The Power To Believe

King Crimson

Sanctuary Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


There is no doubt that King Crimson is one of the most respected progressive rock bands in history. The band made an immediate impact in 1969 with their debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, and while they have never again matched that album's commercial success, they have managed to retain their unique approach to composition and unmistakable signature sound on dozens of releases since then.

The only human constant since the founding of King Crimson has been Robert Fripp, who has always been the leader and chief visionary despite countless changes in personnel over the last 35 years. His diverse and endlessly experimental guitar playing has always been the cornerstone of King Crimson, and that tradition continues in fine form on their 2003 studio album, The Power To Believe.

There are only 2 things that a listener can always expect from this band: 1) a distinct sound that sets them apart from all other bands, and 2) highly complex musicianship. At times on past albums, the musical complexity overwhelmed the art of songcraft, and the result was a listening experience that occasionally would be intriguing, but not particularly engaging or memorable. The Power To Believe manages to balance both of these qualities very well, and thus it holds up exceptionally to repeated listening instead of being a one shot curiosity.

Fellow avant-garde guitarist Adrian Belew once again is present as the band's lead vocalist, a position he has held since 1981. Rounding out the line-up in addition to Belew and Fripp are Trey Gunn (bass, stick), and Pat Mastelotto (drums, percussion).

From the opening a capella version of "The Power To Believe," which features a soft, sentimental vocal melody from Belew sung through a synthesizer of some type, to the final track, a string laden reprisal of the opening melody called "The Power To Believe IV: Coda," the album takes you on a turbulent journey showcasing the vintage schizophrenic King Crimson sound coupled with modern, cutting-edge production.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The perfect example of this schizophrenic sound that I speak of is the instrumental track "Level Five," a multi-part epic that begins with slow, thunderous Black Sabbath-type guitar riffing and then features clean, watery guitar noodling of typical unconventional melody before morphing into a series of blisteringly fast jazzy leads over an explosive line of harsh sounding bursts of distorted electronic percussion and guitar.

The atmosphere on the album is awash in eeriness, as dark melodies interweave with the often dreary and occasionally brutal sounds. Even the songs that have pop influenced vocal hooks and a minimum of experimental freak-outs, such as the catchy "Eyes Wide Open" still have an uneasy undercurrent.

Going back to the wonderful balance that King Crimson has found here, you will notice a clear divide between mellower, often instrumental tracks and extremely heavy tracks loaded with distorted riffs that would make Tony Iommi proud. Examples of the mellower style are the exotic and eastern tinged "The Power To Believe II," and the predominantly keyboard-driven "Dangerous Curves," which is one of the few King Crimson songs that I can think of that has a linear groove and a steady, danceable beat running through it. It's quite a musical departure for the band, and very refreshing to see that they are capable of restraint when they want to, and just let a simple, catchy groove propel a song. In a very positive way, "Dangerous Curves" sounds like a reworked version of the Knight Rider theme.

While songwriting, musicianship, and performance are of uniform superb quality throughout the album, the personal standouts for me are the tracks "Facts Of Life" and "Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With." The former features a very powerful and angry vocal melody amid the carnage of electronic noises, distorted atonal riffs, and crashing industrial rhythms. The bridge in particular is incredible, with extremely demanding and eclectic drumming in a variety of strange time signatures by Mastelotto (can you believe this guy used to be in Mr. Mister??), a searing solo on guitar (or what I assume is a guitar) that sounds both like a ringing alarm bell and the hum of some type of heavy machinery, and bass work that at times brings to mind stomach growling.

As of right now I am so impressed by the sheer dynamism contained within every second of The Power To Believe that I'm willing to say that this could very well be King Crimson's finest moment, and for a band legendary for their musical excellence and ability to think outside the box for the past 35 years, this is truly a magnificent feat. There are very few, if any, bands of King Crimson's age that are still able to create challenging, forward thinking, and relevant music with such success.

Far from being washed up and playing the oldies circuit or casinos like most of their contemporaries, King Crimson are distinctly working at a high art level and evolving in fresh new directions. In 2001 they toured extensively, opening up for the massively popular band Tool, who themselves gather much inspiration from King Crimson. Such exposure guarantees a brand new and younger audience for these seasoned veterans, and I hope that they manage to capitalize on their newfound "hipness" with this extremely strong album. Anyone looking for experimental and diverse heavy rock simply cannot go wrong with The Power To Believe.

Rating: A

User Rating: C


© 2003 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sanctuary Records, and is used for informational purposes only.