Yura Dubrovskiy – Vocals & Synth,
Vitaliy Rysakov – Guitar,
Bogdan Kalynets – Bass,
Jevgen Tarasenko – Drums,
Yura Popov – Guitar & Vocals.
1. The Birth / Народження
2. Beast / Звір
3. Psyche / Дух
4. Shores / Береги
5. Eleven / Одинадцять
6. Dorian / Доріан
7. Radiance / Сяйво
8. Night Shine / Блиск Ночі
Put yourself in the position of any creative across the spectrum of art and consider this: would you rather start out with a complete blank canvas, or have some form of direction to guide you? Now, admittedly, this question somewhat falls apart if you are considering it in the context of painting, etc. – join-the-dot art doesn’t tend to frequent The Tate too often – but in music, it works. Would you name your song title or album before writing it? Would you create the story for it first, or write the music and go from there?
For Ukraine’s NUG, the theme of the struggle with the alter ego developed naturally over time as the album gestated and the resulting body of work feels like it comes from a very real place. That’s the upshot to choosing personal topics to focus on in your music – it makes it accessible and that bit more compelling to listen to. Sure, lofty topics of fantastical cosmic warfare perhaps have greater scope for creative freedom, but the depth with which ‘Alter Ego’ plumbs is spectacular. Not to mention that, combined with the naturally progressive movement of each song, it lives and breathes as much as you (assuming the dead don’t read these).
Make no mistake, ‘Alter Ego’ is a dark record. Not bleak, but a journey through the tumultuous mental struggles that we can all go through. From the snapping opening riffs of “Beast”, to the sprawling despair of closer “Night Shine”, it is a record that runs the gamut from bristling metallic anger, to serene interludes of quiet. “Shores” represents a prime example of this: opening with rumbling keys before giving way to chunky riffs and Yura Dubrovskiy’s pained howl, with a mellowing bridge of clean guitars and levity. So, too, with “Radiance”, though the levity is dialled down to allow the riffs to bite that bit harder – it may be just over the six-minute-mark, but it doesn’t waste time pulverising the eardrums. For the straight-up metal blast, see the rager in “Psyche”.
However, the album’s highlight that needs to be heard is in the absolutely obsidian “Dorian”. Whilst the rest of the album won’t be bothering any speed metal enthusiasts any time soon, this one slows things down a touch to go for that “colossus smash” approach. Dubrovskiy’s roar opens proceedings before guitars ring and thump alongside pounding drums that eventually give way to a nasty, grinding riff that is every bit as uncomfortable as it is relieving. Yet this is the jab before the punch with the velvet glove, as an almost cathartic level of melody gets introduced prior to the thrashing tantrum that is the song’s finale. If asked to point out the band in one song, this is it.
The phrase often trotted out regarding a lot of things is that “the journey is more important…”, and that can be used here quite capably. ‘Alter Ego’ is a journey through the mind, and the musical representation here is second to none. The more boorish out there who just want an aural bludgeoning will find it a little tricky to appreciate, but there is gold aplenty throughout the album’s length.
Metal is well suited to tackling harder topics such as these, and the subgenres in post-metal/progressive metal lend themselves to a more explorative nature. It is not within the capabilities of every band, but NUG have proven themselves more than able to handle a tricky subject and produce a fine body of music that is equal parts brutal and serene. A terrific album.