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Panic Room - Visionary Position CD (album) cover


Panic Room

Crossover Prog

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4 stars Panic Room formed from the four members of Karnataka who weren't involved in what I can only assume was a soap opera between bassist Ian Jones and his ex-wife and singer, Rachel Jones. Ian carries on in Karnataka with an all-new lineup while Rachel is now part of The Reasoning and is married to their bass player, former Magenta player Matthew Cohen. Sounds like the whole jumbled mess would give JR Ewing and the folks in Dallas a run for their money. But what of Panic Room and their new entry Visionary Position into the Neo/Crossover realm? Well fans of the old Karnataka should be very pleased.

The first reason is Anne-Marie Helder. She certainly gives Rachel Cohen a run for her money in the pipes department. While not as "breathy" (for lack of a better word) as Cohen, Helder's voice ranks up with the best in the business right now. She is a true musician who plays the flute, guitar and keyboards (though only flute here on VP) as well as being a main songwriter here with keyboardist Jonathan Edwards. Anyone who got a taste of her talent on the Strange Behaviour live CD from Karnataka and liked what they heard will be truly pleased here.

As for the music, there are certain songs that conjure Karnataka in almost every way. But first off is Electra City, where Helder plays the part of a robot servant. The vocals are given an electronic treatment to give this effect, but there are also clean vocals during the song. The music has an electronica aspect to it until about the sixth minute, then everything abruptly changes. The song does a 180 that takes you into a smoky piano lounge and the piano takes the song to the end. Kind of weird but enjoyable.

The middle songs vary from moving ballads to full on and bombastic Karnataka type songs. Apocalypstick does stand out as breaking out of that mold, adding an eastern music element through the use of electric violin. One strange thing I noticed is the lack of guitar solos. Strange Behaviour had one in I think every song over its two full disks and I figured these guys were hot wired into having guitar solos. But I only counted two or three throughout and they were fairly restrained.

The album ends with another odd song. Not odd as in bad, but odd in its structure. It is almost 19 minutes long but has three distinct parts. The first 12 minutes is a beautiful song in the Karnataka vein. Then a break and we go back to the smoky piano lounge for a bit. Then another long bit of silence and the electronica type of music from the opener finishes off the song. So not the full out prog epic some may have hoped for when seeing the length for the first time.

I am a Magenta freak and am always on the lookout for female fronted bands that may be in their style and on their level. Mostly Autumn disappointed me almost totally. Karnataka came close but does not have the genius of Rob Reed in the song writing department. Panic Room is on a level with Karnataka but they made some effort to get away from their sound while embracing it at the same time. After hearing Visionary Position, I am still searching for another band on Magenta's level but this is very well done and I think these guys (and one lovely lady) can deliver even better in the future. 3.75 Stars.

Report this review (#188818)
Posted Tuesday, November 11, 2008 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
4 stars When Karnataka broke up after the excellent live album Strange Behavior, I was wondering what would happen to those talented musicians that seemed to have such affinity and tight sound during that period (see their DVD Live In The USA 2002). As most fans know it it all came down to the break up of (vocalist) Rachel and (bassist & leader) Ian Jones marriage. Rachel now is part of The Reasoning, while Ian Jones recreated Karnataka with a whole new line up. And what about the reamaining members? Only recently I found out they´ve stayed together and had released two albums already under the name of Panic Room.

Anne Marie Helder (once part of the backing vocalists team and now promoted to full time singer), Paul Davies (guitars) Jonathan Edwards (keyboards and loops) and drummer Gavin John Griffiths recruited bassist Alun Vaughan to round up the new outfit. The result is obvioulsy similar to Karnataka, but they also allowed themselves to experiment more and the new songs turned to be quite more interesting and progressive than much of what their former band has ever tried.

Not that their style changed too much: it´s still very accessible, melodic stuff, a mix of prog rock, folk, gospel, eastern melodies and rhythms, plus bits of jazz and eletronic here and there . They are quite bolder and more adventurous than ever, with some really surprising and inventive playing. Anne Marie rises up as one of the best and most soulful singers I´ve heard lately. She may not sound as ´sweet´ as Rachel Jones, but she has a fine, educated voice, that she uses for full effect (often overdubbing herself in multi track backing vocals) . The result is a very strong, passionate and convicing delivery that gives Panic Room a unique mark.

As expected, the musicians perfomances are all excellent (special mention should be given to Eduards subtle and effective keyboards lines and Davies brilliant guitar licks and solos). The addition of guest violin player Lizzie Prendergast on several tracks is just wonderful. the arrangements are tasteful and quite creative. Production is also very good. Of course nothing would ever work if they didn´t come up with a bunch of very good songs. Even if this is their fisrt ever work together without the Jones, the new stuff is simply superb, with many highlights and almost no lows. Visionary Position is a very well balanced album that you can enjoy from start to finish. It may take a few good spinnings to get all the details and to fully appreciate its sheer power, like all good prog albums do, but once you do, you´re hooked (well, I am!).

Conclusion: a very nice surprise! Visionary Position is Karnataka taken one or two steps further into prog and should be heard by anyone who likes good, melodic and elaborated music. Definitly highly recommended!

Final rating: 4,5 stars.

Report this review (#263158)
Posted Thursday, January 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Like the previous reviewer I'm keen on Magenta and was looking for something wth female vocals. What I really like about this album is the melodious approach and quality of lead vocal. This also has the most immaculate production. However on the writing side it all seems a bit aimless and none of the tracks really develop into anything interesting. My overall feeling is of 'easy listening' prog that would be okay in the background. Bit of a disappointment really despite the fact that on a technical level this is as good as anything around. This band for me does not have a strong enough identity at the moment and perhaps they are trying to hedge their bets a bit too much between a clean commercial sound and the obvious intention to create something more 'progressive'.
Report this review (#286114)
Posted Saturday, June 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Just like in real life day to day relationships, breaking up is sometimes a good thing if the tremors shake up the emotional cobwebs that made a union stale and ultimately boring. Karnataka's explosion yielded new crews The Reasoning and Panic Room as well as re- launching the original band with new members save for the bassist Ian Jones! This created the rather brilliant Gathering of Light album that gave rise to a hopeful future. As for Panic Room, they were formed around Karnataka alumni Paul Davies (gt) Jonathan Edwards (k), Gavin Griffiths (drs) and Anne-Marie Helder as vocalist, whilst bringing in bassist Alun Vaughan. The tempo is vigorous and contemporary with some voluptuous interventions from the above mentioned well-seasoned musicians. The menu contains long epic tracks anywhere from 7 to 18 minute long range two to start and two to end as well as some shorter tracks that are perhaps poppier yet still contain some prime juice, all sandwiched in the middle of the programme.

On the extended opener 'Elektra City', the vocoded initial blast leads to a memorable song, well-stretched out and introducing a delightful piano, bass and drum finale that is worth admission. Anne-Marie likes the breathless style as well as unafraid of exposing her tonsils when called for. The best example is on the brooding 'End Game', a slow blooming monster that effuses hints of vaporous psychedelia, where she provides the two extreme renditions of her powerful voice. Paul unleashes some genuine guitarisms (he is not a Mr.Flash stylist but rather a divine 'understator'). A nice moody piece. The highly enjoyable 'Firefly' is a lovely vocal ballad that showcases Helder's talent rather convincingly, a tortuous axe solo helping to cajole the soul. 'Reborn' continues the lighter side with a mid-tempo rockin' roller that should have the crowd perspire in a live setting but not one of my teacups. The 3 minute 'Moon on the Water' is a sweet acoustic affair that spices things up nicely with pristine piano, squeaky violin and a gorgeous vocal in a style that hints at early Kate Bush, very jolie! 'Apocalipstick' has overt Middle Eastern shadows colliding with rock hard guitar slashes and whirling dervish violin that combine to make this track immediately infectious, as if a sudden sandstorm had been unleashed on the recording studio, inspiring these Brits to discover new horizons. This is an extremely successful track with a dizzying series of cascading guitar and synth notes whirling in the wind. But the heart of this recording lies with their interpretation of a traditional folk piece 'I wonder what's keeping my true love tonight' done previously by Celtic folk artists such as June Tabor, Kate Rusby and Solas. It's achingly beautiful as only Irish/British folk can be, full of hope and despair with Anne- Marie doing the piece complete justice, all within a fairly acoustic setting. The guitars and the synths dance nicely, the drums invited into the fray. WOW! The courage it takes to end an album with an 18 wheeler is quite ballsy and to call it 'The Dreaming' does wink at the Bush lady again. In keeping with such a diaphanous theme, the atmospherics are dense and plentiful but the valleys are also crested by some spectacular vocal peaks, churning the dynamics into at times frenzied paces. The last 6 minutes are exceptional, piano and voice in communion at first and then some weird electronic synth noodlings that confirm the reverie status, syncopated drums notwithstanding. I have been infatuated with lady prog vocalists for quite a while now and if you are like me, you will enjoy this material immensely. The front cover is rather insipid but the back photo is out of Led Zep's Presence , all that is missing is the mini-monolith! An impressive debut that should bode well for the future.

4 terror dens

Report this review (#606276)
Posted Monday, January 9, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Swansea-based UK act Panic Room was actually the reason Karnataka almost disbanded in mid-00's, when Jonathan Edwards and Anne-Marie Helder parted ways with the band and later asked Gavin John Griffiths and Paul Davies if they would like to join them in a new project.Both accepted the invitation, leaving Karnataka's leader Ian Jones all alone, simultanseously giving birth to Panic Room.They were joined by bassist Alun Vaughan and released their debut ''Visionary Position'' in 2008 on their own Firefly Records.Some of the tracks feature also the help of Liz Prendergast from Bluehorses on violins and arrangements.

The 4/5 of Karnatake escaped the attention of Ian Jones, but seem to have to not escaped their music past with KARNATAKA at all, as Panic Room's sound has strong references from the music of KARNATAKA.All these kind of bands seem to be extremely influenced by the ''Brave''-era MARILLION plus the evident folky touches, eventually coming up with a pretty song-based and accesible form of Progressive Rock, approached by a wider audience.The music of Panic Room remains melodic and easy-listening all the way, even in the very long ''The Dreaming'', with a very dreamy atmosphere surrounding their music.The tracks are split between short, laid-back Art Rock pieces with ethereal soundscapes and warm vocals by Anne-Marie Helder, musically led by acoustic guitars, piano and synths, and more upbeat cuts, which still are quite easy-listening, with evident use of electric guitars, more sharp keyboards and safe riffs, eventually producing a more passionate and energetic mood.Among the pieces there are a few violin- or flute-based themes, a sign that Panic Room can be easily regarded as a KARNATAKA offshoot act at least in this release.

If you are fond of the music of KARNATAKA, IONA, MOSTLY AUTUMN and the likes, Panic Room's ''Visionary Position'' will be an excellent addition in your collection.Atmospheric, smooth Progressive/Art Rock of decent quality.Recommended.

Report this review (#921323)
Posted Saturday, March 2, 2013 | Review Permalink

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