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King Crimson

Level Five

Review by Julie Knispel

Following the “research and development” phase that was the ProjeKCts, King Crimson resumed its most recent return to recording and performance. Having jettisoned Bill Bruford (who returned to primarily jazz playing via Earthworks) and Tony Levin (who returned to live work with long time collaborator Peter Gabriel), Crimson recorded and released the more electronic album The ConstruKCtion of Light in 2000. Extensive touring followed, and in 2001 the band began work on material that would surface two years later on the bands last (to date) studio album The Power To Believe. King Crimson has always been a band to tour new material prior to release, using the concert environment in much the same way many groups use rehearsal studios. Level Five was initially released in 2001 as a limited edition tour CD, comprising 5 listed tracks and one hidden improv. The listed material is entirely live, taken from multiple concerts recorded in Spring 2001 across the United States and Canada. The material is almost entirely newly composed songs, which would form the basis of the band’s next studio release. As King Crimson was still heavily experimenting with (and based around) electronic sounds the renditions on this EP offer a different and divergent look at compositions that built the foundation of the group’s most recent work.

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Track by Track Review
Dangerous Curves
This EP’s opening track is structured around extensive repeated sections, building tension through repetition, and finally release. In a number of ways, this song’s structure can be compared to similar uses of repetition and release evident in classical and chamber music. As Robert Fripp has been hesitant to recreate older material in the most recent iterations of the band, a cynic might see this composition as a modern reworking of the band’s “Mars” arrangement, last played live in 1969. The piece is fully Crimson, however, with no quoting or lifting of melody from previous works.
Level Five
Built around keening, sustained Fripp guitar solo and a THRaK like rhythm, this is Crimson in nuovo metal form. An ascending chordal structure and unrelenting rhythm elevate this lengthy instrumental to levels of heaviness unmatched in King Crimson’s catalogue. The track often sounds and feels like an extension of the themes and constructional ideals of the “Larks’ Tongues” school of compositions, and may have missed out on being titled “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic V” out of a desire to leave that particular name behind.
Virtuous Circle
Trey Gunn’s Warr guitar line adds a pulsing ostinato rhythm on this piece, while Robert Fripp layers soundscapes and sound effects in an orchestrated yet improvised manner. Guitar solos take on an almost violin like timbre, while scattered throughout are moments featuring Fripp’s traditionally tortured, overdriven guitar tone. A dark and heavy electronic drum and bass section arises out of nowhere, shocking the listener lulled by the preceding restrained and musically subtle instrumental break.
The ConstruKction of Light
This is the only track with vocals on this limited edition EP, and even at that they feature far less than in most King Crimson tracks. The track is built around interlocking gamelan like ostinato, similar in timbre and texture to the band’s 1980’s output. Belew’s lyrics again veer toward stream of consciousness and obtuse references. While the instrumental parts rival any of King Crimson’s earlier output for complexity, the vocal sections feel as out of place on this live take on the song as they do on the earlier studio iteration.
The Deception of The Thrush
“The Deception of the Thrush” had existed in one form or another throughout the band’s multiple ProjeKCt line-ups, and has become over time one of the group’s newest signature pieces. A lengthy and atmospheric instrumental, vocal samples from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” run through vocoder-like processing add a disturbing, alien quality to the piece, which gradually develops toward a brilliant and emotionally bright climax.
Improv: ProjeKct 12th and X (hidden track)
Tacked on some 2 minutes after the completion of the definitive take on “The Deception of the Thrush,” this is further evidence of King Crimson’s continuing ability to excel at improvisation. Tortured guitar lines scream over a gently pulsing electronic beat, while soundscapes gently add lushness that in earlier bands would be handled by mellotron. The piece slowly builds, the rhythm becoming more insistent and intense. While this did not evolve into a discrete composition later on, it is an enjoyable improv and a worthy hidden extra.
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