Miss Lava – Doom Machine Review

I feel I should start this review off with a disclaimer: stoner rock is not my usual jam. Traditional heavy metal, sure. Doom metal, absolutely. Psychedelic rock, not so much. So when you mesh the three together, I can go either way with the results. Still, I was compelled to check out Doom Machine, the fourth full-length release from Portuguese rockers Miss Lava. I’m not honestly sure why, but I sampled the album’s pre-release tracks and found myself strangely drawn in, and curious to hear the whole. And so, here we are, opening the year with fuzz, with gritty riffs, and with a bleak-yet-upbeat outlook. How does it stand up?

The Miss Lava formula for a successful album appears to be a simple one. We begin with the guitars, presented with a healthy helping of fuzz, and generally preferring riffs of single notes or power chords. Beneath that, we bury some bass with a generous side of warble, along with drumming that you can nod your head to, but whose impact more closely resembles the drumming you do when you’re bored and have a table in front of you. Finally, we add the vocals, which are straightforward for the style. We’re talking high-end-of-mid-range drawls, a preference for one really good octave, and a lot of elongated vowels. Repeat for about forty-five minutes1, and there you have it! A Doom Machine emerges. And if this is sounding like a fairly standard description for stoner rock in general, then you’ve already got a good idea of what’s in store for you here.

Of course, it’s crucial that your Doom Machine be well-oiled, and Miss Lava has a good amount going for them throughout the album. Tracks like “In the Mire” and “Sleepy Warm” border on catchy, stepping away from the “stoner” without breaking thematically from the rest of the album. “Brotherhood of Eternal Love” might be the band’s strongest moment, bringing forth a ton of interesting ideas, with flair, edge, and muted menace aplenty. Johnny Lee (vocals) nails the delivery on this song, closing it with chants that linger long after it’s done. The band’s use of instrumental interludes break up the album nicely, and Doom Machine benefits from a solid flow and production that showcases fuzz and talent in equal measure. While the riffs are reasonably simple, the band knows how to ebb and flow, to sneak in a little bit of surprise here and there, and explore avenues of traditional heavy metal under the same fuzzy umbrella that marks their home turf.

The thing is, Doom Machine is a very straightforward album. I know it was inspired loosely by real-life events, including one truly awful tragedy, but the album content feels like fairly standard fare for stoner rock regardless. The pacing is essentially a straight line, with no significant variation throughout, and, as a result, certain songs blend together and lose memorability (the “Sleepy Warm”-“The Great Divide”-“Karma” trio doesn’t lack for ideas, but makes for a very blurry album midpoint). It’s never unenjoyable, but is also never more interesting than when the band does something, anything, a little differently. The acoustic touches of “In the Mire” and the upbeat, more traditional, upbeat approach to “The Oracle,” for example, stand out not only because they’re well-done — the whole album is, really — but because they shake up the formula, just a little bit, and in a good way too.

Doom Machine feels like an album better digested in pieces than as a whole. There are some good songs here and some forgettable numbers, but I suspect that if you mixed up the order of the whole, I’d continue to prefer the first half of the album. It just doesn’t have the kind of staying power that would prompt an enthusiastic recommendation from me. I will say this, however — what works about this album works well, and I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for future releases from Miss Lava. Doom Machine is a spirited album done well enough to make me wish there was more to it.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Small Stone Records
Websites: misslava.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/misslavaofficial
Released Worldwide: January 15th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. 56, if you have a version with bonus tracks.
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