Panic Room - 'Skin' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     September 25, 2012    
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Delight for the senses, brave and masterful, timid and submissive.

There comes a time as ‘Skin’ unfolds – for me it was midway through the haunting, piano-led second track ‘Chameleon’ with its almost ethereal vocals and unexpected coda – when you suddenly realise you’re listening to something quite extraordinary. With its beguiling simplicity, stunning fragility and overt beauty Panic Room’s latest album is an undeniably, unbelievably exceptional body of work. In the space of just over an hour the band unhurriedly unveil eleven compositions of such opulence that you have to wonder just how much feeling, how much emotion a single album can accrue. Hope and despair, passion and indifference, light and dark… It’s all here, backed by some of the most evocative music and soul-stirring vocals you might ever get to hear.

There’s so much to commend on this album it’s like Christmas come early. Notwithstanding the aforementioned ‘Chameleon’, there’s the delightfully discreet ‘Freefalling’; the plaintive title track which sees the band tugging at every heartstring; and the poignant ‘Nocturnal’ which takes the album to a close with a masterful and unexpected piano break followed by an understated guitar work-out and a wash of orchestration. Meanwhile, the more upbeat material like ‘Screens’, the riff-driven ‘Hiding The World’ and opener ‘Song For Tomorrow’ show that Panic Room can gear up and kick out when they choose. And amidst all this ‘Promises’ comes over all Bryan Adams-y with a nod to ‘Run To You’ before powering up and layering on the emotion with what is truly a stunning vocal performance from Anne-Marie Helder.

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‘Skin’ treads in the footsteps of the band’s previous outings, 2008’s ‘Visionary Position’ and ‘Satellite’ which followed two years later, but has distilled the essence of its predecessors into something quite magical. The band themselves have been together since 2005 or so when keyboard player Jonathan Edwards had a few ideas for songs which he asked Helder to breathe some life into. With guitarist Paul Davies and drummer Gavin Griffiths joining up – the four knowing each other from Karnataka (and Helder and Griffiths are currently both members of Mostly Autumn) – and with the addition of Alun Vaughan the band was born. Since then the only change has been the recruitment of a new bassist in Yatim Halimi, ‘Skin’ being his first outing with the band. Panic Room have picked up plaudits a-plenty, and it’s little wonder that in a recent ‘Classic Rock Presents Prog’ poll Helder came out as best female vocalist, Griffiths and Davies featured in their respective categories Panic Room were the No.7 Best Band. (And if that’s not enough, they’re one of our esteemed Reviews Editor’s favourite bands as well.)

‘Skin’ is more than an album, it’s delight for the senses, brave and masterful, timid and submissive. As a point of reference it’s more progressive rock than progressive metal, more Anathema than After Forever; in a recent interview in Cherry Red’s own magazine Helder pointed out that she likes to describe Panic Room’s music as a “voyage of discovery”. And I’m not going to argue with that.

John Tucker

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