King Crimson are an English progressive rock band formed in London in 1968. King Crimson have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and many contemporary artists. Although the band has undergone numerous formations throughout its history, Robert Fripp is the only consistent member of the group and is considered the band's leader and driving force. The band has earned a large cult following. They were ranked No. 87 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Although considered to be a seminal progressive rock band (a genre characterised by extended instrumental sections and complex song structures), they have often distanced themselves from the genre: as well as influencing several generations of progressive and psychedelic rock bands, they have also been an influence on subsequent alternative metal, hardcore and experimental/noise musicians.
In 1981, King Crimson reformed with another change in musical direction and instrumentation (incorporating, for the first time, a mixture of British and American personnel plus doubled guitar and influences taken from gamelan, post-punk and New York minimalism). This lasted for three years, resulting in the trio of albums Discipline (1981), Beat (1982) and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984). Following a decade-long hiatus, Fripp revived the group as an expanded "Double Trio" sextet in 1994, mingling its mid-‘70s and 1980s approaches with new creative options available via MIDI technology. This resulted in another three-year cycle of activity including the release of Thrak (1995). King Crimson reunited again in 2000 as a more alternative metal-oriented quartet (or "Double Duo"), releasing The Construkction of Light in 2000 and The Power to Believe in 2003: after further personnel shuffles, the band expanded to a double-drummer quintet for a 2008 tour celebrating their 40th anniversary.
Following another hiatus between 2009 and 2012, King Crimson reformed once again in 2013; this time as a septet (and, later, octet) with an unusual three-drumkit frontline and the return of saxophone/flute to the lineup for the first time since 1971. This current version of King Crimson has continued to tour and to release live albums, significantly rearranging and reinterpreting music from across the band's entire previous career.
Since 1997, several musicians have pursued aspects of the band's work and approaches through a series of related bands collectively referred to as ProjeKcts.
In August 1967, brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass), who had been professional musicians in various jobbing bands since their mid-teens in Dorset, England, advertised for a singing organist to join their new group. Fellow Dorset musician Robert Fripp – a guitarist who did not sing – responded and the trio formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Based on a format of eccentric pop songs and complex instrumentals, the band recorded several unsuccessful singles and one album, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. The band hovered on the edge of success, with several radio sessions and a television appearance, but never scored the hit that would have been crucial for a commercial breakthrough. The album was no more of a success than the singles and was even disparaged by Keith Moon of the Who in a magazine review.
Attempting to expand their sound, the three recruited Ian McDonald on keyboards, reeds and woodwinds. McDonald brought along his then-girlfriend, former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, whose brief tenure with the group ended when the two split. McDonald brought in lyricist, roadie, and art strategist Peter Sinfield, with whom he had been writing songs – a partnership initiated when McDonald had said to Sinfield, regarding his 1968 band Creation, "Peter, I have to tell you that your band is hopeless, but you write some great words. Would you like to get together on a couple of songs?" Fripp, meanwhile, saw Clouds perform at the Marquee Club in London which inspired him to incorporate classical melodies and jazz-like improvisation in his song writing. No longer interested in pursuing Peter Giles' more whimsical pop style, Fripp recommended his friend, singer and guitarist Greg Lake, join and replace either Peter Giles or Fripp himself. Peter Giles later called it one of Fripp's "cute political moves". But he had become disillusioned with the band's lack of success and departed, leaving Lake to become bassist and singer.
1968–1969: In the Court of the Crimson King
The first incarnation of King Crimson was formed in London on 30 November 1968 and first rehearsed on 13 January 1969. The band's name was coined by Sinfield, though it is not meant to be a synonym for Beelzebub, prince of demons. (According to Fripp, Beelzebub would be an anglicised form of the Arabic phrase "B'il Sabab", meaning "the man with an aim".) Historically and etymologically, a "crimson king" was any monarch during whose reign there was civil unrest and copious bloodshed; the album debuted at the height of worldwide opposition to the military involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia. At this point, McDonald was the group's main composer, albeit with contributions from Lake and Fripp, while Sinfield wrote the lyrics, designed and operated the band's stage lighting, being credited with "sounds and visions." McDonald suggested the band purchase a Mellotron, and they began using it to create an orchestral rock sound, inspired by the Moody Blues. Sinfield described Crimson thus: "If it sounded at all popular, it was out. So it had to be complicated, it had to be more expansive chords, it had to have strange influences. If it sounded, like, too simple, we'd make it more complicated, we'd play it in 7/8 or 5/8, just to show off".
37-second sample from King Crimson's "The Court of the Crimson King", demonstrating the sound of the first incarnation of the band, with its classically influenced style and use of the Mellotron instrument.
King Crimson made their breakthrough live debut on 5 July 1969 by playing the Rolling Stones free concert at Hyde Park, London in July 1969 before an estimated 500,000 people. The debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, was released in October 1969 on Island Records. Fripp would later describe it as having been "an instant smash" and "New York's acid album of 1970" (notwithstanding Fripp and Giles' assertion that the band never used psychedelic drugs). The album received public compliments from Pete Townshend, the Who's guitarist, who called the album "an uncanny masterpiece." The album's sound, including its opening track "21st Century Schizoid Man", was described as setting the precedent for alternative rock and grunge, whilst the softer tracks are described as having an "ethereal" and "almost sacred" feel. In contrast to the blues-based hard rock of the contemporary British and American scenes, King Crimson presented a more Europeanised approach that blended antiquity and modernity. The band's music drew on a wide range of influences provided by all five group members. These elements included romantic- and modernist-era classical music, the psychedelic rock spearheaded by Jimi Hendrix, folk, jazz, military music (partially inspired by McDonald's stint as an army musician), ambient improvisation, Victoriana and British pop.
After playing shows across England, the band toured the US with various pop and rock acts. Their first show was at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. While their original sound astounded contemporary audiences and critics, creative tensions were already developing within the band. Giles and McDonald, still striving to cope with King Crimson's rapid success and the realities of touring life, became uneasy with the band's direction. Although he was neither the dominant composer in the band nor the frontman, Fripp was very much the band's driving force and spokesman, leading King Crimson into progressively darker and more intense musical areas. McDonald and Giles, now favouring a lighter and more romantic style of music, became increasingly uncomfortable with their position and resigned from the band during the US tour. To salvage what he saw as the most important elements of King Crimson, Fripp offered to resign himself, but McDonald and Giles declared that the band was "more (him) than them" and that they should therefore be the ones to leave. The line-up played their last show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on 16 December 1969. Live recordings of the tour were released in 1997 on Epitaph.
1970–1971: the "interregnum" – In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard
After their first US tour, King Crimson was in a state of flux with various line-up changes, thwarted tour plans, and difficulties in finding a satisfactory musical direction. This period has subsequently been referred to as the "interregnum" – a nickname implying that the "King" (King Crimson) was not properly in place during this time. Fripp became the only remaining musician in the band, with Sinfield expanding his creative role to playing synthesizers.
Fripp and Sinfield recorded the second King Crimson album, In the Wake of Poseidon, in 1970 with the Giles brothers hired back as the session rhythm section, and with jazz pianist Keith Tippett and Circus saxophonist Mel Collins as guest musicians. The group considered hiring Elton John to be the singer, but decided against the idea. Lake then agreed to sing on the album in exchange for receiving King Crimson's PA equipment, except on "Cadence and Cascade", which is sung by Fripp's friend Gordon Haskell. Though Tippett was offered band membership, he preferred to remain as a studio collaborator, performing with the band for a single gig. Upon its release in May 1970, In the Wake of Poseidon reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 31 in the US. It received some criticism from those who thought it sounded too similar to their first album. With no musicians to perform material from their new album, Fripp and Sinfield persuaded Haskell to join as singer and bassist and recruited Andy McCulloch as drummer, retaining Collins as saxophonist, flautist and occasional keyboard player.
During the writing sessions for the third album, Lizard, Haskell and McCulloch had no say in the direction of the material, since Fripp and Sinfield wrote the album themselves, bringing in Tippett, Mark Charig on cornet, Nick Evans on trombone, and Robin Miller on oboe and cor anglais as additional musicians. Haskell sang and played bass. Jon Anderson of Yes was also brought in to sing the first part of the album's title track, "Prince Rupert Awakes", which Fripp and Sinfield considered to be outside Haskell's range and style.Lizard featured stronger avant-garde jazz and chamber-classical influences than previous albums, as well as Sinfield's upfront experiments with processing and distorting sound through the EMS VCS 3 synthesiser. It also featured complex lyrics from Sinfield, including a coded song about the break-up of the Beatles, with almost the entire second side taken up by a predominantly instrumental chamber suite describing a medieval battle and its outcome. Released in December 1970, Lizard reached No. 29 in the UK and No. 113 in the US. Described retrospectively as an "acquired taste",Lizard was certainly not to the taste of the more rhythm-and-blues-oriented Haskell and McCulloch, both of whom found the music difficult to relate to. As a result, Haskell quit the band acrimoniously after refusing to sing live with distortion and electronic effects. McCulloch also departed, leaving Fripp and Sinfield to recruit new members once more.
1971–1972: the Islands band
After a search for new musicians, Fripp and Sinfield secured a returning Collins and Ian Wallace on drums. Auditions for a singer included those from Bryan Ferry and John Gaydon, the band's manager. The position went to Raymond "Boz" Burrell. Bassist John Wetton was invited to join, but declined (at the time) in order to play with Family.Rick Kemp also declined an offer to join, leaving Fripp and Wallace teaching Burrell to play bass rather than continue auditions. Though he had not played bass before, Burrell had played enough rhythm guitar to assist him in learning the instrument. With the line-up complete, King Crimson toured in 1971 for the first time since 1969. The concerts were well received, but the musical and lifestyle differences of Collins, Wallace, and Burrell began to alienate the drug-free Fripp, who began to withdraw socially from his bandmates, creating further tension.
In 1971, the new King Crimson formation recorded Islands. Loosely influenced by Miles Davis's orchestral collaborations with Gil Evans and Homer's Odyssey, the album also showed signs of a split in styles between Sinfield (who favoured the softer and more textural jazz-folk approach and wanted the band to move in a Miles Davis direction) and Fripp (who was drawn more towards the harsher instrumental style exemplified by the instrumental "Sailor's Tale", with its dramatic Mellotron and banjo-inspired guitar technique). Islands also featured the band's one-and-only experiment with a string ensemble on "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" and the raunchy rhythm-and-blues-inspired "Ladies of the Road". A hint of trouble to come came when one member of the band allegedly described the more delicate and meditative parts of Islands as "airy-fairy shit". Released in December 1971, Islands charted at No. 30 in the UK and No. 76 in the US. Following a period of touring Islands, Fripp asked Sinfield to leave the band, citing musical differences and a loss of faith in his partner's ideas. The remaining band broke up acrimoniously in rehearsals shortly afterward, owing to Fripp's refusal to incorporate other members' compositions into the band's repertoire. He later cited this as "quality control", with the idea that King Crimson would perform the "right kind" of music.
King Crimson reformed to fulfil touring commitments in 1972, with the intention of disbanding afterwards. Recordings from various North American dates between January and February 1972 were released as Earthbound in June 1972, noted and criticised for its sub-par sound quality and playing style that occasionally veered towards funk, with scat singing on the improvised pieces. By this time, a definite musical rift between Fripp and the rest of the band existed, since Wallace, Burrell and Collins favoured a more rhythm-and-blues style. Though personal relations improved during the 1972 tour (to the point where most of the band wished to continue), Fripp opted to part company with the existing band and to restructure King Crimson with new members, since he felt the current members wouldn't be able to play the new material he had in mind.
1972–1975: the "European improvisers" – Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Red, and hiatus
"It was going to be an interesting ride when ... I wasn't given a setlist when I joined the band, more a reading list. Ouspensky, J. G. Bennett, Gurdjieff and Castaneda were all hot. Wicca, personality changes, low-level magic, pyromancy – all this from the magus in the court of the Crimson King. This was going to be more than three chords and a pint of Guinness."
The third major line-up of King Crimson was radically different from the previous two. Fripp's four new recruits were free-improvising percussionist Jamie Muir, drummer Bill Bruford, who left Yes at a new commercial peak in their career in favour of the "darker" King Crimson, bassist and singer John Wetton, and violinist and keyboardist David Cross whom Fripp had encountered through work with music colleagues. Most of the musical compositions were collaborations between Fripp and Wetton, who each composed segments independently and fitted together those which they found compatible. With Sinfield gone, the band recruited Wetton's friend Richard Palmer-James as their new lyricist. Unlike Sinfield, Palmer-James played no part in artistic, visual, or sonic direction; his sole contributions were his lyrics, sent to Wetton by post from his home in Germany. Following a period of rehearsals, King Crimson resumed touring on 13 October 1972 at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, with the band's penchant for improvisation and Muir's startling stage presence gaining them renewed press attention.
In January and February 1973, King Crimson recorded Larks' Tongues in Aspic in London which was released that March. The band's new sound was exemplified by the album's two-part title track – a significant change from what King Crimson had done before, emphasising instrumentals and drawing influences from classical, free, and heavy metal music. The record displayed Muir's free approach to percussion, which included using a drum kit, bicycle parts, toys, a bullroarer, hitting a gong with chains, and a joke laughing bag. He also used fake blood capsules applied to his head, becoming a sole example of such theatrical stage activity in the band's history. The album reached No. 20 in the UK and No. 61 in the US. After a period of further touring, Muir departed in 1973, quitting the music industry altogether. Though this was initially thought to have been motivated by an onstage injury caused by a gong landing on his foot, it was later revealed that Muir had gone through a personal spiritual crisis, and had withdrawn to become a monk.
With Muir gone, the remaining members reconvened in January 1974 to produce Starless and Bible Black, released in March 1974 and earned them a positive Rolling Stone review. Though most of the album is formed of live performances from the band's late 1973 tour, the recordings were painstakingly edited to sound like a studio record, with "The Great Deceiver" and "Lament" the only tracks recorded in the studio. The album reached No. 28 in the UK and No. 64 in the US. Following the album's release, the band began to divide once more, this time over performance. Musically, Fripp found himself positioned between Bruford and Wetton, who played with such force and increasing volume that Fripp once compared them to "a flying brick wall", and Cross, whose amplified acoustic violin was increasingly being drowned out by the rhythm section, leading him to concentrate more on keyboards. An increasingly frustrated Cross began to withdraw musically and personally, with the result that he was voted out of the group following the band's 1974 tour of Europe and America.
Fripp performing in 1974
In July 1974 Fripp, Bruford, and Wetton began recording Red. Before recording began, Fripp, now increasingly disillusioned with the music business, turned his attention to the works of Russian mystic George Gurdjieff and experienced a spiritual crisis-cum-awakening; he later described it as if "the top of my head blew off". Though most of the album was already written, Fripp retreated into himself in the studio and "withdrew his opinion", leaving Bruford and Wetton to direct most of the recording sessions. The album contains studio recorded material with one live track, "Providence", recorded on 30 June 1974 with Cross in the group. Several musicians, including some from past King Crimson line-ups, contribute to the album. Released in October 1974, Red went to No. 45 in the UK and No. 66 in the US. AllMusic called it "an impressive achievement" for a group about to disband, with "intensely dynamic" musical chemistry between the band members.
Two months before the release of Red, King Crimson's future looked bright (with talks regarding founder member Ian McDonald rejoining the group). However, Fripp wished not to tour as he felt increasingly disenchanted by the group and the music industry. He also felt the world was going to end in 1981 and that he had to prepare for it. Despite a band meeting while touring the US in which Fripp expressed a desire to end the band, the group formally disbanded on 25 September 1974 when Fripp announced that King Crimson had "ceased to exist" and was "completely over for ever and ever". It was later revealed that Fripp had attempted to interest his managers in a King Crimson without him, but the idea was turned down. Following the band's disbanding, the live album USA was released in May 1975, formed of recordings from their 1974 North American tour. It received some positive reviews, including "a must" for fans of the band and "insanity you're better off having". Issues with some of the tapes rendered some of Cross' violin inaudible, so Eddie Jobson was hired to perform overdubs of violin and keyboards in a studio; further edits were also made to allow the music to fit on a single LP. Between 1975 and 1980, King Crimson were inactive.
1981–1984: the "rock gamelan" – Discipline, Beat, Three of a Perfect Pair, and second hiatus
Later versions of Discipline featured this knotwork design by Steve Ball.
In 1981, having spent seven years in spiritual pursuits and smaller projects (from playing guitar for David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall to pursuing an experimental solo career to leading the instrumental band The League of Gentlemen, which included members of various post-punk groups) Fripp decided to form a new "first division" rock group but had no intentions of reforming King Crimson. Having recruited Bill Bruford as drummer, Fripp asked singer and guitarist Adrian Belew, the first time Fripp was in a band with another guitarist and therefore indicative of Fripp's desire to create a sound unlike any of his previous work. After touring with Talking Heads, Belew agreed to join and also become the band's lyricist. Bruford's suggestion of Jeff Berlin as bassist was rejected as his playing was "too busy", so auditions were held in New York: on the third day, Fripp left after roughly three auditions, only to return several hours later with Tony Levin (who got the job after playing a single chorus of "Red"). Fripp later confessed that, had he initially known that Levin was available and interested, he would have selected him as first-choice bass player without holding auditions. Fripp named the new quartet Discipline, and the band went to England to rehearse and write new material. They made their live debut at Moles Club in Bath, Somerset on 30 April 1981, and completed a UK tour supported by the Lounge Lizards. By October 1981, the band had opted to change their name to King Crimson.
In 1981, King Crimson recorded Discipline with producer Rhett Davies. The album displayed a very different version of the band, with newer influences including post-punk, new wave, latterday funk and go-go and African-styled polyrhythms.[failed verification] With a sound described in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide as having a "jaw-dropping technique" of "knottily rhythmic, harmonically demanding workouts", Fripp intended to create the sound of a "rock gamelan", with an interlocking rhythmic quality to the paired guitars that he found similar to Indonesian gamelan ensembles. Fripp concentrated on playing complex picked arpeggios, while Belew provided an arsenal of guitar sounds including animal noises, industrial textures, and guitar screams with a range of electronic effects pedals. In addition to bass guitar, Levin used the Chapman Stick, a ten-string polyphonic two-handed tapping guitar instrument that has a bass and treble range and which he played in an "utterly original style". Bruford experimented with cymbal-less acoustic kits and a Simmons SDS-V electronic drum kit. The band's songs were shorter in comparison to previous King Crimson albums, and very much shaped by Belew's pop sensibilities and quirky approach to writing lyrics. Though the band's previous taste for improvisation was now tightly reined in, one instrumental ("The Sheltering Sky") emerged from group rehearsals; while the noisy, half-spoken/half-shouted "Indiscipline" was a partially-written, part-improvised piece created in order to give Bruford a chance to escape from the strict rhythmic demands of the rest of the album and to play against the beat in any way that he could. Released in September 1981, Discipline reached No. 41 in the UK and No. 45 in the US.
In June 1982, King Crimson followed Discipline with Beat (the first King Crimson album recorded with the same band line-up as the album preceding it). None of the members of the group produced the record; Davies undertook production duties himself. The album had a loosely linked theme of the Beat Generation and its writings, reflected in song titles such as "Neal and Jack and Me" (inspired by Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac), "The Howler" (inspired by Allan Ginsberg's "Howl") and "Sartori in Tangier" (inspired by Paul Bowles). Fripp asked Belew to read Kerouac's novel On the Road for inspiration, and the album contained themes of travel, disorientation and loneliness. While the album was noticeably poppier than Discipline, it featured the harsh, atonal and improvised "Requiem".
Recording Beat was faced with tension with Belew suffering high stress levels over his duties as front man, lead singer, and principal songwriter. On one occasion, he clashed with Fripp and ordered him out of the studio. After differences were resolved, and while Beat reached No. 39 in the UK and No. 52 in the US, King Crimson resumed touring. "Heartbeat" was released as a single which peaked at No. 57 on the BillboardMainstream Rock chart. Around this time the band released the VHS-only '"The Noise: Live in Frejus" (DGMVC2), a record of a show played at the Arena, Frejus, France on 27 August 1982. (This video is now on DVD as part of the compilation Neal and Jack and Me.)
King Crimson's next album, Three of a Perfect Pair, was recorded in 1983 and released in March 1984. Having encountered difficulty in both writing and determining a direction for the album, the band chose to record and sequence it as a "left side" — four of the band's poppier songs plus an instrumental — and a "right side" (experimental work including extended and atonal improvisations in the tradition of the mid-1970s band, plus as the third part of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic"). Three of a Perfect Pair peaked at No. 30 in the UK and No. 58 in the US, with "Three of a Perfect Pair" and "Sleepless" being released as singles. The 2001 remaster of the album included "the other side", a collection of remixes and improvisation out-takes plus Levin's tongue-in-cheek vocal piece, "The King Crimson Barbershop". The last concert of the Three of a Perfect Pair tour, at the Spectrum in Montreal, Canada on 11 July 1984, was recorded and released in 1998 as Absent Lovers: Live in Montreal.
"Robert broke up the group, again, for the umpteenth time, dwelling at length, I suppose on our lack of imagination, ability, direction and a thousand other things we were doubtless missing. I suppose this only because I remember not listening to this litany of failures. Might as well quit while you're ahead, I thought."
Following the 1984 tour, Fripp dissolved King Crimson for the second time, having become dissatisfied with its working methods. Bruford and Belew expressed some frustration over this; Belew recalled the first he had heard of the split was when he read about it in a report in Musician magazine. Despite these circumstances, the musicians remained on fairly amicable terms. Belew would later refer to the band "taking a break" that ultimately lasted for ten years.
1994–1999: the Double Trio – Vroooom, THRAK, and the ProjeKcts
In the early 1990s, Belew met with Fripp in England with an interest in a reformed King Crimson. Two years later, in 1992, Fripp established the Discipline Global Mobile (DGM) record label with producer David Singleton: this would subsequently be the main home for Fripp's work, with main album releases distributed to larger record companies, affording Fripp and his associates greater freedom and more control over their work.
After a tour with David Sylvian in 1993 (who declined an offer to join Crimson), Fripp began to assemble a new version of the band, a union between the band's previous incarnation and the Sylvian & Fripp group: he was joined with Belew, Levin, Bruford, Chapman Stick player Trey Gunn (a Guitar Craft alumnus), and drummer Pat Mastelotto (who replaced the first choice, Jerry Marotta). Fripp explained the six-member formation was to be a "Double Trio" with two guitarists, two bassists, and two drummers, to explore a different style of music. Bruford later said he lobbied his own way into the band, believing that King Crimson was very much "his gig", and that Fripp had come up with the philosophical explanation later. One of the conditions Fripp had imposed on Bruford regarding his return was to give up all creative control to Fripp.
Following rehearsals in Woodstock, New York, the group released the extended playVrooom in October 1994. This revealed the new King Crimson sound, which featured elements of the interlocking guitars on Discipline and the heavy rock feel of Red, but also involved a greater use of ambient electronic sound and ideas from industrial music. In contrast, many of the actual songs – mostly written or finalised by Belew – displayed stronger elements of 1960s pop than before – in particular, a Beatles influence (although Bruford would also refer to the band as sounding like "a dissonant Shadows on steroids"). As with previous line-ups, new technology was used including MIDI and the Warr tap guitar with which Gunn replaced the Stick. King Crimson toured the album from 28 September 1994 in Buenos Aires, Argentina; following concerts were released on the double live B'Boom: Live in Argentina in 1995.
"The meaning of THRAK ... the first one is: a sudden and precise impact moving from direction and commitment in service of an aim ... The second definition is: 117 guitars almost hitting the same chord simultaneously. So, the album THRAK, what is it? 56 minutes and 37 seconds of songs and music about love, dying, redemption and mature guys who get erections."
In October and December 1994, King Crimson recorded their eleventh studio album, Thrak. Formed of revised versions of most of the tracks on Vrooom, plus new tracks, the album was described by Q magazine as having "jazz-scented rock structures, characterised by noisy, angular, exquisite guitar interplay" and an "athletic, ever-inventive rhythm section," while being in tune with the sound of alternative rock of the mid-1990s. Examples of the band's efforts to integrate their multiple elements could be heard on the complex post-prog songs "Dinosaur" and "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" as well as the more straightforward "One Time" and the funk-pop inspired "People".
King Crimson resumed touring in 1995 and 1996; dates from October and November 1995 were recorded and released on the live album Thrakattak in May 1996, consisting of improvisations from performances of "THRAK" and Fripp's DGM partner David Singleton into an hour-long extended improvisation. A more conventional live recording from the period was later made available on the 2001 double CD release Vrooom Vrooom, as was a 1995 concert on the 2003 Déjà Vrooom DVD.
When fresh writing rehearsals began in mid-1997 in Nashville, Tennessee, Fripp was dissatisfied with the quality of the new music being developed by the band; developing friction and disagreements between himself and Bruford led to the latter deciding to leave King Crimson. The resulting atmosphere and the lack of workable band material almost broke the band up altogether. Instead, the six members (including Bruford) opted to work in four smaller groups (or "fraKctalisations", according to Fripp) known as the ProjeKcts. This enabled the group to continue developing musical ideas and searching for Crimson's next direction without the practical difficulty and expense of convening all six members at once. In 1998 and 1999, the first four ProjeKcts played live in the US, Japan, and the UK and released recordings that showed a high degree of free improvisation. These have been collectively described by music critic J. D. Considine as "frequently astonishing" but lacking in melody, and perhaps too difficult for a casual listener.
2000–2010: the Double Duo and the second quintet – The Construkction of Light, The Power to Believe, 40th Anniversary tour, third hiatus
At the end of the four ProjeKct runs, Bruford left King Crimson altogether to resume his work in jazz. At the same time, Levin's commitments as a session and touring musician forced him to take an indefinite break from the band. The remaining members (Fripp, Belew, Gunn and Mastelotto) reconvened as a "Double Duo" to write and record The Construkction of Light in Belew's basement and garage near Nashville. Released in May 2000, the album reached No. 129 in the UK. All of the pieces were metallic and harsh in sound, similar to the work of contemporary alternative metal. They featured a distinct electronic texture, a heavy processed drum sound from Mastelotto, Gunn continuing on Warr Guitar but now taking over the bass role, and a different take on the interlocked guitar sound that the band had used since the 1980s. With the exception of a parodic industrial blues (sung by Belew through a voice changer under the pseudonym of "Hooter J. Johnson"), the songs were unrelentingly complex and challenging to the listener, with plenty of rhythmic displacement to add to the harsh textures. The album contains the fourth instalment of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic". It received a negative reception for lacking new ideas. The band recorded an album at the same time, under the name of ProjeKct X, called Heaven and Earth. Conceived and led by Mastelotto and Gunn, with Fripp and Belew playing subsidiary roles, it was a further development of the polyrhythmic/dance music approach adopted in the ProjeKcts.
Belew performing in 2006
King Crimson toured to support both albums, including double bill shows with Tool. The tour was documented in the triple live album Heavy Construkction, released in December 2000. This showed the band constantly switching between the structured album pieces and ferocious ProjeKct-style Soundscape-and-percussion improvisations. Bassist John Paul Jones supported the band on some live shows.
On 9 November 2001, King Crimson released a limited edition live extended play called Level Five, featuring three new pieces: Previously unrecorded new tracks "Dangerous Curves", "Level Five" title track and "Virtuous Circle", plus versions of "The Construkction of Light" and 1998 ProjeKct Two's "Deception of the Thrush" followed by the unlisted track "ProjeKct 12th and X" after one silent minute. A second EP followed in October 2002, Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With. This featured eleven tracks including a live version of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part IV". Half of the tracks were brief processed vocal snippets sung by Belew, and the songs themselves varied between gamelan pop, Soundscapes, and slightly parodic takes on heavy metal and blues.
King Crimson released their thirteenth album, The Power to Believe, in October 2003. Fripp described it as "the culmination of three years of Crimsonising". The album incorporated reworked and/or retitled versions of "Deception of the Thrush", tracks from their previous two EPs, and a 1997 track with added instrumentation and vocals. The Power to Believe reached No. 162 in the UK and No. 150 in the US. King Crimson toured in 2003 to support the album; recordings from it were used for the live album EleKtrik: Live in Japan. 2003 also saw the release of the DVD Eyes Wide Open, a compilation of the band's shows Live at the Shepherds Bush Empire (London, 3 July 2000) and Live in Japan (Tokyo, 16 April 2003).
In November 2003, Gunn left the group to pursue solo projects and was replaced by the returning Tony Levin. The band reconvened in early 2004 for rehearsals, but nothing developed from the sessions. At this point, Fripp was publicly reassessing his desire to work with King Crimson and within the music industry, often citing the unsympathetic aspects of the life of a touring musician.
Despite this, a new King Crimson formation was announced in 2007: Fripp, Belew, Levin, Mastelotto, and a new second drummer, Gavin Harrison, the first new member from the UK since 1972. In August 2008, after a period of rehearsals, the five completed the band's 40th Anniversary Tour. The setlists featured no new material, drawing instead from the existing Discipline-era/Double Trio/Double Duo repertoire, although several pieces received striking new percussion-heavy arrangements. Additional shows were planned for 2009, but were cancelled due to scheduling clashes.
King Crimson began another hiatus after the 40th Anniversary Tour. Belew continued to lobby for reviving the band, and discussed it with Fripp several times in 2009 and 2010. Among Belew's suggestions was a temporary reunion of the 1980s line-up for a thirtieth anniversary tour: an idea declined by both Fripp and Bruford, the latter commenting "I would be highly unlikely to try to recreate the same thing, a mission I fear destined to failure." In December 2010, Fripp wrote that the King Crimson "switch" had been set to "off", citing several reasons for this decision.
2011–present: the "Seven-Headed Beast" lineup and the Double Quartet
In 2011, a band called Jakszyk Fripp Collins (and subtitled "A King Crimson ProjeKct") released an album called A Scarcity of Miracles. The band featured Jakko Jakszyk, Robert Fripp and Mel Collins as main players and composers, with Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison covering bass guitar/Chapman Stick and drums respectively. At one point, Fripp referred to the band as "P7". Unusually for a ProjeKct, it was based around fully finished and carefully crafted original songs (initially derived from improvisations). For a while, King Crimson fans debated whether this was a new line-up of the main band under another name, but the project did not tour or release another album. In August 2012, Fripp announced his retirement from the music industry, leaving the future of King Crimson uncertain.
In September 2013, Fripp suddenly and unexpectedly announced King Crimson's return to activity with a "very different reformation to what has gone before: seven players, four English and three American, with three drummers". He cited several reasons to make a comeback, varying from the practical to the whimsical: "I was becoming too happy. Time for a pointed stick." The new line-up drew from both the previous lineup (retaining Fripp, Levin, Harrison and Mastelotto) and the Scarcity of Miracles project (adding Jakszyk and Collins), with Guitar Craft alumnus and former R.E.M./Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin as the seventh member. Adrian Belew was not asked to take part, thus ending his 32-year tenure in King Crimson: Jakszyk took his place as singer and second guitarist. This version of the group took on the nickname of "the Seven-Headed Beast".
In early 2014, King Crimson had no plans to record in the studio, instead playing "reconfigured" versions of past material For the first time since 1974, the band's repertoire included songs from the run of albums between In The Court of the Crimson King and Larks' Tongues in Aspic, as well as including instrumentals from THRAK and The Power to Believe (although Adrian Belew's songs were conspicuously absent). After rehearsing in England, they toured North America from 9 September 2014 across 20 dates. Recordings from the Los Angeles dates were released as Live at the Orpheum.
Tours across Europe, Canada, and Japan followed in the later half of 2015. A live recording from the Canadian leg of the tour was released as Live In Toronto. A European tour was planned for 2016. Following Rieflin's decision to take a break from music after the three dates of March, April and June in Salisbury, drummer Jeremy Stacey of Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds was called in place for dates from September, building-up the now so-called 2016-SOND line-up.
On 7 December 2016, founding King Crimson member Greg Lake died of cancer.
On 3 January 2017, Robert Fripp announced Bill Rieflin's return to King Crimson. Since the band liked and wished to retain Jeremy Stacey, Rieflin shifted his group role and became King Crimson's full-time keyboard player. Consequently, King Crimson became an octet, referred to by Fripp as the "Double Quartet Formation".
On 27 April 2017, King Crimson announced a new live EP named "Heroes" after the David Bowie song, as a tribute to both the artist and the album featuring the song in question (both of which featured distinctive Robert Fripp guitar contributions throughout). The video to the song won "Video of the Year" at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards. Shortly afterwards, King Crimson embarked on an extensive tour of North America beginning on 11 June 2017 in Seattle, Washington and ending on 26 November 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
On 3 September 2017, Robert Fripp announced that his differences with Adrian Belew had been resolved and that Belew was now King Crimson's "Ninth Man Inactive"; meaning that there were "no current plans for (him) to come out with the current formation; but (he) has rejoined the larger family – hooray! - and doors to the future are open." Belew confirmed this, adding "it means I may be back in the band in the future at some point. It leaves the door open for Crimson to evolve as necessary."
On 13 October 2017, it was announced that Bill Rieflin would be unable to join the Double Quartet Formation on the 2017 Autumn tour in the U.S. He was temporarily replaced by Seattle-based Crafty Guitarist Chris Gibson.
During 2018, King Crimson performed the extensive 33-date Uncertain Times tour through the UK and Europe between 13 June and 16 November, visiting Poland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, the UK and France.
On 6 April 2019, it was announced at a press conference that Rieflin would take another break from King Crimson to attend to family matters, and that his place on keyboards for the 2019 50th anniversary tour would be taken by Theo Travis, better known as a jazz saxophonist, Soft Machine member and occasional duo collaborator with Robert Fripp. Although Travis joined the band for rehearsals, Fripp announced on 2 May that the band had decided that it was no longer possible to have other musicians deputising for Rieflin and for this reason were "proceed(ing) as a Seven-Headed Beast" without Travis. Rieflin's parts were divided among other band members, with Jakszyk and Collins adding keyboards to their on-stage rigs, and Levin once again using the synthesizer he used during the 1980s tours.
On 11 June 2019, King Crimson's entire discography was made available to stream online on Spotify platform, as part of the band’s 50th anniversary celebration.