeals of feedback fade out. A grand ending for a truly exciting and wonderful piece of work."
Date Submitted: 9-Mar-98
By: Jennifer Gray (jg at interact dot net dot au)
"This is my overall favourite album. That settles my prejudices. I suppose that the thing I have always liked about Crimso is that there are sensitive lyrics that mean something to me while the music is complex and challenging. The Great Deceiver has always had an ironical appeal to me having been brought up as a Catholic. Lament and The Night Watch are what I listen to when the world gets too much. By the time I have listened through the album, everything is back in perspective again.
"I first listened to Starless and Bible Black after a hard day at University in 1976 following an all afternoon drinking session! I bought the record on my way home and put it on for 3 hours straight. The best tribute to the music is that I can still do so now 23 years later."
Date Submitted: 6-Apr-99
By: Antonio Recuenco (Ottia at gmx dot net)
"The description of this as a "King Crimson Notebook" isn't very far from the truth... even though -on the contrary to Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma" or Can's "Unlimited Edition"- it doesn't always satisfy me. The varied mix begins with "The Great Deceiver", nearly so incoherent as the album as a whole; the main attractive of this track from my point of view is the pounding, dynamic drumming. "Lament" and "The Night Watch" are both decent songs -they don't bring much new, just this slight heavy taste (absent in "Lark's Tongues in Aspic" but permeating most of "Red") in the first one, and a surprising sound change after the beginning in the last one, but they do not disturb-. "The Mincer": not precisely mainstream... Anyway, what makes this album interesting to me is the instrumental music -"We'll let you know" fits as a bridge, whereas "Trio" gives a good counterpoint to the noise of the previous music. The two last instrumentals are a perfect statement of Crimso's pen: dark, changing, sometimes really surprising (the second half of "Starless and Bible Black" is precious), but still riffy and full of nuances ("Fracture" polishes the scheme of "Lark's Tongues in Aspic 2", giving up some balance for more sparks). Irregular, sometimes a little conventional but at some moments nearly perfect."
Date Submitted: 16-Apr-99
By: Nathan James (ArtFlooney at aol dot com)
"This proves to be the best king crimson studio release in that there is nothing you can fast forward through. As much as i dig the other records i cannot say the same about them. How Lark's Tongues in Aspic gets more positive reviews than the far superior Starless and Bible Black, is a mystery. The band is alot tighter, the songs are better, and the improvisation is WAY better.
"Every track is incredible, but the standouts are Trio and Fracture. They are from the live Amsterdam performance and I think the Nightwatch versions sound better, but i totally respect the amount of balls it took to put these performances on record. Half this album is improvisation and that is a very heavy musical statement."
Date Submitted: 6-Aug-99
By: Phil McKenna (PMcKenna at starmarket dot com)
"If I was going to convert an uninitiated person to KC's music, this would certainly be one of my top choices (along w/ ITCOTCK and Discipline). No one release can give the complete picture, but this one certainly contains so many elements of what made KC so special!
"Tracks like "Great Deceiver" and "Lament" certainly show their rocking yet tuneful side! It's kind of funny to consider that while Fripp looked so intense and studious onstage, his playing on these tracks conveys a lot of fun, reckless abandon and wit! Certainly Wetton, Bruford and Cross must have had a good ol' time on these tracks too, in spite of playing odd meters.
""We'll Let You Know" is a nice, concise introduction to their improvisational side, and showed a rare quality, of being able to make a collective improvisation still have a shape and form. Wetton's funky, overdriven bass and that ever wonderful drumming by Bruford. After leaving Yes, he truly blossomed!
""The Night Watch" (one of my all-time fave KC tracks) shows how they were able to conjure up amazingly vivid images through both words and music. Extra bonus points for the lyrics being inspired by the Rembrandt painting of the same name. After seeing the painting myself and hearing the song, I can't help but say "PERFECT MATCH!!!!" John Wetton sure had his throat full on this one, those are not easy lyrics to sing and play bass over at the same time. Musically it somewhat harkens back to ITCOTCK epic tracks like the title track or "Epitaph", although with a few new twists.
""The Mincer" however was one of those "weak moments" sounding more like a rather creepy incomplete thought than a full blown musical idea.
""Trio" was amazing in that it showed KC capable of great subtlety and beauty, and getting right to the point while improvising. In the wrong hands, this could've been a rambling mess, thankfully, it wasn't.
""Starless---" showed KC's improvisational side at it's absolute finest, colorful, disturbing at times, yet engaging and compelling. I also love the part with the 'tron flutes just before the explosive ending! Fripp also gets some of the most torturous, anguished and ferocious sounds I've ever heard from him! This is one of those rare times that a collective improv really takes a definite shape and form, darn near sounding written out at times. Definitely one of my favorite KC moments!!
""Fracture" stands as one of Fripp's most ingenious compositions! The whole tone theme at the beginning builds tension and drama in a manner similar to watching a tightrope walker between the two World Trade Center without a net! Will he make it, will he fall? It's amazing how Fripp got so much mileage and color out of not much more than using a whole tone motif and an A pentatonic scheme throughout the piece, in addition to the amazing contrasts of dynamics!
"Definitely a great introduction, along with the other two albums I mentioned! I give it 4 1/2 stars out of five (a half star off for "The Mincer")."
Date Submitted: 6-Jan-00
By: Sandy Starr (s.starr at cScape dot com)
"This album is soooo underrated. And the tragedy is that now 'The Night Watch' has been released on DGM, consisting of the live performance from which two thirds of this album was taken, it will now be even more neglected. So here's my case for 'Starless and Bible Black', and my reasons for thinking that 'The Night Watch' is NOT a substitute:
"1) The studio-recorded portion of the album is brilliant.
"2) The combination of live and studio material is greater than the sum of its parts, because it discourages the listener from caring where the music came from (fetishising the details) and forces the listener to accept the music as a self-contained EVENT. This applies both to the album as a whole and to the vocals on 'The Micer', which are probably overdubs. The principle I have just described was also embraced by Frank Zappa, who delighted in combining elements from the studio, from live performances and from different eras on a single recording. The fact is that the editing and the selection of music for a recording are in and of themselves creative acts.
"3) The editing out of audience applause, again, encourages the listener to engage with the music as it is happening, instead of 'fixing' it in a time or place.
"None of this, by the way, means that I don't like live albums (I do) or that I don't like the other material on 'The Night Watch' (I do). As for 'Starless and Bible Black' itself, what can I say? I particularly like 'Lament', because John Wetton's voice is beautiful on it and it is a poignant look at the predicament and artistic compromise of a rock musician. 'The Night Watch' has got a great sound to it, particularly that guitar (does anybody else get a shiver down their spine when Fripp plays guitar notes that have no attack on them - they just start and stop?). 'Trio' is so beautifully restrained, it feels like getting a massage and blow-job from a mellotron. 'Starless and Bible Black' is a fantastic musical journey - as it grows out of nowhere at the beginning, it feels like galaxies coalescing (an effect which is a bit ruined by the concert setting on 'The Night Watch' live album).
"And as for 'Fracture', it is a perfect example of why I love Crimson, and what I love about Fripp. The mathematical precision of his playing, together with the uncanny sense of atmosphere exhibited by the other band members, blow me away. What an instrumental! At the time I'm writing this, the only CD copy of this album available is a transfer that Fripp disapproves of. Having remixed 'In The Court of the Crimson King' for an anniversary edition, rumour has it he's going to remix the subsequent albums as well. As soon as he does this one, I'll be the first to replace my existing copy. Thank you, Fripp, for caring about those who care about your music."
Date Submitted: 20-Apr-00
By: Darryl Weppler (zravkapt at yahoo dot ca)
"This was for me a dissapointment compared with "Lark's...". Maybe because most of it was recorded live and most of the tracks are improv's. "The Great Deceiver" is good, but sounds oddly similar to Captain Beefheart's "Lick My Decals Off, Baby". "Lament" is the best song, Wetton really delivers the goods here. "We'll Let You Know"....if anything exciting happens, please do! "The Night Watch" is overrated and didn't deserve to be a single. "Trio" is beautiful, but a bit boring too. "The Mincer" is about as good as "We'll Let...". "Starless And Bible Black" has it's moments, but too few. "Fracture" is one of KC's best instrumentals. Period. Overall, good but not great. 3.5 out of 5."
Date Submitted: 21-Oct-00
By: Eric (ericodijk at wanadoo dot nl)
"I think this album is the least fantastic of the three albums recorded by Fripp, Wetton, Bruford and Cross. In fact it is a live album with some studio add-ons. But you will probably know that story by now, so I won bother you with that.
"As far as I see it, this is something like a collection of improv tracks, glued together on an album. The "songs" on this album are very nice, and are in style a logical follow-up to the songs on Lark. But I think this album would have been better if there were more actual songs on it. The band surely had the ability. The whole of the second side (SABB and Fracture) is an overdubbed live performance, at a certain moment Fripp plays a really unneeded extra overdriven guitar on Fracture, I like it better without it (The Night Watch album). If they'd made proper studio versions of these two tracks, less long (so they could build on that during live shows like Deep Purple did in the seventies) and made room for extra real songs, then this album would have been superb. I know that this approach was an experiment back then, and experiments can go both ways."
Date Submitted: 24-Apr-03
By: Mark Alcroft (mark.alcroft at tiscali dot co dot uk)
"From time to time over the past 29 years or so, I have, when the mood has struck me, quite late at night, turned out all the lights and played the track "Starless and Bible Black". Both terrifying and exhilerating at the same time. What a band that was!"
Date Submitted: 14-Jan-04
By: Scott McFarland (mcfarland at ac-tech dot com)
"Now a loud quartet, this band goes pretty much into the heart of darkness on this record – it’s well-named. Solid musical stuff, astonishingly recorded mostly live in concert. Side A starts with two precise and astonishing loud pieces, then moves into different colors that remind me of the phrase “art for art’s sake”. Side B is very heavy stuff – half improvised, half meticulously composed, and all of it possessed of an unusual fury and character. Bill Bruford’s drums never sounded better."
The Great Deceiver
Date Submitted: 12-Apr-96
By: Joel M. Depper (jdepfam at bendnet dot com)
"'The Great Deceiver' stands as the most un-Crimsoney Crimson song of the 70's. It starts out absolutely chaotic and doesn't let up until the middle section, a pleasant mellotron chorus with the refrain 'Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary' (incidentally, the only lyrics Robert Fripp has ever contributed to KC). The song continues building up during the verse, where it climaxes and leads via crazed guitar riffing into 'Lament.'"
Date Submitted: 8-Nov-00
By: Gunnar Schillings (aquamine at iafrica dot com)
"This is what I am worried about as well. Just like: Joel M. Depper (jdepfam at bendnet dot com) mentioned or hinted at. Ok, he seems to come from a bend net, but maybe there is always some madness in making figurines of Mary's. Who actually wants to do that, as it is completely forbidden to make images of idols in the bible. I scream even louder and say: weird...not thought through....effect collection on a hunch... later tried to be justified by calling the mental and spiritual disaster the "Great Deceiver". Ok, it does fit on first glance. But Mary is not an idol. Idols do not exist anyway, cigarettes are like Cheech and Chong: up in smoke.
"So: one more brilliant train of thought brought to eternity except the second Leak of Gents by the inventive brain of Bob. Me thinks, by the way, and please excuse my tainted English, he really tries hard and good, like delivering a shit album like "Lights" and selling it through oh so happy mayors and then releasing something more interesting "X" on his own account. Praise him. Pitty, though, there, is, no, melody, left. How else can I put it. The staccato of a morse code is the soul of new Crimson. And it is not even techno, no.........it is odd.............(numbers crunching his brain, recycled and fed back)"
Date Submitted: 16-Sep-96
By: Mario Leone (mario-leone at augustana dot edu)
"'Lament' is an often overlooked gem on Starless and Bible Black. John Wetton seems sincere in his vocal in the beginning and it seems the track will take a ballad approach. However, the middle section of the song begins to move more rapidly and the beautiful synergy between Fripp, Wetton, and Bruford becomes very apparent. The ending of the song is a great surprise and a good little mini-rocker. I wish they had expanded on that aspect of the song. A great, but often overlooked song on a very good album."
Date Submitted: 3-Mar-96
By: Barrie Sillars (100763.1142 at compuserve dot com)
"Recorded at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on November 23rd 1973, this track is attributed to Cross, Fripp , Wetton and Bruford with Bruford keeping quite as befits the nature of the piece. Serene and contemplative, this is simply Fripp on mellotron (with flute sounds), Cross on violin and Wetton on bass. One of the most beautiful things any Crimson has done. It is so serene you can hardly hear it for the first minute as it quietly builds up. Amazing that such a powerhouse band can pull back the reigns to produce something like this. Bliss indeed. All credit to Bruford."
Date Submitted: 25-Mar-03
By: (slb23 at shaw dot ca)
"This is possibly the most beautiful and serene song from the '73-74 lineup. Wonderful violin work by Cross, and Fripp is also good on Mellotron. I agree with the guy above me - 'All credit to Bruford'."
Date Submitted: 23-Feb-97
By: J. Scruton (scruto19 at postdam dot edu)
"'The Mincer' is a very apt title for this quirky ending to side one of _Starless and Bible Black_, and in a way reflects the starkness of the LP's title. The bizarre intrumentalization the precedes Wetton's multi-layered vocal lines builds an unnerving sensation of (as Wetton starts) "fingers reaching" into the audience's ear, stirring up cacophonous mental images in the process. The way in which Wetton's voice is so skillfully placed over the improvisational music of the piece conveys the sensation of being sonically minced, with his voice being the slicing instrument that brings the piece/the mincing into focus. To cap the nightmarish visitation of those who come better looking , but don't come mannered, the melting away of the piece's end tips its hat to the non-manneredness of "they" nicely. In sum, its a good, quirky tune not recommended for those who might be overindulging in mind altering substances of any sort an ill lit room."
Date Submitted: 14-Mar-96
By: Ivo Steyn (isteyn at econ dot vu dot nl)
"Still stands as the 1973-1974 KC's finest achievement. You just never know what's going to happen next in this long instrumental: hexatonic scales, distortion, mathematically precise guitar riffs and poignant violin lines, and a mad mix of off rhythm patterns: it's a weird ride all the way. The absence of Palmer-James lyrics and Wetton voice is also a plus. KC at it's most adventurous, and it's aged beautifully as well."
Date Submitted: 2-Jun-96
By: George Korein (Mopobeans at aol dot com)
"This is the climax of an excellent, but confused and disorienting album (This first side is a bunch of songs that have nothing to do with each other, some good, some bad) and this song is disorienting, but in good way. The first movement alternates bizarre Fripp stuff with embellishments by the band with an evil, crunchy unison. Then, out of nowhere, Fripp starts playing something that sounds like "Suite No. 1" (Giles, Giles, and Fripp) on acid, while bass, bells, and violin play themes over it (way to go, Bruford, on those bells!). A somewhat weak interlude enters, but it serves its purpose- to leave you unprepared for the next movement: a mad, apocalyptic blitzkrieg! The violin and guitar weave themes over Wetton and Bruford's great rhythm section, which slips in a short bass solo and the fluidly changes rhythm. It ends with Bruford thrashing his gong."
Date Submitted: 21-Aug-98
By: Jeff Kupfer (jeff.kupfer at gte dot net)
"I was fortunate to have the opportunity to witness the performance of this incredible piece of music....first in April '74 at the small Painter's Mill Center in Baltimore, MD and then the following week at the Hollywood Sportatorium in Florida. Both times this piece overwhelmed an audience that was waiting for the 21st Century encore. This, however, was the encore...accompanied by a light show consisting of bright red (or crimson) lights that became brighter and more intense as the music ascended the scale in the last minute of the song. So intense was the lighting that some needed to shield their eyes as the hair on the back of your neck stood on end!
"As described in the Great Deceiver package, Fracture (SaBB version) was a live recording with audience edited out and is actually the best one that I have heard yet (in case anyone is looking for the definitive recording of this masterpiece).
"I have so many favorite KC pieces but I come back to this piece often. My new "significant other", a mere 29 years young (only 5 years old at the time of release) had never heard of KC. I played this piece for her. She loved it. Need I say more about universal appeal.....I think I'll keep her!"
Date Submitted: 18-Jun-99
By: Antonio (antonio at montes dot upm dot es)
"I would like to ask RF about the creation process for track "Fracture". I think is very interesting to learn about rythm and integration of the others members in the evolution of the theme. So grateful the live sensation of "crescendo" during the development of it. ¿what is the corret rhytm for the first part?"
Date Submitted: 25-Mar-03
By: (slb23 at shaw dot ca)
"This is just my opinion, but I do not see what is so good about this song. It's meandering, repeatitive and predictable.
"But on the other hand, Robert Fripp has done a great job with his excellent "mathematical" guitar work. And good ol' John Wetton gets a short but good bass solo in there. And Bill Bruford (arguably the best progressive rock drummer of the early 70's) does a good job too.
"In conclusion, the performance is quite good, but the material just isn't interesting enough to sustain listening enjoyment. I'd rather listen to the title track of the album (Starless and Bible Black) anyday over this song (Fracture)."