Named after galactic behemoth Cthulhu’s father, Ukrainian post-metal/progressive metal quintet Nug did a fine job demonstrating their aesthetic with 2018’s Темна Маса (Dark Mass) EP. Channeling influences like ISIS, Russian Circles, Meshuggah, and Neurosis into its brief yet revealing runtime, the four-song collection was certainly a tempting appetizer. Now, Nug returns with the main dish, Alter Ego, which builds upon its predecessor in every way. True, its relentless brutality can be dull and samey at times, but there are enough moodier and mellower asides—as well as an all-encompassing grander scope—to make the record satisfying more often than not.
The band is comprised of Bogdan Kalynets (bass), Jevgen Tarasenko (drums), Yura Dubrovskiy (vocal, synth, artwork design), Vitaliy Rysakov (guitar), and Yurii Popov (guitar, backing vocals). Officially, they describe the LP as “a kind of checkpoint,” adding that it’s about “spiritual struggling with the alter-ego.” Expectedly, the music is appropriately polarized, with instances of dense vehement resistance smoothly juxtaposed by classily articulated respite. It’s not always equally unique or enticing, but it packs enough serene tapestries and get-punching fieriness to appease when taken as a whole.
As its name suggests, “The Birth” introduces the journey as a concisely traumatic piece: mournfully cautionary tones swell beneath programmed upswings of panic and tension, symbolizing the sort of inner conflict and cognitive dissonance that would arise from extreme mental turmoil. It’s a testament to how some of the most haunting and lingering music is often quite simple and impressionistic. Fortunately, Nug continues to craft comparably affective passages as the album progresses. For example, follow-up “Beast” uses echoey guitar arpeggios, dismayed syncopation, and chilling ambiance to yield cosmic catharsis amidst the hecticness. Later, “Shores” veers in a matching direction—but with a bit more sophistication—whereas “Dorian” offers a sharper and denser calm halfway in. Of course, “Night Shine” closes the LP with static drones that stand as perhaps the most subdued yet arresting passage of the affair.
Around and within those sections, the group serves up your usual blend of guttural dismay (effectively backed by cleaner singing in a few places) and thrashing riffs and rhythms. Thankfully, Rysakov, Dubrovskiy, and Popov add enough tricky counterpoints and spiraling motifs on top of those foundations to give each track sufficient instrumental variety and weight (if only just barely). Sadly, the same can’t be said for the aforementioned screams, as they always sound identical and bland. They fit fine alongside the music, and they’re definitely impressive technically, but there’s nothing to cling to, if that makes sense. Rather, they serve as little more than a one-note percussive tool, which is disappointing considering how many other metal bands ensure that even their harshest vocals are intriguing melodically and show some degree of variation from composition to composition.
That said, Alter Ego improves upon Темна Маса in every way, giving listeners a more expansive, developed, and sustained experience. Although genre fans looking for a diverse and surprising sequence may be disappointed by how much of the LP sounds alike, those who just want to let loose with some ferocious tunes (aided by extra layers of contemplative abstraction) will find plenty to identity with. If Nug can grow their formula even more for their sophomore LP, they’ll truly have something special on their hands.