Written by 4:17 am Audiophile Music

A Comprehensive Super-Duper Mid-90s King Crimson Chronicle

Mark Smotroff gets a bit overwhelmed by King Crimson’s big box of Thrak

The box arrived a few months ago, just before the Christmas holiday season. And life got busy, as it is wont to do at year end; the box just sat there staring at me, goading me to open it…

Nay… it was daring me to open it…

AR-thrakBOX225.jpgFor inside this grand package I knew contained some heaviest of metal mayhem : a wealth of recordings from a most powerful era of King Crimson’s 40-plus year career.

The rectangular cardboard container sat there staring at me on the counter….

The New Year came and went…

January flew by and realizing that February had danced across my calendar as well, in March I finally opened up the new King Crimson Thrak Box featuring the original, remastered and reinvented Thrak album and a wealth of related recordings from the period.

Why was this period of King Crimson’s history so special? Well, Thrak marked the start of an aggressive new era of the band featuring the “double power trio” — two drummers, two guitarists and two bassists rocking out on stage at the same time. But these were not just any two guitars, bass and drums and it was as far as one might imagine from the likes of The Allman Brothers Band (the legendary Southern rock band which was one bassist short of a similar line up back in the day). This version of King Crimson expanded upon the tremendous 1980-84 incarnation of the band — founder Robert Fripp, drummer Bill Bruford, bassist / Chapman Stick player Tony Levin & guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew — by now adding drummer Pat Mastelotto (XTC, Mr. Mister) and Trey Gunn (a one-time Fripp student) playing the custom WARR guitar (a wonderful mad scientist’s expansion on the Chapman Stick touch guitar concept).

This was a monstrous group playing monstrous music — including a song called “Dinosaur” — compiled into a monstrous album titled Thrak.

I was so into Thrak and that incarnation of the band that I saw four King Crimson performances (even traveling to San Diego for one of them)!

So, yeah, this box set was made for people like me… and perhaps a bunch of you too, Dear Readers.

Trust me, it does not disappoint. But, since we don’t have that much time and space for me to go into mad detail on this, I’ll have to give you some insight highlights…

AR-ThrakBoxContents225.jpgFirst off, the multitude of live and studio alternates / outtakes are astounding… mind numbing even, many in fine sounding high resolution 24 bit, 96 kHz fidelity. There are 16 discs — CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays — in this limited edition box set!

Exploring one of the Blu-rays, I made some fun discoveries…

The 5.1 mix of the studio album Thrak is immersive, fun and entirely entertaining. The core of the band is front and center, while distinct sounds emerge from the surrounds in the sort of wonderful barrage you might expect from having six dynamic players in the band.

The live videos from The Warfield (in San Francisco) and Japan may look only DVD quality (they were videotaped in standard definition in the 90s, after all) but they sound fantastic, with rich and immersive newly remixed 5.1 surround sound tracks. If you attended any of the shows, you’d expect the video to appear as they are, somewhat dark and ominous. That was part of the stage design and, in fact, guitarist Robert Fripp never appeared in any sort of spotlight while playing throughout the tour, so you mostly only see him in shadow profile!

One of the Blu-ray Discs alone includes three full albums mixed into high res 5.1 Surround Sound and Stereo : THRAK, ATTAKcATHRAK and Kcensington THRAK. You also get three ADDITIONAL albums in Hi-Res stereo: JurassiKc THRAK, THRAKaTTAK & the official live bootleg of the double trio’s debut performance in Argentina: called B’Boom (previously only available on CD).

AR-KCBackStagePasses225.jpgThere is tons of bonus video footage such as Tony Levin’s Road Movies which includes previously unreleased material drawn from the band’s earliest rehearsals in 1994 (up-mixed to Surround Sound). The disc also includes the band’s Electronic Press Kit (EPK) on the making of the THRAK album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios with newly mixed Surround Sound audio.

The Blu-ray Discs also function as an audio only disc for those who don’t want to deal with the visuals all the time (a neat new feature!)

If you don’t have a Blu-ray player don’t worry as the set includes multiple DVDs with much of the material on the Blu-ray Discs.

]]>And then there are the many CDs including JurassiKc THRAK which, according to promotional materials for the set is: “an assemblage of material from the recording sessions for the album – placing the listener in the studio with the band as the material was composed and recorded including seven pieces that didn’t make it onto the final album.” Max VROOOM combines the long-unavailable mini-album VROOOM with tracks from The VROOOM Sessions into a new and remastered listening experience.

AR-KCWarfieldTicketStub225.jpgByte Size THRAK rounds up the singles, special edits, live tracks from promos, a 12″ mix edit and extracts from writing sessions from the final Nashville rehearsals in 1997.

Possibly the only thing “missing” from this set is the video performance from Teatro Broadway in Buenos Aires from 1994 but, frankly, most of us Crim heads already have that fine double DVD-Audio Disc set with its rather trippy video production style and 4.0 quadrophonic mix so there really is no need to duplicate that here (and you do get B’Boom here which is pretty much that same performance or at least pulled from that series of early run shows — I’ve not had time to compare, contrast, explore, etc.

No, here I’d rather just celebrate what they did give us and that is mostly fun NEW stuff, which I heartily applaud (clap clap clap).

Now, while you are busy getting your auditory Thrak-full of mid-90s King Crimson, you can also feast your eyes on the fine quality album-sized book featuring rare/unseen photos, new sleeve and technical notes on the recordings and memorabilia such as a recreation of the press kit used for promoting the album replete with set lists, tour itineraries, black and white photos and more.

By chance, they even included a ticket stub to the show I saw at The Warfield Theater here in San Francisco.

(Woo Hoo!)

AR-KCThrakBox.BelewDrillBit225.jpgThis Thrak Box a single pressing run and as I learned on earlier King Crimson offerings like it, you really should grab one of these while you can. When they go out of print they really do. I’m still kicking myself for not picking up the boxes for Red, Starless & Bible Black and Lark’s Tongues In Aspic.

Not that I’m really complaining. With so much material here the Thrak Box alone will keep me plenty entertained for years to come.

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