Those who know me will tell you that Steel Druhm is a man of refined tastes. As such, I don’t always listen to cult underground doom, but when I do, I like it the same way I like my chili – extra meaty and full of crippling regret. Obscure Chilean doom purveyors, Condenados have their own homestyle recipe they’d love to share and on their second album, The Tree of Death they’re looking to serve it to a wider audience. Taking the expected Candlemass, Pentagram and Black Sabbath influences, the band leans toward the epic doom side of the monolith with decidedly mixed results. Occasionally nailing the big, ponderous sound of classic doom, Condenados more often swing and miss badly, sounding more like a garage band than one that actually managed to get signed. This makes for a predictably tough listen and an unrequited doom chili craving.
The Tree of Death opens with its longest and best song, “Star of Punishment,” which begins life with eerie church organ swells before giving way to big, Candlemass-esque riffs. Things seem to be progressing in the right direction and the doom riffs are more than respectable. Once Fernando Vidal’s vocals hit though, things start to get a bit wobbly. The guy doesn’t have the best singing voice, though the emotion he brings helps partially offsets his technical shortcomings. After the song’s 8 minute march you’ll be left with mostly positive reactions. It’s definitely not the most polished or powerful doom tune, but it’s serviceable with a few above average ideas in the gravy.
“The Lamb” is less successful but still offers some decent riffs, but by the time “Burn” arrives, the band’s less than stellar song craft and penchant for awkward transitions are on full display, with jarring twists and turns that make the song feel very disjointed and unfinished. It’s weird, but at times it sounds like a disastrously crude cover of Pentagram‘s immortal classic “Burning Savior,” and I don’t mean that as a compliment. The word that keeps coming to mind as I listen is “amateurish.” It’s just a really raw, half-baked song that shoots itself in the foot despite a few cool ideas.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album has more in common with this cut than the decent opener, and “Demon Head” and “Sea of Fire” sound like the work of a high school band writing their first original songs. It isn’t pretty and in the case of “Sea of Fire” it verges on hilariously awful.
At 34 minutes, The Tree of Death is mercifully short and for a doom band they write surprisingly brief songs, most running between 3-6 minutes. The production is adequate but Vidal’s vocals are too upfront considering his limitations.
While Vidal might not be a cracking singer, he’s a respectable guitarist and there are a fair amount of solid riffs on hand. His solo-work is also quite enjoyable, often full of the forlorn melancholy good doom demands. The problem is how these riffs are arranged in the songs themselves, which often feel slapped together with duct tape and Hubba Bubba. Drummer Arcano and bassist Matias M.H. both served time in respected Canadian doom act Cauchemar and they provide a solid rhythm section, and there is a degree of talent present overall, but the writing totally blows up the end product.
Condenados has the nucleus of a decent doom band and with much stronger writing and perhaps a new singer, they could be a respectable player in the genre. As things stand now though, they just aren’t ready for the big leagues (bigly?) and The Tree of Death is barely more than a demo-level release badly in need of pruning and replanting.