Starless and Bible Black is the sixth studio album by the British progressive rock band King Crimson, released in 1974. The pieces "The Great Deceiver" and "Lament" are satires and commentaries on the sleaziness and materialism of society.
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. 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 phrase "Starless and Bible Black" is a quotation from the first two lines of poet Dylan Thomas's play, Under Milk Wood. 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".
The album's final track, "Fracture", is similar in both style and melodic phrasing to "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Pt. 2". Robert Fripp has stated that "Fracture" is one of the most difficult guitar pieces he has ever played.
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."
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."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.