Starless and Bible Black

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Starless and Bible Black
Studio album / Live album by
Released29 March 1974[1]
  • 23 October, 15 and 23 November 1973 (live)
  • January 1974 (studio)
StudioAIR, London (tracks 1,2,4–second half)
ProducerKing Crimson
King Crimson chronology
Larks' Tongues in Aspic
Starless and Bible Black

Starless and Bible Black is the sixth studio album by English progressive rock band King Crimson, released in March 1974[2] by Island Records in the United Kingdom and by Atlantic Records in the United States. It carries over most of the same lineup which appeared on the preceding album, Larks' Tongues in Aspic, with only percussionist Jamie Muir not returning, and is the band's final album with violinist David Cross. In order to more faithfully capture the band's live energy, much of the material on this album was tracked in concert and edited together with studio recordings. The album includes multiple fully improvised pieces, alongside "Fracture", one of King Crimson's most challenging pieces to perform.

Background and production[edit]

King Crimson in 1974. From left: John Wetton, David Cross, Robert Fripp, and Bill Bruford

King Crimson's previous album, Larks' Tongues in Aspic (on which they had moved decisively away from a more traditional progressive rock sound drawing on American jazz, and towards the influence of European free improvisation[3][4]), had been recorded by a quintet lineup of the band, including experimental percussionist Jamie Muir. Early in 1973, Muir abruptly left the band, ostensibly due to an onstage injury, but in fact due to an overwhelming spiritual need which led him to retreat from music and join a monastery (something that was not communicated to his bandmates at that time). The band's drummer, Bill Bruford, absorbed Muir's percussion role in addition to his own kit drumming, and the band continued to tour as a quartet.[5]

These upheavals and the pressure of touring left King Crimson short of new written material when it came to the time to record their next album. Having increased their level of onstage improvisation during recent tours, the band opted to take advantage of this to solve the problem.[5] New compositions tried out in concert and captured on several live recordings were presented as part of the new album material, alternating and in some cases blending with studio recordings.[5]

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 entirely improvised piece recorded in Glasgow. "The Mincer" was another improvised piece, originally recorded in concert at the Volkshaus in Zürich but overdubbed with Wetton's vocals in the studio;[6] The track was the edited-out middle section of a longer improvisation, in which the tape ran out mid-performance, with which "The Mincer" ends. The other parts were released on The Great Deceiver as "The Law of Maximum Distress, Parts One & Two". "Trio", "Starless and Bible Black" and "Fracture" (the last of which Robert Fripp has cited as one of the most difficult guitar pieces he has ever played[7]) were recorded live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Also recorded at the Concertgebouw was the introduction to "The Night Watch" (the band's Mellotron broke down at the start of the next section, meaning that the remainder of the song needed to be recorded in the studio and dubbed in later). In all cases, live applause was removed from the recordings wherever possible (although the remains of it can be heard by an attentive listener). The complete Amsterdam Concertgebouw concert was eventually released by the band in 1997 as The Night Watch.

"Trio" was notable for being a quartet piece with only three active players – John Wetton on bass guitar, David Cross on viola and Robert Fripp on "flute" Mellotron. Bruford spent the entire piece with his drumsticks crossed over his chest, waiting for the right moment to join in but eventually realized that the improvised piece was progressing better without him. His decision not to add any percussion was seen by the rest of the band as a crucial choice, and he received co-writing credit for the piece.[8] "Trio" 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."[citation needed]

A sequel or related piece to "Fracture" was released by a different King Crimson lineup in 2000 on The ConstruKction of Light, titled "FraKctured".[9]


Only four tracks on the album have lyrics. As had been the case with Larks' Tongues in Aspic, these were written by John Wetton's friend Richard Palmer-James (the former Supertramp guitarist who'd left the band after its first, self-titled album). "The Great Deceiver" refers to The Devil and is an ironic commentary on commercialism (Fripp contributed the line "cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary" after seeing souvenirs being marketed in Vatican City).[10] "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.[10] "The Mincer" has more ambiguous lyrics, though lines such as "fingers reaching, linger shrieking", "you're all alone, baby's breathing", and the song's title could be references to a home invader or killer. Original issues of the album[11] include the lyrics to "The Great Deceiver," "Lament" and "The Night Watch" on the album's inner sleeve.

The phrase "Starless and Bible Black" is a quotation from the first two lines of poet Dylan Thomas's play, Under Milk Wood.[12] The band's next album, Red, contains a song called "Starless", which contains the phrase "Starless and bible black", whereas "Starless and Bible Black" is an improvised instrumental. The title track on both the album and the compact disc is an edit of the original Amsterdam improvisation as performed at the Concertgebouw, which presumably ran several minutes longer (as improvisations of this tour often did). (The sleeve notes included with the CDs indicate that it was cut short for the 1973 album "due to the constraints of vinyl"). All currently-available master tapes contain the 9:11 version.

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 Victorian novel" A Humument (p. 222).


Professional ratings
Review scores
Christgau's Record GuideB[14]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[15]
The Great Rock Discography8/10[16]
MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide[18]
Rolling Stonefavourable[19]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[20]

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."[19]

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.[14]

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."[13]


In 2004, Pitchfork ranked it at number 94 in their list of the "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s."[21]

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.

Track listing[edit]

Side one
1."The Great Deceiver"John Wetton, Robert Fripp, Richard Palmer-James4:02
2."Lament"Fripp, Wetton, Palmer-James4:00
3."We'll Let You Know" (instrumental)David Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bill Bruford3:46
4."The Night Watch"Fripp, Wetton, Palmer-James4:37
5."Trio" (instrumental)Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford5:41
6."The Mincer"Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, Palmer-James4:10
Total length:26:16
Side two
1."Starless and Bible Black" (instrumental)Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford9:11
2."Fracture" (instrumental)Fripp11:14
Total length:20:25


King Crimson
Additional personnel


Chart (1974) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[22] 73
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[23] 75
French Albums (SNEP)[24] 8
Italian Albums (Musica e Dischi)[25] 7
Japanese Albums (Oricon)[26] 38
UK Albums (OCC)[27] 28
US Billboard 200[28] 64
Chart (2011) Peak
UK Independent Albums (OCC)[29] 49


  1. ^ Sid Smith (29 March 2024). "HAPPY BIRTHDAY SABB". Retrieved 29 March 2024.
  2. ^ King Crimson - Starless and Bible Black Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic, retrieved 29 October 2023
  3. ^ The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal, 2003 Barnes & Noble Books
  4. ^ Bradley Smith. The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music, 1997, Billboard Books, p. 119
  5. ^ a b c Smith, Sid (29 March 2020). "The making of King Crimson's Starless And Bible Black". Louder. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  6. ^ "Super Audio Mastering Monks Withecombe". DGM Live. 1 July 2011.
  7. ^ Fripp, Robert. "Diary, Wednesday, 16th September, 1998". DGM Live. Archived from the original on 1 November 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  8. ^ Fripp, Robert (November 1981). "The Diary of the Return of King Crimson". Musician, Player and Listener.
  9. ^ "The ConstruKction of FraKctured - from the diaries of Robert Fripp". Spaceward Records. Archived from the original on 7 May 2018. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  10. ^ a b Palmer-James, Richard (26 November 1997). "Interview with Richard Palmer-James in Tylko Rock". Elephant Talk (Interview). Translated by Zlotkowski, Piotr.
  11. ^ Island Records cat. no. ILPS 9275 (UK), Atlantic Records cat. no. SD 7298 (United States).
  12. ^ Thomas, Dylan. "Under Milk Wood". gutenberg project. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  13. ^ a b Eder, Bruce (2011). "Starless and Bible Black – King Crimson | AllMusic". Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  14. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: K". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 28 February 2019 – via
  15. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  16. ^ Martin C. Strong (1998). The Great Rock Discography (1st ed.). Canongate Books. ISBN 978-0-86241-827-4.
  17. ^ Mike Barnes. "The Crown Jewels". Mojo. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  18. ^ Gary Graff, ed. (1996). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide (1st ed.). London: Visible Ink Press. ISBN 978-0-7876-1037-1.
  19. ^ a b Fletcher, Gordon (6 June 1974). "King Crimson: Starless and Bible Black : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 16 January 2009. Retrieved 28 June 2011.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  20. ^ Sheffield, Rob (1992). "King Crimson". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). London: Fireside Books. pp. 545–546. ISBN 978-0-6797-3729-2.
  21. ^ "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s | Pitchfork". 23 June 2004. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 167. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 4852". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  24. ^ "Le Détail des Albums de chaque Artiste – K". (in French). Archived from the original on 22 October 2014. Retrieved 23 September 2023. Select King Crimson from the menu, then press OK.
  25. ^ "Classifiche". Musica e Dischi (in Italian). Retrieved 23 September 2023. Set "Tipo" on "Album". Then, in the "Artista" field, search "King Crimson".
  26. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970–2005 (in Japanese). Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
  27. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  28. ^ "King Crimson Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  29. ^ "Official Independent Albums Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 23 September 2023.

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