Panic Room’s debut, Visionary Position was a complex multilayered album largely composed in the studio, which gave the band some real headaches when trying to work out how on earth a five-piece band were going to reproduce it all live. In contrast, the followup is largely made up from songs the band had been playing live before entering the studio, many of them very familiar to people who’ve seen the band on tour over the past couple of years.
This result is an album of shorter, more direct songs – there are no sprawling epics along the lines of Visionary Position’s “The Dreaming” this time around. The very different musical backgrounds of the five members combine in an alchemical mix which results in far more than the sum of the parts. Elements of hard rock, prog, pop, folk and jazz contribute to a sound that defies easy pigeonholing beyond the broad category of ‘rock’. It doesn’t really pretend to be a prog album, or worse still, pretend not to be. It’s precisely the sort of thing with crossover appeal; just enough musical depth to appeal to the prog fan, but without being too dense or complex to appeal to the fan of mainstream rock.
As with the debut, the musicianship is superb throughout, although always playing what the song requires rather than playing loads of random notes just for the sake of it. Anne-Marie Helder again demonstrates that she’s not only a tremendously expressive vocalist but a very thought-provoking lyricist, and Jon Edwards shines on keys, especially his Ray Manzarek-like playing on “Picking Up Knives” and the doom-laden organ chords heralding “Dark Star”.
Musically it’s hugely varied, ranging from powerful hard rockers to gentle semi-acoustic numbers to big soaring ballads, all of which show just how versatile a singer Anne-Marie can be. “Black Noise” written by bassist Alun Vaughan might even be described as ‘Industrial funk-metal’, and “I am a Cat” with it’s meowing guitars has to be the strangest song on the album. High spots for me are the heard-rending “The Fall”, the atmospheric “Yasuni”, a tale of environmental destruction in the name of oil, and the apocalyptic organ-driven “Dark Star” with it’s lyrical theme of the destructive potential that lies within all of us. We are all dark stars, Anne-Marie reminds us. As the anthemic chorus of the epic title track fades away it’s clear that talented rock bands do not recognise the concept of the ‘difficult second album’.
As with many independently-released albums the band financed it with a fan pre-order, which was dispatched towards the end of last year. The retail edition was released today, January 25th. The band are on tour during March, and are well worth catching live.