Album review: PANIC ROOM – Incarnate

Panic Room - Incarnate

Firefly Music [Release date 10.03.14]

After their acoustic ‘chill out’ sojourn under the pseudo name of Luna Rossa, Anne-Marie Helder and Jonathan Edwards return with the latest release in their guise as main protagonists in Panic Room, a band whose previous three releases have produced some of the finest female fronted melodic prog since the turn of the century.

Incarnate marks something of a new chapter for the band following the departure of guitarist and founder member Paul Davies.  While Morpheus Rising guitarist Pete Harwood was drafted in to fulfil live commitments, and while the band originally intended to record as a four piece with some ‘special guest’ guitarists, the band have followed a growing trend and recruited some young blood to ranks in the form of Adam ‘Adzo’ O’Sullivan.

A key factor in that appointment was not only O’Sullivan having a natural funky/jazz flair which lends itself to the more free-form areas of Panic Room’s music, but the fact he was locally based in South Wales.

Returning to their favourite Sonic One Studios in Llangennech, the band spend 25 days throughout August and September 2013 recording Incarnate with engineer Tim Hamill – the man responsible for capturing the band’s sound on both Satellite (2010) and Skin (2012).

In many ways Incarnate is ‘business as usual’ – Anne-Marie Helder’s sumptuous vocals the centrepiece of the band’s soundscape and the rhythm section of Gavin John Griffiths and Yatim Halimi as well-oiled as ever.

Jon Edwards continues to shine but in subtle ways O’Sullivan’s arrival marks an evolution in the band’s sound – in particular some wonderful lazy blues/ jazz interplay with Edwards’ splendid piano work on ‘Nothing New’ and ‘All That We Are’.  It’s a breath of fresh air to hear a guitarist who’s more focused on ‘feel’ than speed.

But when required to rock out, he can – ‘Velocity’ opens the album in some style with a powerful extended riff that subsides beneath Anne Marie’s celestial vocals, re-emerging like an ebbing tide in a number that builds and builds.

Elsewhere it’s the familiar Panic Room eclectic and organic mix of styles and influences with the title track picking up on the Eastern flavours that have peppered earlier outings, ‘Start The Sound’ has a celestial Enya-like feel, ‘Waterfall’ borrows from Supertramp’s Dreamer and combines it with a Fleetwood Mac circa Tango In The Night groove, and ‘Searching’ pushes the pace along nicely – again with some stupendous piano, bluesy guitar and harmonica, the latter courtesy of Helder.

And the set (which thankfully bucks the current trend for vinyl length albums) closes out in style with the epic ‘Dust’ – a poignant snapshot of a world torn apart by conflict as seen through the eyes of an uncomprehending child – a number that builds over 7 minutes from a base of Jon’s sparse piano and Anne-Marie’s haunting vocals to crescendo before fading to a final delicate piano line.

The great thing about Panic Room albums is that they never reveal all their charms on the first listen.  Like a fine wine they improve with age and Incarnate will be an inevitable contender for ‘album of the year’.  The band will be playing dates promotional dates in March, April and June.  *****

Review by Pete Whalley

Tour dates 2014

March 22nd PWLLHELI, N.Wales HRH PROG 2014
March 29th EDINBURGH Voodoo Rooms
March 30th WAKEFIELD Warehouse 23
April 11th NORWICH Arts Centre
April 13th CARDIFF The Globe
April 18th POOLE Mr Kyps
April 24th MANCHESTER Band On The Wall
April 25th GLOUCESTER Guildhall
April 27th MILTON KEYNES The Stables
June 6th BATH Komedia
June 7th READING Arts Centre
June 12th LIVERPOOL Zanzibar
June 13th BILSTON Robin 2
June 14th LONDON Borderline
June 20th PRESTON 53 Degrees
June 21st DERBY The Flowerpot

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