Hailing from northern Croatia, Progressive Metalcore band Core System formed in 2016 and comprises bassist Eugen Baranašić, drummer Luka Bergovec, guitarist Josip Novak and vocalist pairing Ivan Modrić and Lovro Špoljarić. Rather than taking a more conventional route and starting out with an EP while they found their sound, they went the whole nine yards and released a debut album entitled “The Loop”. That album combines challenging, unconventional rhythm sections and low guitar tones which are connected with emotional and gentle melodies. They are a total DIY band with no outsourcing involved, handling and no doubt learning along the way the arts of recording, mixing, mastering, filming, editing and graphic design between their members. Now it’s time for their sophomore album, “Contrast” to take the spotlight.
Starting out with first single “Hand Of God” which opens up with some Tech-Metal riffage underpinned by some icy cold synths, the bands vocalist pairing offer the contrasting vocals depicted in the cover art. Mixing the clean and uncleans with a fine balance as the tune moves through some Progressive elements before returning through a Hard Rock solo to the initial Tech-Metal riffs, it’s clear that the band have an abundance of influences and song writing capabilities with all the transitions being smoother than a the finest Single Malt Whiskey. Their is a distortion on some of the unclean vocals at the back end of the tune as it is partially masked by digitisation which at first may irk but grows on you with multiple listens as a sort of throwback to Dope or Transport League. Out of the gate a bit faster is “Half Empty Man” which builds off a Metalcore sound with some palm muted guitar work and a satisfying stomp quality. The icy cold synths return during the unclean verse and add a haunting quality while a breakdown is a nice touch. There is a bit of Motionless In White about the chorus and some of the industrial influenced programming parts which gives it an instant recognition and hook to keep you listening if you’re into that sound. Returning to some Tech-Metal with a broken DJent riff to get it going “Entropy” plays with moods letting it fall away to a melodic Progressive riff and atmospheric keyboard part while it delivers both a spoken word and a harmonic clean vocal. The heavier down tuned guitars in the post chorus allow for some uncleans and the there is a high quality solo of a highly Technical Progressive nature that allows guitarist Josip Novak to showcase some of his skills. It’s the later part of the tune that is almost another track with a Tommy Lee Jones (Under Siege, Men In Black, US Marshalls) having a speech sampled in that overlays some Progressive Tech-Metal of the finest order.
By way of contrast, the opening of “Dominant Ones” has a cold industrial feel with haunting synths and feedback bringing in the guitars and vocals. The chorus has a gloriously melodic Metalcore quality before it bursts into the unclean vocal section, transcending sub-genres in a single bound. The sing-a-long quality of that chorus will no doubt go down well live, but on the strength of the material on the album there maybe a question mark over whether it would get into the set because it’s going to be a tight fit to ram it all in! Returning to the DJent leaning progressive sounds “Lately” has a fine groove to it before the Jonestown esq unclean vocals kick in for the first verse. What is impressive about the album as a whole is that while there is plenty of variety within the music, there is also a decent amount of similarity so everything sounds cohesive, making it distinctively an album rather than a collection of songs. The EDM backed DJent breakdown section in this cut is simply phenomenal. A shorter cut with an eerie feel to it “Crossroads” has a more technical take on what is essentially a Hard Rock riff. If you stripped out everything except the clean vocals and handed them to Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge fame, he’d no doubt turn them into a completely different song. That’s something that’s apparent on a number of the songs but where this one works and remains distinctly Core System is that it morphs and shifts in stylings with bits of synth, Progressive and DJent riffs, getting heavier and also more melodic as the mood suits, framing the vocals perfectly. The closing note is equally something that former Mushroomhead vocalist Jeffery Nothing would claim some influence on, the aching vocal over the keys alone is something that is a piece of magic. Programming brings in a DJent riff to start “Question Authority” which has a warmer programmed synth and drum pattern than some of the earlier tunes. Not going overly technical and instead opting for a bigger down tuned riff allows for a super technical tapping section of sublime quality. Finding that balance between the clean and unclean vocals can be a challenge but this one strikes that perfectly. It’s mid tempo chugging is perfect for the middle of the album and the skipping loop close a nuance pallet cleanser for the introduction of the next tune.
“Controversy” has a jazz feel to it with a cleaner staccato riff making way for a clean vocal over some big drum fills that become the stand out kit performance from Luka Bergovec. The less is more in places with the guitar work allows more space for the programming and bass riff from Eugen Baranašić to bleed through, so if you can imagine a Tech-Metal version of the aforementioned Mushroomhead, with this cut that is what you get in places. The piano is achingly beautiful and could even be bolder in the mix, the DJent based riffs are mean and dirty giving everything that bounce and without doubt it’s a stand out tune. A pile driver of a tune, “Dystopia” sees the band shift gears like an 18 wheeler between an up tempo start and some heavy end DJent bounce in the mid section that FLUX guitarist Timfy James (ex-Heart of a Coward, ex-Hactivist) would be proud of. Dropping into a cleaner Metalcore riff with some heavy programming for a clean vocal section is sublime and offer that contrast which the album title and cover art are all about. 7 minute closing tune “My Friend with Love” brings back the dark atmosphere of the cold synths while the dissonant guitar work in a clean tone soon makes way for the Progressive Metalcore sound of the rest of the album. The chorus is achingly beautiful and the weight of the quality of the sound and sentiment takes things into Architects territory. It’s a stunning tune to end a solid and contrasting album that is thoroughly engaging from start to finish. There is no fat to be trimmed. There is no moment that could be cut or part that falls flat. It’s a testament to the two years of work that has gone into it’s making that something so well crafted and well rounded should appear – especially in the absence of an external producer to anchor the band and keep them on track [8.5/10]