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Panic Room - Skin CD (album) cover


Panic Room


Crossover Prog

3.70 | 115 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Hello? Jody, is that you?

Well, I vowed to follow the career of this stellar little Karnataka off-shoot and I certainly cannot even glimpse at the thought of any regret, as I am a sucker for female vocal fronted prog bands anyway. Panic Room continues on its merry prog way, with Anne-Marie Helder's lush voice leading the way and proposing a new set list of impressive and romantic songs that skirt with the outer edges of progressive rock, nothing too complicated and technical, relying purely on emotion and atmosphere. But the quality of the overall package has leaped ahead by a zillion miles, a complete success on every front.

There are some new positives that will anoint this release with an impeccable rating: on the third try, they get the artwork they deserve as the previous two covers were rather insipid, this one strangely very similar to Quidam's latest, sort of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- like, a bare lady in an icy, desolate forest gloom. Gruesomely effective. Secondly, musically there is a massive improvement to an all-ready high quality of playing, the band has recruited new bass player Yatim Halimi who makes his presence felt all over, as the fretless bass rules the low end majestically. The intricate drumming is also very obvious, Gavin John Griffiths raising quite a few eyebrows, keyboardist Jonathan Edwards using a vast arsenal of keys (piano, organ, synths and e-piano) but also creative with diverse tones and tangent structures. Lastly, Paul Davies displays a corporeal tone, certainly ballsier than ever before, with a higher level of masculinity in his playing, yet extremely inventive in his stylings. Finally, a string quartet adds some orchestral dimension that bodes well for the symphonic sheen that this material clearly deserves.

The entire song list is effortlessly memorable, diverse and astounding, showing an uncanny resourcefulness that eliminates any semblance of sameness, such as on the mercurial "Screens", a sparkling piece with string quartet, burping bass, polyrhythmic beats and a surly synth-lead , all held together by some weighty riffs, a stubborn stop and go lead guitar solo that is gigglingly original. The preceding "Chameleon" is a haunting slice of cinema-prog, highly evocative and hypnotic, like a sensual opiate cloud armed with a sultry vocal that sweetly swerves into the brain. The mid-section piano solo is consummate stuff; the silky almost jazzy approach most noteworthy. For the romantics out there, some great love songs are here to wallow in such as the string- driven "Chances" with its serene Spanish guitar section and some wonderful vocals from Anne-Marie (a lovely looker to boot) and a colossal orchestral outro. I mean, WOW! The mood settles into dreamscapes with the suave "Tightrope Walking", a 7 minute flight of thrilling sounds, featuring a simple beat, amplified by wobbly bass and uncomplicated piano, a painstaking lament that slowly grows in stature and expression, tossing in some slight Arabic tinges, coupled with fine e-piano noodlings, string quartet denouement and a few axe frills. "Promises" is even sexier, a ringing ELO-like theme, Anne-Marie mischievously vocalizing while the bass pummels a Native American styled riff and a sudden swirling synth tornado to keep the panting honest. The power is propelled by a crescendo chorus that reaches for the skies and will be sure to leave a lasting impression. A shorter, acoustic ballad, "Velvet and Stars" proposes a fragile vocal that proves what many already believe, Helder is an awesome talent that can only get even better! Acoustic guitar and voice, that's it! Bravo! "Freefalling", well with a title like that, you would think of Tom Petty, wouldn't you? Except this is a 6 minute shuffling masterpiece, a gasping love affair of sound and texture, very sexy and appealing in its utter simplicity. Hey, its definitely not math-rock but WTH, one cannot dine on blitzkrieg riffs for ever (wait until you get older and crankier!), this is unabashedly feminine prog which serves up a great purpose when you eschew your masturbatory (read = lonely) prog collection and settle into some musical cuddling with your female partner. An amazing tune!

The title track is another hallmark track, straightforward but devastating lead vocal, a plea of crushing beauty and immeasurable delivery, within a huge orchestral flow. Enough said, world class ballad. Yeah, syrupy stuff but "Hiding the World" gets nice and aggressive, so as to counterbalance all that sweetness and melancholia, sounding like fellow compatriots Touchstone, combining dynamic riffs with monster drumming and relentless pummeling. This splendid disc climaxes with the appropriate "Nocturnal", a haunting piano-led reverie that defies description, an epic piece that introduces the night and all its fragile shimmering , a howling voice beckoning the gentleness of nature's rest and all its little pleasures. The piano rollicks sensually, violins in embrace, prepping the ground for the urgent and desperate guitar solo and all restrained emotion, waiting to explode. Helder wails like a woman possessed, how can anyone resist this?

Move over Mostly Autumn, Iona, Karnataka, the Reasoning, Legend, Magenta and other female voice-led bands , Panic Room has arrived. Only Frequency Drift's latest can rival this one for 2012's top album crown. This is a fantastic release, not a stinker or filler in the lot. A soundtrack for carnal exploration is just as proggy as a Roine Stolt solo or a Portnoy drum fill. So brand this as "Prog with benefits" and you will not be disappointed.

You can kiss your progman again, darling! My goodness, you are in the mood, aren't you?

5 radiant dermatologists

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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