In addition to its notoriously contradictive definitional nature, doom metal remains something of an enigma in terms of its enduring popularity. Whether or not one chooses to view it as a distinctive subgenre, style or even technique, doom metal must bear one of the most in-proportionate quotas within metal music when it comes to quantity over quality. If attempting to depict doom metal from the perspective of enduring releases, the list of canonical works would become surprisingly short. It seems plausible that part of the explanation to this sad state is embedded in the very characteristics of the style. Doom bands have generally prioritized development of exceptionally powerful tools for conveying sonic heaviness at the expense of other aspects of the music. It might even be so that the techniques in themselves has forced artists into a particular way of writing music. Either way, there appears to be a widespread discrepancy between the means of expression and what is actually being expressed in doom metal; which in turn provides clues as to what makes for a genuinely satisfying doom-offering. With the above discussion in mind, today’s written offering presents the Australian death/doom act Paramaecium – one of few bands bearing the doom-tag that has managed to write compositions to match the sonic gravitas associated with said style.
Despite emerging in the immediate wake of the early 1990s doom metal bonanza Paramaecium has remained relatively unknown outside of dedicated circles. When lauded, critics tend to focus on less-relevant novelties such as the band’s endorsement of Christianity or their incorporation of musical elements normally foreign to metal (female soprano vocals, flutes and violins). While these elements have become distinctive markers of the band’s style subsequently developed over the course of several albums, they are hardly unique and too much focus on them draws attention away from the fundamental strength of the compositions present on Paramaecium’s debut album Exhumed of the Earth.
Presumably influenced by the first wave of UK death/doom, Paramaecium started out as a straight-out primitive death metal outfit on the 1991 demo Silent Carnage but underwent a significant transformation leading up to the release of Exhumed of the Earth. Stylistically, the album can be described as archetypal death/doom in the sense that it blends traditional (heavy metal-based) doom metal elements with death metal of the oldest school. Many of the main riffs – consisting primarily of sequenced power chords or single-note lines – resembles that of bands like Black Sabbath and Candlemass in terms of melodic contour (angular figures constructed around minor/modal tonalities with a strong emphasis of tritones and flat 2nds), if performed in a manner technically closer to old school death metal played at a slow tempo (complete with chromatic bridgings and selective palm-muting). Another point of reference might be Samael’s Blood Ritual, which utilizes similar techniques and musical vocabulary, albeit in a different context.
The production is of the genuinely organic character that bands of today do their best to emulate. Guitars are tuned exceptionally low (B-flat) and the band used very thick strings and a well-tweaked setup to make it work. Basic instrumentation consists of two guitars, bass, drums and double-tracked vocals; with the guitars taking the center stage as expected. While some might describe the sound as “murky”, the music embodies an elegant simplicity that makes for a clear statement. The guitars tend to stick close together, moving either in unison or in parallel harmony with the occasional harmonized lead or accentuated pinch-harmonics. A strong sense of monumentalism permeates much of the material, chiefly achieved through a stripped-down but far from careless approach.
If judged solely on the merits of its “sound”, Exhumed of the Earth would surely qualify according to doom metal standards. However, while most doom metal begins and ends with an emphasis on textural elements, this album rises above the morass to deliver actual songs to accompany the heaviness. Working in the grand but oft-slandered tradition of narrative-driven concept albums first promulgated by 1970s progressive rock bands, Exhumed of the Earth resembles a nineteenth-century song-cycle in the sense that the separate tracks form a cohesive whole held together by a story line. The merging of death and doom elements observed on a riff-level is mirrored in song structures as well. In typical doom-fashion, each riff is thoroughly explored both texturally and melodically for maximum effect. But whereas doom bands tend to spiral into droning stupor, Paramaecium ties together riffs more like an epic death metal band; forming sequential repetitions with meticulous attention given to internal variation and dynamics all the way down to the level of individual intervals. Of particular note here is the band’s active use of pacing in relation to thematic development – a severely underrated technique in doom metal. Each theme – embodied in the form of main riffs – is properly introduced, “worked-out” and juxtaposed to form an engaging narrative.
Arguably one of the most accomplished and well-balanced amalgamations of doom and death metal elements to date, Exhumed of the Earth remains relevant 30 years after its initial release.