One of the best ways to catch my attention with a promo blurb is to compare yourself to Clutch. Not only are the Marylanders among my all-time favorites, their instantly recognizable sound – courtesy of a host of imaginative rock ‘n roll riffs and the amazing throat and lyrics of Neil Fallon – hasn’t inspired a horde of imitators. Finland-based Kremlin had only this magical name listed as an influence on the promo, so it was with ample anticipation that I first fired up their self-titled debut, preparing myself for a wall of bluesy stoner metal, unaware if a new band could live up to their muse or if I was about to be hit with a flaccid clone.
Well, Kremlin are certainly no Clutch. While the Finns do play stoner rock with both feet in the blues, they never get up to the kind of speed Earth Rocker or Psychic Warfare did; instead they take a more laid back approach, only really picking up steam past the halfway mark with the punchy “Lizards.” Disappointment strikes as they drop that momentum immediately by following with 2 and a half minutes of blowing wind (“Lizards Part II”). It’s not an inspired padding of the 6 track EP, and my listening experience improved significantly the moment I tossed the dead weight from my playlist. While this issue is easily overcome (but not forgotten), the awkward lyrics and broken English are more difficult to ignore. “Ghost Flyers” repeats variations on ‘I see the ghost flyers of the sky’ throughout the song, and “World is Coming Down” is filled with awkward turns of phrase that undermine the otherwise dark bluesy groove. I realize the band is Finnish so English is a second language to them, and lyrics are generally the least important aspect of metal, but when it’s this problematic it’s a big distraction and can lose the band potential fans on the first few spins.
It would be a shame if you let this turn you off the band though, because Kremlin is a real solid debut in spite of these flaws. “Ghost Flyers” gets the party started with a great playful riff using an addictive twang somewhere between country rock and surf. The lyrics may be repetitive and dumb, but they’re sung with a sympathizing enthusiasm. While the vocals aren’t always spot on, they have a relaxed bluesy timbre that suits the groovy tunes. “Cruhn” contains an excellent chorus of grand and spacey blues metal and a surprisingly subtle bridge, while “Thought You Were Dead” serves up hazy desert blues with a memorable head-bobbing, foot-tapping hook that doesn’t seem to get boring even after repeated spins. The songs are accentuated with synths straight out of seventies sci-fi, which works well on some tracks (“Cruhn”) and less on others (“Ghost Flyers”). It evens out to an interesting touch that will need more development as the band finds its sound.
The biggest surprise however is the production, which is especially good for a debut EP. While the vocals could’ve been lower in the mix it’s never a bother, and the master is full, warm and blissfully dynamic. The bass is audible but not overpowering, the drums suitably crisp and the guitars switch between a perfect punchy groove and that lovely Southern twang. Kremlin seem to have aimed for the perfect balance between old school haziness and modern clarity and hit the nail on the head.
No, Kremlin is no Clutch. They don’t have that kind of a rambunctious rock ‘n roll attitude or the penchant for brilliant lyrics. But they do have a debut with 5 solid, laid back, mature tracks, great riffs and hooks, and best of all, they’re crystallizing their own take on bluesy stoner metal instead of just following in the footsteps of others. Kremlin does suffer from a windy monkey on its back with the superfluous “Lizards Part II” and a lyrical albatross round its neck. But in the end, the ups easily outweigh the downs. I got the blues, and it left me hungry for more.