Panic Priest
Negative Gain Productions

The distinction between post-punk and darkwave is indistinct and often up for debate, with most arguments hinging on some arcane interpretation of artistic intent and specifics of songwriting and production. One-man Chicago act Panic Priest (aka Jack Armando) walks the line between the sister-genres well on its debut album, getting across the grandeur and melodrama of proper darkwave, executed via thoughtfully deployed rock instrumentation and electronics.

Perhaps owing to Armando’s history in electro-tinged indie rock act My Gold Mask, there’s a goodly amount of guitar woven into each of the 10 tracks on the LP. Despite the consistency of the production it’s interesting to hear exactly how the instrument gets switched up from song to song; sometimes it acts as rhythmic accompaniment, as strummed against the electronic backbeat of “Velvet Cage”, sometimes as textural element as on the shoegazey version of “Untamed” that closes the LP. Most notably and potently, Adorno lays in some intricate goth rock-styled six string leads, such as the one that wends its way through the stomping “Holy Ghost” or the rolling mid-tempo “Fallen Dream”. It’s not that guitar is the focus of these songs – album highlight “Gaffer” finds the guitar playing parallel to a shimmering synthline for example – but that it’s used tastefully and effectively throughout.

The other really distinctive element of Panic Priest’s sound is Armando’s rich, expressive baritone. As a vocalist he has very good control and phrasing, providing the requisite gravitas that the songs demand without lapsing into the dull monotone that so many male vocalists in the genre default to. Listen to how he modulates gradually upwards from the bridge to the outro of opener “Sideways”, or the string of “oh oh ohs” he gets away with by virtue of confidence on “Death Seasons”, all indicative of the care and effort he puts into his parts. There are a few moments where the vocal mix feels a bit loud and unseated from the songs, but by and large Armando’s singing is a major asset to the project and stands out strongly amongst the current crop of male darkwave vocalists.

Panic Priest’s debut obviously had a lot of work put into it, from the attentive arrangements and production through to the programming and performances, all of which have the air of exactitude around them. Where that kind of perfectionism runs the risk of sucking all the life out of a collection of tracks, it imbues Panic Priest’s material with a distinctive touch, all the better to distinguish it in a year where this particular style of rock-infused darkwave is on the rise. It’s a solid LP built on a foundation of well presented songs and serves as a memorable introduction to Jack Armando as a solo artist.

Buy it.