A (Very) Brief Appreciation of King Crimson

Many bands find commercial success but leave lasting marks on the culture when they’re gone. REM jumps to mind, as does maybe Aerosmith. The most famous bands have both: The Beatles, Zeppelin, Nirvana, etc. Then there are the bands that have a long legacy without experiencing any real commercial success: The Sonic Youths, the Velvet Undergrounds, the Kraftwerks. King Crimson is another, one that’s often unappreciated.

King Crimson is most often thought of as one of the very first progressive rock bands, and that’s fair and mostly true. And partly because progressive rock is thought of as a kind of joke these days, that has kind of put a “prog rock” taint on King Crimson’s legacy. I could write a long piece about Crimson’s influence on prog rock, but it’s been done many times before. What’s not appreciated is King Crimson’s influence on other styles of music, particular heavy metal and 90s rock. Let’s take a short listening tour.

21st Century Schizoid Man


In late 1969, Crimson put out their debut, In the Court of the Crimson King. Most of the album is proto-prog rock, especially the irresistible “Court of the Crimson King”, well used in the film Children of Men in the video below. But the first track on the album might also be the first heavy metal song. Black Sabbath came out four months later, and I hear 21st Century Schizoid Man on it. Maybe both bands were influenced by someone else, or maybe they influenced each other, but after hearing this song, it’s not hard to find other Metal bands (Tool in particular comes right to mind) that found part of their sound in King Crimson.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic

The Mars Volta is kind of the standard-bearer for 21st century progressive rock, and as King Crimson was one of progenitors of the genre, it makes sense you’d find the influence there. But it’s stronger than you might realize. Check out this Volta track, “Miranda, That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore”, and tell me you don’t hear Larks’ Tongues in it. And definitely a bit of Schizoid man above in their Goliath riffs.

“One More Red Nightmare” and “Fallen Angel”


Supposedly, Kurt Cobain told a French magazine he was influenced by Crimson’s “Red” album, in particular the distortion sounds, when making In Utero. There’s also a legend that “Red” was the album in Cobain’s CD player when killed himself. Veracity concerns aside, the theory passes the ear test. Listen above, and listen to the second half of In Utero. You’ll hear it.

… One more thing

Check out this break down of King Crimson’s influence on 90s rock.

Andrew Smith
About Andrew Smith 42 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Smith is a Seattle Native and University of Washington grad.

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