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5 Bands like King Crimson: Tripping Troubadours

Kedar Prasana itcherCamel, Phish, the Flaming Lips, Focus and Änglagård feature in this selection of mind-bending and dimension-swerving bands like King Crimson. Get your tripping gear on and let your imagination loose – it’s time to rock n’ roll! ~ Kedar Prasana

Making Sense of the Grotesque

How difficult is it (really) to release an album that defies all definitions of weird and grotesque in a time when the world is going gaga over the Beatles, the Stones and the Beach Boys?

Ask Robert Fripp of King Crimson, a man solely responsible for thinking up and birthing a whole new genre that would captivate millions – progressive rock, or as the cool would say, prog rock.

King Crimson was progressive before progressive got cool, before half the world was playing ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ to go with their questionable ‘pastimes’ and before Jethro Tull were permanent features at virtually every little town hall in England on Saturdays.

What started out as a rebellion, however, later spiralled into a mania that would see the band implode (remember, THRAK? I mean, what was that all about, really?!). Here, I attempt to narrow down the acts that I think best compete with the quirkiness of King Crimson.

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Bands Similar to King Crimson…

Camel

Essential Albums: ‘The Snow Goose’, ‘Mirage’, ‘Camel’

Essential Tracks: ‘Mystic Queen’, ‘Ice’, ‘Lady Fantasy’

Camel marked the first generation of bands to be directly influenced by King Crimson’s brand of mystique.

Camel was also the first band to add new flavours to prog rock by consistently deriving help from other genres, including jazz, blues and even high-European classical music.

They gained tremendous popularity during their early years, but faded into obscurity during later phases of their careers.

Similarity Match: 90%
Post-1990 King Crimson and post-1975 Camel both share heavy jazz influences. Camel, however, always kept evolving musically using wind instruments and orchestras, while King Crimson stood strong by their guitar-driven sound.

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Phish

Essential Albums: ‘The White Tape’, ‘Lawn Boy’, ‘Picture of Nectar’

Essential Tracks: ‘Tweezer’, ‘Run Like an Antelope’, ‘Bathtub Gin’

Phish upheld the baton of progressive rock from King Crimson, and how!

Regarded by many critics as the most musically versatile progressive rock band ever, Phish consistently managed to keep the boat of prog rock floating through the deluge of punk, thrash and disco(!) of the 80’s.

The six (sometimes twelve) string genius behind the curvy Phish sound, Trey Anastasio, has put it on record that King Crimson were the biggest influence on early Phish albums (‘Phish’ and ‘Junta’, in particular).

Similarity Match: 80%
Phish and King Crimson, despite being innovative, have always been quite clear in their musical approach – be it one-to-one song matching on successive albums or non-blended guitar overlays. While Phish have tried pretty much every genre by now, King Crimson seem to lag in that respect.

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The Flaming Lips

Essential Albums: ‘Telepathic Surgery’, ‘Hear It Is’, ‘Embryonic’

Essential Tracks: ‘Jesus Shootin’ Heroin’, ‘The Spark That Bled’, ‘This Here Giraffe’

Among the prog rock bands that are still releasing new material of import, the Flaming Lips probably rank the highest in terms musical connectedness and gamut of talent.

King Crimson’s influence on the Flaming Lips is certainly more than palpable, as the band covered the ground-breaking debut album of their heroes – ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ – in its entirety.

Elaborately deceptive live shows and confounding musical tantrums define the true spirit of prog rock that the Flaming Lips have kept alive.

Similarity Match: 75%
King Crimson’s customary temporal-distortion of songs was successfully adopted by the Flaming Lips. However, unlike their influencers, the Flaming Lips never shied away from incorporating newer styles (they even collaborated with Miley Cyrus, no less!), particularly in live shows.

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If You Like King Crimson, You Will Like…

A band like King Crimson provides much-needed cerebral massage that many of us crave. This is not just an English or American phenomenon, however.

Progressive rock has spread equally in other parts of the world, especially mainland Europe.

Focus

Essential Albums: ‘Focus Plays Focus’, ‘Focus 2’, ‘Focus 3’

Essential Tracks: ‘Sugar Island’, ‘Anonymous’, ‘Black Beauty’

Focus was the Dutch contemporary of King Crimson and created a short-lived wave of immense prog rock popularity in Amsterdam (fuelled by obvious factors).

With a track titled ‘House of the King’ on the German edition of their debut album, ‘Focus Plays Focus’, was a homage to King Crimson.

Despite coming from wholly different settings (UK-US and Netherlands), Focus shared a lot of musical maturity that early albums of King Crimson (‘Lizards’, for example) exhibited. Their use of two drummers on ‘Focus 3’ was directly influenced by Robert Fripp’s crazy idea of a ‘band mirror’.

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Änglagård

Essential Albums: ‘Epilog’, ‘Hybris’

Essential Tracks: ‘Kung Bore’, ‘Sorgmantel’

Änglagård is the youngest and probably the most misfit band on this list.

Formed in 1991 in Sweden, Änglagård has gone on to achieve massive popularity in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries. Having been suggested to give them a listen by a more ‘worldly’ peer, I somewhat reluctantly yielded, only to be taken aback by their clean, crisp sound – much like King Crimson’s.

Although I couldn’t make out the head or tail of their lyrics, I still feel this is a bet worth making for all King Crimson fans.

Änglagård’s debut album ‘Hybris’ bears deep King Crimson style of alternate-tempo takes and slightly rough post-production. Their use of Swedish folk music, however, sets them apart from American and English counterparts, including King Crimson.

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Of Nightmares, Dreams and Confused Epitaphs

It wouldn’t be too rash to say that King Crimson will feature in top ten lists of most musically eccentric bands of all time. The fact that they used this aspect to their (and their fans’) advantage explains their longevity and popularity.

To help you explore the sense-ousting prog rock more avidly, here are a few more bands like King Crimson: Yes, ELP, Asia, Soft Machine, Mars Volta, Mystery Jets.

Do feel free to let us know of your favourite bands like King Crimson in the comment space below!

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