Emerging as another outfit to offer an eclectic and unique brand of contemporary, progressive rock, CORE OF IO are four-piece hailing from the Sussex region of the UK, and are a relatively fresh act within the scene. Despite being a humble outfit still establishing a bona fide sound, this band unhanded their first singles in 2014, and have since contrived to release three short EPs, one of which was published in February earlier this year. This is an act that, again, are thoroughly eclectic in their approach, but to characterise their sound in the most stripped-back way possible, it seems that an equal measure of prog-rock and tech-metal are on display, serving to provide what is a considerably engaging and multi-dimensional listen. Despite the recent release of their EP Part III: Ganymede, CORE OF IO are now on the brink of unveiling its successor, Part II: Europa, set launch today. Being the third instalment of what is clearly a running thematic, the time is nigh to determine whether this release is able to nestle conveniently into the series, or perhaps whether it will underwhelm and stick out like a sore thumb.
Hitting hard and grabbing the listener by the scruff of the neck, Europa takes no prisoners by diving into its opening track, Stuck, and showcasing an emphatic instrumental groove, equipped with a crunchy guitar riff, a sauntering bass-line, and heavily accented rock-Esq. drumming; nothing short of a to-the-point intro. The remainder of this song proceeds in according fashion, boasting a smorgasbord of busy riffing, heavy grooves, and of course the welcomed addition of Bob Tett‘s raspy, deliberately off-key clean vocals, serving to complete the package, and add an entire extra dimension to the product.
Being a short, three-track release, the rest of the record follows suit in fairly similar fashion, delivering groove after groove and riff after riff, with this heavy, chunky groove-laden sound becoming somewhat of a focal point for the release. At times, this approach is able to seep into becoming the proverbial ‘wall of sound’; this is an effect that comes as a result of rich, intense, and heavy layering of instrumental components, often in the context of metal-inspired grooves, and an approach that has been perfected by such names as MONUMENTS, TESSERACT and VILDJHARTA, thus highlighting the progressive aspect of this band’s sound. In the context of an admittedly imperfect bigger picture, this particular aspect of the writing is unequivocally one of CORE OF IO‘s greatest strengths, and is on display in abundance on this record.
Despite the strengths and key features being very clear and distinguishable, it would be unfair to suggest that this record is lacking in a degree of variety and sonic exploration. Transitioning from what is a heavy conclusion to second track Hit The River Hard, the intro to third and final song (and ten-minute epic) Lenuta is able to turn on a sixpence and deliver a series of slow, sombre chord progressions, accompanied by a much softer, emotive style of singing. In fact, this final song is able to embody a great deal of the variation and progressiveness that this band represent, repeatedly going from light to dark and soft to heavy in a series of seamless transitions, and showcasing an array of rock, metal, tech, prog, and even math influences. Overall, third track Lenuta is a shimmering display of what CORE OF IO are all about.
Despite Europa constituting a seemingly endless display of impressive grooves and riffs, one key letdown prevails throughout, and prevents this record from surpassing a certain threshold: it lacks the presence of key, defining, memorable moments. To put this simply, this record is good, and it is consistently good from start to finish. However, it distinctly feels as though there are no clear moments or sections that raise the bar from ‘good’ to ‘wow’, and this is surely a feature that is prone to leaving the listener with a lingering feeling of being underwhelmed, and unable to distinguish the songs from one another. Additionally, this ties in heavily with the vocals; whilst the chaotic, off-key (perhaps Dillinger-Esq.) singing is for the most part effective and in keeping with the musical thematics, its raw impetuosity is clearly guilty of evading a certain level of catchiness, and once again leaves the songs feeling a little one-dimensional, and somewhat incomplete. Whilst this is likely to be a deliberate approach, aimed at embracing and enhancing the raw, chaotic, prog-rock songwriting, it is still guilty of preventing this record from reaching that next level.
Overall, and as the weighting of our positive and negative comments clearly indicates, CORE OF IO‘s Part II: Europa is indeed a solid release, and an entertaining ride. The majority of the songwriting constitutes a display of impressive groove-laden chaos, accented with an array of influences from different genres and styles, and overall a healthy pinch of variation to keep the listener engaged. In fact, a lot of this is excellently written and performed, and makes for an exciting listening experience. As aforementioned though, what is absolutely key in letting this record down is the absence of that extra degree of catchiness and memorability that many progressive acts of a similar ilk are able to incorporate; acts such as HAKEN and LEPROUS immediately come to mind. However, to conclude, the negative aspects of this record are certainly at a minimum, and the main letdown is undoubtedly something that can be rectified by evolving and progressing in the future, particularly given that this band are young, and fairly fresh on the scene. In general, this is an impressive and accomplished addition to CORE OF IO‘s conceptual back-catalogue of EPs, and one can only hope that in addition to progressing in the future, they are able to present their talents in a much more extensive format, and showcase their magic at greater length.
Part II: Europa is out now via self-release.
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