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PARAMAECIUM - Exhumed Of The Earth (Limited Run Vinyl/Gold Disc Edition)

When Matt Hunt/Bombworks Records announced a few months back that this album was going to be part of the Limited Run Vinyl series I was ecstatic! When he then informed me that it would be released “around Easter” I was even more excited and told him that I can’t imagine a better record to be reissued around the time of year when we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord. (For those not familiar with the music on this release, the reasons will become apparent as we examine the lyrics – read on). Furthermore, the fact that it was going to be a gatefold 2LP release was simply the icing on the cake … especially after I got the first glimpse at the layout!

Paramaecium (Australia) at the time of this release consisted of only 3 members – founding member Andrew Tompkins (bass/vocals), Jason De Ron (guitars) and newly acquired Jayson Sherlock (drums). Sherlock had amicably parted ways with Steve Rowe and Mortification because of stylistic preferences – Jayson wanted to play death metal primarily and Mortification was moving into a more melodic, diverse direction. Jason De Ron’s story is even more compelling – he was led to the Lord by the band’s previous guitarist Mosh who had decided to quit the band along with original drummer Steve Palmer. (For more details on these events and Paramaecium circa 1993 see Doug Van Pelt’s interview/feature from Heaven’s Metal #49).

Exhumed of the Earth

“Conceptually based on the life of Christ, this epic masterpiece – influenced by doom giants My Dying Bride and Cathedral – featured operatic elements and other classical instrumentations alongside heavy, plodding guitar riffs. With its release, the Aussie trio of Andrew Tompkins, Jason De Ron and Jayson Sherlock essentially delivered the most powerful and moving death/doom recording in the history of Christian metal. The heavily Biblically saturated lyrics chronicled – in exhaustive detail – the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ in a way no one had previously done … at least not to the tune of heavy metal! After departing from Mortification, Jayson wanted to move in a different direction musically, and his dramatic style of drumming fit perfectly with the heavy grinding motion that was the Paramaecium sound. Along with the debut Veni Domine Fall Babylon Fall (also epic, doomy and scripturally based, yet more melodic) which was released around the same time from R.E.X. Music, Exhumed was very important because traditional metal was being overrun by grunge and essentially moving “underground.” For many of us at the time, this disc – even though the music can be quite relentless – was literally a ‘light’ in the darkness.”

I honestly can’t remember when I wrote that synopsis - maybe sometime in the mid to late ‘90s or early 2000’s – but I do remember using a portion of it for a “blurb” in 2010 for the Heaven’s Metal Top 100 Metal Albums list where it famously posted at #42. I remember wanting it higher up on the list for its overall quality and creativeness but it did lack the wider impact factor some of the other albums ahead of it possessed so ultimately a decade later, I’m happy with its position in the top 50. It’s a brutal, massive, heavy slab of doomy death metal with these incredibly intricate, intimate scriptural lyrics. The allure is indeed found in the paradox/contradiction between the music and the lyrics and it is also this quality which imparts to the album its timeless qualities. Almost 3 decades later, these songs remain breathtakingly captivating.

The Songs

An album this good is worthy of a thorough journalistic revisit, but my words can’t possibly do the music or the lyrics justice – check it out yourself. Still, the good doctor is always willing to put forth his best observations…

“The Unnatural Conception in Two Parts” – You know it takes a commitment to your art to open your debut release with a 17-minute opus. Insane. Even more crazy is the ethereal soprano of Rosemary Sutton accompanied by a deathly distorted monotone guitar riff and precision drum kicks for the first 4 minutes of the song! At 5:30 into the song the sick minor power chords herald the onslaught of Tompkins first vocal appearance. These are mostly thick lower growls, but these are augmented at times by shrill, almost blackish embellishments. Lamenting soprano vocals once again appear (presumably Mary mother of Jesus) at 9:40 with the violin and the cry of a baby (presumably Jesus). The violin serves to create tension, fraying the nerves – the whole thing reminding us that an immaculate conception does not equate to an anguish/pain-free birth. Frenzied drums and guitar quicken the pulse as Herod discovers the birth of the Christ and attempts infanticide on a nation, but as the song moves toward climax the pace suddenly slows as he realizes his failure. Tompkins proclaims with guttural conviction/resolution, “The Word became flesh and blood/through the unnatural conception/thus the Christ of prophecy was born.”

“Injudicial” – with less progressive plodding and more straight up death metal pace, this song finds the listener in the midst of Christ’s plight, starting with “darkness in the garden.” I love how the overlapping vocals set the stage with that opening vocal salvo – brutal. The song quickly progresses through Christ’s betrayal by Judas. Stop here for observation of the visceral nature of the lyrics on this album…

“Treachery, the traitor’s kiss of love was active malignity/As hanging and disembowelment would testify/He had betrayed innocent blood”

The next few minutes of death metal march through the Sanhedrin’s cry for blood to Pilate’s doorstep. I love how the music slows into doom mode as the mood changes to reflect the ominous nature of Pilate and his wife’s nightmares, their dilemma. The song culminates to the profound truth that Pilate’s mistake to condemn the Christ subsequently leads to the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. Musically, the only problem is that the song ends too abruptly.

“The Killing” – The extremely doomy down tempo here emphasizes the slow and agonizing brutality of Christ’s death on the cross. It is here that Tompkins utilizes the “overlapping” vocal approach with surgical precision to create a dismal/hopeless and disorienting fog. Not surprisingly, this is the most depressing track on the album. He does this amazing thing by putting emphasis on the words “pain, pain” and “blood shed.” The whole thing comes to a somber ending with the eerie flute of Judy Hellemons floating like a death stench over the whole musical scene as the tomb closes. One of the challenges with doom is what to do with all that space in between notes. Jayson Sherlock shines here as his subtle bass drum ruffles and tom tricks serve to fill some of those spaces.

“Untombed” – The bass guitar lead opens the song accompanied by Sherlock’s tom flams and crunchy power chords from De Ron. As the double bass roll engages the pace quickens, driving the guitar riff along in an almost catchy motion. Then things slow again to doom mood as the machine-like bass drum notes anchor the doomy guitar chords to motion. There is this back and forth struggle going on during the whole song as De Ron wants to grind to a slow pace while Sherlock drives the song in motion with his feet. The brilliance of Paramaecium is evident here as every note is perfectly placed in time. This is also one of the most lyrically dense tracks on the album with Tompkins piling words upon words in overlapping manner. It’s really quite sick, but it works, especially when through the storm of growls he lands squarely and discernably on the word “Untombed.” At some point you might be asking for guitar solos or something self-indulgent. This is metal after all. Honestly, the music flows by so well, so captivated are you by every note that you don’t even notice those things. The song is simply brilliant, although once again it does end on a slightly awkward upturned and abrupt note.

“After He had died, He rose from the grave. Untombed”

This is the end of the first LP … exhausted or exhumed?!!

“The Voyage Of The Severed” – Here is the primarily instrumental track on the album. While the lyrics deal with martyrdom and the hypocrisy in the church, its really the first song on the album where the music dominates. There is a long doomy intro with massive guitar tones and tons of double bass ruffles from Sherlock along with more ride bell than we’ve heard to this point. In a manner, the song does feel like a bit of a “voyage” through time. As the pulse of the bass drum hastens at the 4-minute mark we finally have words. Things then slow down in the middle section as the words to the church become both more visceral and scathing - “Darkness begins to rot your mind, putrefaction has left you blind, your traditions and lies have left you less than whole.” The song winds down toward the end, grinding to a plodding halt, a veritable musical metaphor of fruit rotting on the vine.

“Haemorrhage Of Hatred” – It has long been pointed to as the one track that really didn’t ever fit the concept of the album. Regardless, along with “Untombed,” its my favorite. In many ways this is also the song musically that most resembles the early Mortification death metal, both in style and in lyrical content. The metaphorical nature of the words has always reminded me so much of Steve Rowe’s outpourings. The song emphasizes, in death metal fashion, how hatred consumes the soul of the hater, literally consuming a person from within like a parasite, causing a fatal internal bleed ultimately culminating in death. The imagery in these words is intensely visceral –

“Internal haemorrhage of hatred/exudation of hatred from within/Internal haemorrhage of hatred/spreading writhing mass of vermicular sin.”

The music itself is a seething, writhing interplay of guitar, drums and vocals, each instrument competing for dominance as the rhythms and tempos collide in disharmony.

“Removed Of The Grave” – Essentially the title track, this epic song (just one of the many here, right) speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit. The beautiful acoustic guitar and raspy flute intro portend the victorious opening of the grave, first manifest in the resurrection of Christ, but later, through the work of the Spirit, in all believers.

“The Spirit gives life to that which was mortal/rent from the soil, exhumed of the earth/life is restored when removed from the grave.”

This song is cutting edge on so many levels, but the vocal interplay between Rosemary Sutton’s more spoken words and Tompkins’ guttural sounds is mesmerizing – like the demon and angel speaking the same words of realization. In that regard, this song represents one of the most unique perspectives I’ve ever encountered in metal with issue to the physical resurrection of man – here we see it from the demons’ perspective of “we thought we would have more time before they would be rent from the soil.” For with this they know they’ve been devoured. Fascinating.

With all these positives, what are the negatives? As I’ve said, some of these songs come too quickly to an end. The band does this amazing job of building up the songs and then some of them, like the final track, just end too quickly. I’ve also heard some complain about a somewhat monotonous guitar tone throughout. I’m sure this was purposeful – to create a musical soundscape that is both brutal and oppressive – and necessary to give this album the unique musical quality it possesses. In my opinion, though, this is as close to a perfect album as you can find, especially within the confines of the death/doom genre where its really hard to stand out from the crowd.

The Vinyl

First off, the layout and presentation is perfect. The artwork on the covers translate beautifully into the 12 x 12 size. The larger scale allows you to really appreciate the intricate symbolic art/design work in the letters. Note, the back of the vinyl jacket is true to the original rear tray insert of the CD so each of those first letters to the song title images can now more greatly be appreciated. The square hype sticker (mine was removable, unlike the LRV stickers which are more permanent) is a nice bonus, but the info it contains is not completely accurate. There are 400 units of the splatter and 100 units in black vinyl. The inside of the jacket contains a wonderfully detailed write-up about the conception and recording of the album by Andrew Tompkins (written December 2019) on the left panel and then all the lyrics/credits occupy the right panel. The discs themselves (pictured) are a thing of beauty – like two Easter eggs in color! – with a nice 140 gm weight. Both of my discs were flat, centered and very clean. Unlike the other 2nd generation LRV releases this year from Retroactive (Siloam, Trytan, Guardian) which all feature printed inner sleeves, Exhumed… has the black poly-lined inner sleeves because all of the printed lyrics/liner notes are on the inner panels of the gatefold jacket. Hats off to Scott, Rob and Matt for putting this thing together – it has surpassed Seventh Angel – Lament For the Weary 2LP as my favorite vinyl release of all time so far from the Retroactive/Bombworks stable.

I’ve had much to endorse about the music and the physical product so far, but what about the sound? Well, I’m at a loss for words (Doug Van Pelt’s jaw just dropped to the floor!!) It’s true – this album on vinyl leaves me speechless. It’s that great. This the rare recording that makes you want to cry, smile and scream along in accord with every word (Ok, I would need the lyric sheet on hand to keep up with Tompkins’ exegesis). You get the picture. But just the sounds coming out of the speakers … its like each note leaves you hanging, waiting for the next … the next chord progression, the next growl, the next stick stroke or pedal fall. It’s all so lush and massive and analog sounding with tons of raw passion. (There, DVP … how’s them for words?)

Note: I was privileged to have test pressings of this to review before the actual release date and those discs were flawless. I will report that my colored vinyl, while overall very clean, does have a surface flaw on Side C. For the first few minutes of “Voyage of the Severed” there is a consistent “pop” with each rotation. No visible scratch, but it doesn’t improve with cleaning. It’s minor and doesn’t detract significantly. Like I said, the test pressings are clean so hopefully it’s a single fluke and not something on every copy.

The CD

The Gold Disc Edition CD (#6 in the series from Matt Hunt’s labels Retroactive/Bombworks) is the perfect companion to the vinyl. Once again, there is this wonderful, “uncompressed” quality which allows for finer adjustments in volume level. The 12-page booklet has been redesigned by Scott Waters and does include the Andrew Tompkins write-up along with “much-easier-to-read” lyrics. However, I do miss those scripture references from the original 8-page booklet which have not been carried over to the new versions. Consistent with the other booklets in the gold series since #5 Siloam, the original cover without the gold trim is available on the last page of the booklet. The CD is sweet, but this album was built for the analog vinyl format.

Side A

1.The Unnatural Conception (17:00)

The Birth

The Massacre of the Innocents

2. Injudicial (4:37)

Side B

3. The Killing (6:29)

4. Untombed (10:34)

Side C

5. The Voyage of the Severed (9:24)

6. Haemorrhage of Hatred (7:19)

Side D

7. Removed of the Grave (10:37)

1. The Unnatural Conception (17:00)

The Birth

The Massacre of the Innocents

2. Injudicial (4:37)

3. The Killing (6:29)

4. Untombed (10:34)

5. The Voyage of the Severed (9:24)

6. Haemorrhage of Hatred (7:19)

7. Removed of the Grave (10:37)

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