King Crimson

Epitaph

Composed by Greg Lake / Ian McDonald / Michael Giles / Peter Sinfield / Robert Fripp

Song Review by

Rock history, like all kinds of history, tends to be divided after the fact into winners and losers. Among most rock critics evaluating progressive rock bands, King Crimson has been tagged as winners and the Moody Blues as losers. The fact is, though, that in their early days, King Crimson could sometimes sound rather close to what the Moody Blues were doing in the late '60s. Nowhere was that resemblance stronger than in "Epitaph," the portentous nine-minute cut that closed side one of In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson. This is not to say that this sounds like a Moody Blues copy, or that being like the Moody Blues is always a bad thing; it's just an observation. The song begins with a dramatic drum roll and pseudo-orchestral sweep of somber melody. This gives way to a rather folky verse -- many prog rockers used folk-rockish structures as the backbone of some of their material -- in which the singer records rather gloomy images of nightmares, death, and decay, accented by doom truck drum thumps. The singing becomes more passionate on the following verses, leaping a whole octave upward, as the vague poetic words continue to evoke dark places where nothing is known and threat is looming. This leads up to a more dramatic chorus in which the words are punctuated by more spacious pauses and brief dabs of notes before concluding on a more thunderous, apocalyptic note, expressing the singer's fear that things aren't going to turn out all that well. Cheerful stuff indeed, but the tune is pretty attractive. The arrangement is good too, with Robert Fripp's guitar undulating like a weeping willow and Ian McDonald's Mellotron adding a layer of fear. An extended instrumental break finds the reeds and woodwinds playing off particularly gloomy guitar chords, the stop-and-start beats and frequent beats mirroring the oncoming crawl of a grim reaper. The extended fadeout on the last part of the chorus pushes the Mellotron up front to seal the spooky, desolate atmosphere.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
In the Court of the Crimson King 1969 Discipline
A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson 1976 Island 8:52
The Compact King Crimson 1987 EG Records 8:49
Frame by Frame: The Essential King Crimson 1991 Universal Distribution
The Concise King Crimson 1993 Caroline Distribution 8:45
Sometimes God Hides: The Young Person's Guide to Discipline 1997
Various Artists
Discipline Global Mobile / Discipline 7:08
Epitaph, Vols. 1-2 1997 Discipline 8:03
Epitaph, Vols. 3-4 1997 Pony Canyon Records 8:15
Live at the Marquee, 1969 1998 Discipline Global Mobile 3:20
No Image 2002 Discipline Global Mobile 4:28
Collectors' King Crimson, Vol. 7 2003 Jasrac 4:28
Live at Fillmore East, 1969 2004 Discipline Global Mobile 8:03
The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson, Vol. 1: 1969-1974 2004 Discipline Global Mobile 8:47
Collectors' King Crimson, Vol. 9 2006 Universal Distribution
The Condensed 21st Century Guide to King Crimson: 1969-2003 2006 Discipline 8:55
Collector's Box, Vol. 1: 1969 2007 Jvc Victor 3:20
Live in Toronto, November 20, 2015 2016 DGM / Discipline Global Mobile / E1 Entertainment / Panegyric 9:02
Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind 2016 DGM / Inner Knot / Panegyric 8:41
Collector's Club: 1969.7.5 Hydepark 2017 4:28
King Crimson Collectors' Club: Live at the Marquee 1969 Discipline Global Mobile 3:20
blue highlight denotes editor's pick