It’s that time of year!
The 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Disc version of King Crimson’s classic progressive rock landmark, In the Court of the Crimson King is one of those releases I’ve been meaning to pick up for some time. But, time kept marching onward and it never presented itself to me…
Arguably the birthplace for progressive rock as we came to know it, In the Court of the Crimson King was recognized as an instant masterpiece upon its release and it has held on to that crown for 50 years… and counting!
I’ve had this debut album by King Crimson for ages. I have it on a nice original US pressing in mint condition. And I own the 40th anniversary DVD Audio version with the high resolution surround sound mix.What more did I need, my wallet reasoned?
I admit I don’t yet have the drive to get the even newer massive new Complete 1969 Recordings boxed set (which includes a Dolby Atmos mix, which I can’t play anyhow just yet). (Note: I do have the 81-84 Discipline box set and the Thrak box of 94-95 era recordings, so I’m not being a slouch here folks)
Still, I have been tempted. I’ve heard that the 200 gram vinyl version of In the Court of the Crimson King is quite stunning but I haven’t been able to justify buying that just yet (I still want an original UK and US white label promo copies, truth be told).
None the less, the 2019 Blu-ray Disc edition continued to call to me as I was curious to hear the new surround sound mix. I just needed to find it at the right price, time and place. Whenever I went to look for it online it always seemed to be sold out and I never saw it in the stores. That is until recently at Amoeba Music, I found a perfect condition used copy.
At last, In the Court of the Crimson King 2019 presented itself to me in a manner I could not refuse!
Accordingly, I thought it might be helpful to review it now from my vantage point for those you out there who are also struggling to keep pace with and catch up on the intense flow of archival musics coming from our favorite artists… Better late than never!
For those of you who are wondering about the title of this review and whether I will answer it, you can stop holding your breath. Yes, I needed this and if you are a fan of the album, so do you.
I could hear the difference immediately. First, I did a refresher reference listen to In the Court of the Crimson King via the 40th Anniversary 2009 DVD Audio Disc version which sounded thinner than I remembered. That surround mix is presented at 48 kHz, 24 bit resolution. The new Blu-ray edition is twice that at 96/24 and all that extra disc capacity is in part why it sounds better — you are hearing more of the music.
But it is also a different mix!
Clearly, remix producer and surround sound engineer Steven Wilson felt he could do more with the recording, enough to revisit the project anew. No doubt there have been advances in the technologies available for mixing. And, frankly, there is probably even more demand now for hearing this album in the highest quality possible than in 2009, so taking advantage of the Blu-ray Disc’s capabilities makes good sense.
So how does it sound, you ask? Pretty terrific!
How is it different than the old DVD Audio mix?
Somebody online asked me if this new version of In the Court of the Crimson King is just louder than the old DVD Audio version. After listening to them back to back several times and sampling select tracks, I do not think so.
I’m hearing much more detail on the new version in the 5.1 mix in particular, again now presented in 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity. The most immediate thing I noticed was that Greg Lake’s bass sounds much richer, and if you listen closely you can hear the slap of his Fender bass’ guitar strings, a detail I didn’t hear on the earlier version.
The drums also sound more natural and realistic, effectively delivering a hearty crack instead of just a tap on the snare. The tom tom drums in particular seem to resonate a bit in the room now. Details like that are super impressive, especially when you consider these are 50 year old recordings of an embryonic band that didn’t yet have access to the finest studios in the land. It was however recorded on an 8-channel multi-track recorder which was still a big deal in 1969.
The overall sound design of the 5.1 mix seems to be fairly similar to the original version yet everything feels more in focus somehow.
That wonderful excitement when you first hear “21st Century Schizoid Man” in surround is preserved as Fripp’s guitar stabs during the verses jump from speaker-to-speaker in time around the room. It is a fun moment that works without feeling gimmicky.
Similarly on the title track, on those rolling opening drum hits you can almost feel the smack of the drumsticks on the tom tom head, the skins bending as the drummer works his way around the kit. Greg Lake’s vocals sound much better on this new version too, feeling more open and air-y somehow. The cymbals are also now much tighter and natural sounding, delivering more of a ringing ping than just a clink.
There are so many bonus tracks on this Blu-ray Disc, it is hard to go into all the detail. I’m still exploring! From Burningshed.com we learn it contains:
- 2019, 5.1 and stereo mixes by Steven Wilson in 24/96 resolution (for the first time)
- Original master edition of the 1969 album mix in 24/96 stereo.
- A complete alternate album comprising 2019 mixes by Steven Wilson including a much extended duo version of I Talk to The Wind, a June 19th version of ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ from the band’s final day at Morgan studios in June 1969, an isolated voice dominant version of ‘Epitaph’ & a version of ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ which combines the Morgan studios instrumental with Greg Lake vocals from Wessex studios and August 2019 overdubs by Mel Collins & Jakko Jakszyk – the latter two mixed by David Singleton.
- A further album’s worth of additional material drawn from studio takes – much of it mixed by Steven Wilson & including extracts from the ‘wind session’ that produced the intro to 21CSM in stereo for the first time, the single a/b sides of the album title track drawn, for the first time since on disc, from the original master tapes & more are also included.
- The Blu-Ray is completed by a set of 2019 instrumental mixes and the surviving fragment of black & white footage from Hyde Park in 1969
So, you can see why I’ve been hesitant to get the big 1969 box set – there is so much right here on this disc!
Of the outtakes I’ve heard thus far, I love the June 1969 basic trio recording of the title track — just drums, bass and acoustic guitar. The latter is significant because you get to hear Fripp’s beautiful acoustic guitar work, something you don’t get to hear much on later King Crimson recordings and which gets sort of overlooked (in a way) in the final mixes. That said, the instrumental versions of the album tracks are lush and wonderful.
Anyhow, I think you probably get the idea by now that this is a fine release. I’m glad I finally got a copy of this 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Disc version of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King.
Perhaps it is your turn to get it now too!