They’re even much more aggressive out of the gate, with the pounding opener, “The Great Deceiver”. There are vocals early on, too, along with various time signatures, while still staying catchy. “Lament” begins as a soft gentle song as befits its title, but gets more frantic within minutes. And here’s where it gets interesting—the remainder of the album is built onto live improvisations on their previous tour, showing their telepathy in following each other from nothing into something. “We’ll Let You Know” is the first example, slowly emerging from tentative contributions. “The Night Watch” begins in a similar way, before evolving into one of the more gentle yet uptempo songs in their catalog. The Mellotron appears here, and also features heavily on “Trio” alongside the violin and gently picked guitar. A more sinister sound returns for “The Mincer”, which others have noted ends as if the tape ran out mid-performance. (In fact, it did, as will be explained.)
Side two is all instrumental, beginning with the title track, making something out of nothing. Notice how patient drummer Bill Bruford is, content to stay back and listen in between bursts of percussion, rather than playing all over the place. “Fracture” has more of a structure, and features the only wah-wah violin we’ve yet to hear anywhere. It wanders about an intricate pattern for a while, then finally explodes into a final pummeling riff that may or may or not modulate, but stays steady over an amazing meter change.
Starless And Bible Black proves that the texture of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic was no fluke. This music is challenging but ultimately rewarding, if that’s your thing. And after the wandering that followed the first album, it finally starts to make sense how this band gained such a fanatical following.
As with the previous album, megafans had a choice in the way of expansions. The 40th Anniversary Edition added a new edit that placed “The Mincer” back within the context of its original improvisation, a lengthy piece called “The Law Of Maximum Distress”. Two further songs from the setup tour showed that the band knew how to edit themselves for the studio. “Doctor Diamond” sports garbled lyrics in its verses, while “Guts On My Side” was only performed once, and not remembered fondly, if at all, by any of the players. A DVD added further mix variations and video content. Those with the big money would gladly shell out for the box simply titled Starless, which tracked the album’s development through 18 shows, extracts from others, plus two DVDs and two Blu-rays.
King Crimson Starless And Bible Black (1974)—3½
2011 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1974, plus 5 extra tracks (plus DVD)