Ten great King Crimson songs from the 90s

King Crimson
(Image credit: DGM)

In 1994 a new incarnation of King Crimson played a series of shows in Argentina marking the return of the band after 10 years away. Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford, who had comprised the 1980s version of the group, were joined by Trey Gunn (Stick and touch guitar) and drummer Pat Mastelotto.

The Double Trio as Fripp dubbed them embarked on a series of lengthy world tours, releasing the mini-album, VROOOM in 1994 and in 1995 the full-length album, THRAK recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios. The sextet came to an abrupt halt after rehearsals in 1997 broke down. 

As various off-shoots split into what Fripp called ‘ProjeKcts,’ a new formation of King Crimson emerged in 2000. Mixing sweet songs, heavy riffs, polymetric pop, hardcore-improv and majestic mayhem, the Crimson universe during the 1990s was a varied and busy place to be.


Sylvian & Fripp - Firepower (1993)

In 1991 Fripp asked David Sylvian to join him in a reformed King Crimson. Although the singer declined they recorded and toured together. Their album, The First Day (1993) and this track, while clearly not King Crimson, nevertheless shows how Crimson might have sounded had Sylvian said yes. Stick player Trey Gunn was on the album and subsequent tour alongside ex-Mr. Mister drummer, Pat Mastelotto with both men joining King Crimson the following year.

King Crimson - Cage (1994) 

Taken from the Vrooom mini-album, described by Fripp as “a calling card rather than a love letter,” Cage is a short, sharp shot of dystopian urban paranoia penned by Adrian Belew and subsequently 'Crimsonised.' Spiky guitars sway and snag against the breakneck vocal delivery like barbed wire, recalling the fast cross-picking lines from 1973's Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part 1. The pained bellowing sound you can hear early on comes from a red-faced Tony Levin shouting down a didgeridoo. 

ProjeKct - Seizure (1998)

Originally presented during the final KC rehearsals of 1997 by Tony Levin as a repeating C note, the idea was revived in ProjeKct Four acting as a springboard for improvisation. The ominous notes bounce between Levin and Gunn, tumbling against Mastelotto’s quirky electronica and percussion and Fripp’s dark string washes. Although revisited by the Double Duo KC in the 2000s, it was never nailed as a structured track in the studio. Definitely, the one that got away. 

King Crimson - Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream (1995)

The surreal nature of the lyrics are perfectly mirrored in the blowing sections following the verse, whose controlled chaos of two distinct trios playing against each other in different time signatures was based around an exercise Bill Bruford picked up from a young drummer called... Gavin Harrison.  

King Crimson - People (1995)

Featuring Bill Bruford’s unmistakable whipcrack snare and Belew’s oozing reversed-guitar solos like many other King Crimson pieces this track revels in contradictory elements, in this case, a quirky, loping funk-charged verse whose teetering gait totters across the beat and bars with alarming elasticity. Pitched against an impressive hook in the chorus complete with air-punching, upbeat sentiments, Belew’s Beatle-tinged roots find space to blossom and grow.

King Crimson - Walking On Air (1995) 

If the 90s KC upped the volume then it also made space available for softer moments enabling everyone to regroup and gather their strength. Leaning into Belew’s love of John Lennon, the rippling middle section contains miniature solos from Gunn and Belew against Fripp’s sweeping soundscape. Pat Mastelotto has good cause to fondly recall the piece. “When I got married to my wife, Deborah, we used that as our tune at the wedding. The song makes me cry, man.”

King Crimson - VROOOM VROOOM (1995) 

If the studio version was slightly restrained, in concert this full monstrous beast of a track regularly slipped off the leash as it does here in 1996. Hurtling along with devastating force these interlocking riffs inversions and recapitulations become dangerously mesmeric. The middle section had originally been written for cello for Red in 1974 but had been cut by Fripp. Over two decades later the part finally found a new home.

King Crimson - THRAK (1996) 

When asked to define what he meant by the word THRAK, Fripp replied “the sound of 117 guitars almost striking the same chord simultaneously.” It’s a brutal, Hellish sound as the two halves of the Double Trio hammer it out. After all the industrial clatter, the middle improv section finds all six players get into abstract expressionist mode as they daub vibrant, challenging colours across a blank sonic canvas.

King Crimson - VROOOM (1995)

Opening with a string fill played on one of the Mellotrons used on King Crimson’s 1969 debut, VROOOM musically has one foot in the past and one in the future with Bruford, Gunn & Fripp, on the left-hand channel, sparring with Belew, Levin, and Mastelotto on the right. Not so much a calling card from the new line-up as a brick through the window. Fripp defined the title VROOOM as “An inevitable and remorseless forward motion which carries all before it.” He’s not wrong. 

King Crimson - Dinosaur (1995)

Satirising their dismissal in some quarters as a bunch of prog-rock dinosaurs with an ever-so catchy chorus, King Crimson prove themselves to be far from extinct as they roam through stomping verses and an orchestral sounding chamber trio with Belew’s treated guitar emulated a Mellotron. Containing Fripp’s sting-in-the-tale whiplash solo and a see-swing motif that calls back to Cirkus, a song from 1970, it rapidly became a firm Crimson classic.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.