Starless and Bible Black

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Starless and Bible Black
Studio album by King Crimson
Released 29 March 1974
Recorded January 1974 at AIR Studios in London (studio tracks); November 1973 at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam (most live tracks)
Genre Progressive rock, experimental rock
Length 46:41
Label Island
Producer King Crimson
King Crimson chronology
Larks' Tongues in Aspic
Starless and Bible Black

Starless and Bible Black is the sixth studio album by the British progressive rock band King Crimson, released in 1974. Much of the album was actually recorded live, but painstakingly edited and blended with studio material.


Even though there are no drums on "Trio", drummer Bill Bruford received co-writing credit because the piece was improvised in concert, and Bruford's decision not to add any percussion was seen by the rest of the band as a crucial choice.[1] The song was later included on the 1975 compilation album A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson, the performance credits of which cite Bruford's contribution to the piece as having been "Admirable restraint."

The album art is by painter Tom Phillips. The phrase "this night wounds time", which appears on the back cover, is a quotation from Phillips's signature work, the "treated novel" A Humument (p. 222).

Several songs from the album were recorded live in concert, with applause edited out. The only songs recorded entirely in the studio were the first two tracks, "The Great Deceiver" and "Lament". "We'll Let You Know" was an improvisational piece recorded in Glasgow. "The Mincer" was another improvised piece, recorded in Zürich and overdubbed with Wetton's vocals in the studio. "Trio", "Fracture", and "Starless and Bible Black" were recorded at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, as was the introduction to "The Night Watch" (the remainder was recorded in the studio). The complete Amsterdam Concertgebouw concert was released by the band in 1997 as The Night Watch.

The lyrics were composed by former Supertramp guitarist Richard Palmer-James (who left that band after its first, self-titled album). Only four tracks on this album have lyrics. "The Great Deceiver" refers to The Devil and is an ironic commentary on commercialism. The lyric was co-written by Fripp.[2] "Lament" is about fame. "The Night Watch" is a short essay on Rembrandt's painting of the same name, describing the painting as an observer sees it and attempting to understand the subjects.[2]

The phrase "Starless and Bible Black" is a quotation from the first two lines of poet Dylan Thomas's play, Under Milk Wood.[3] The band's next album, Red, contains a song called "Starless", which actually contains the phrase "Starless and bible black", whereas "Starless and Bible Black" is an improvised instrumental. The title track is actually an edit of the original Amsterdam improvisation. The liner notes for The Night Watch indicate that it was edited "due to the constraints of vinyl".

Robert Fripp has stated that "Fracture" is one of the most difficult guitar pieces he has ever played.[4]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars [5]
Robert Christgau B [6]
Rolling Stone (favourable) [7]
The Daily Vault C− [8]

Rolling Stone called the album "as stunningly powerful as In the Court of the Crimson King," praising Bruford's mastery of his percussive style and the successful integration of David Cross's violin and viola as a counter-soloist to Fripp. They found the album's variety of tones and lengthy instrumental improvisations particularly impressive, and concluded, "Fripp has finally assembled the band of his dreams — hopefully it'll stay together long enough to continue producing albums as excellent as this one."[7]

Allmusic also praised the album's variety of tones in their retrospective review, and remarked that the album's second side "threw the group's hardest sounds right in the face of the listener, and gained some converts in the process."[5] Robert Christgau's review was more ambiguous, deeming it "as close as this chronically interesting group has ever come to a good album", though he would eventually give higher ratings to Red and USA.[6]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writers Length
1. "The Great Deceiver"   John Wetton, Robert Fripp, Richard Palmer-James 4:02
2. "Lament"   Fripp, Wetton, Palmer-James 4:00
3. "We'll Let You Know" (instrumental) David Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bill Bruford 3:46
4. "The Night Watch"   Fripp, Wetton, Palmer-James 4:37
5. "Trio" (instrumental) Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford 5:41
6. "The Mincer"   Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, Palmer-James 4:10
Side two
No. Title Writers Length
7. "Starless and Bible Black" (instrumental) Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford 9:11
8. "Fracture" (instrumental) Fripp 11:14


King Crimson
Additional personnel

In popular culture[edit]

The track "Great Deceiver (Long Mix)" on the album Spiral Honey by the Japanese noise musician Merzbow features the ending chords of the track "Great Deceiver".

The Japanese band Acid Mothers Temple recorded an album entitled Starless And Bible Black Sabbath in 2006 as a double homage to Starless and Bible Black and Black Sabbath's self-titled album.


  1. ^ Fripp, Robert (November 1981). "The Diary of the Return of King Crimson". Musician, Player and Listener. 
  2. ^ a b Interview with Richard Palmer-James in Tylko Rock, Elephant Talk.
  3. ^ Thomas, Dylan. "Under Milk Wood". gutenberg project. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Fripp, Robert. "Diary, Wednesday, 16th September, 1998". DGM Live. Retrieved 30 October 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Eder, Bruce (2011). "Starless and Bible Black - King Crimson | AllMusic". Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (2011). "Robert Christgau: CG: King Crimson". Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Fletcher, Gordon (6 June 1974). "King Crimson: Starless and Bible Black : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  8. ^ Ray, Benjamin (04/12/2007). "Starless And Bible Black King Crimson EG, 1974". Retrieved 23 August 2012.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]