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Though long-disbanded, Australia's Paramaecium produced some classic '90s Death/Doom albums. Comrade Aleks sets out to exhume their earthy history, with the invaluable assistance of founder Andrew Tompkins.

Interview with Paramaecium.
"Paramaecium was started in 1990 by Andrew Tompkins as a means for expressing his ideas through the exploration of slow extreme Death Metal. He started with demo record 'Silent Carnage', made with Steve Palmer (drums) and Colin Mynard (guitars), who left Paramaecium the same year. Melbourne isn't known as a big place for Death Doom bands, but Andrew soon had a full line-up, and first album 'Exhumed Of The Earth' came in 1993. Well-thought-out lyrics expanded further than the limits of its Christian concept, complex arrangements and a broad vision helped the band record a really impressive debut. Paramaecium met some difficulties along the way, but it didn't stop them from recording proper, serious albums, and there are four full-lengths in their discography. The band was renamed InExordium in 2006, when they switched completely to Death Metal, but why not dig deep into the early underground? Andrew Tompkins is here to help us in this exploration."

The early Paramaecium line-up: Andrew Tompkins (Bass, Vocals), Jayson Sherlock (Drums), Jason De Ron (Guitars).

Hello Andrew! Thanks for your time! Paramaecium was formed 27 years ago, that seems pretty long ago. How was it started? How did you spend first two years?

I spent the first two years reshuffling the lineup, touring Australia and releasing our initial demo tape Silent Carnage which was probably more of a death metal release but it provided some orchestral and ponderous hints of what was to come. Around the time of recording our demo, I met guitarist Jason De Ron - he'd heard the demo recording and had a really positive response to it when we first met which was in a Melbourne cemetery one night - we were there to photograph a grave for the cover of the demo. I recruited Jason to the band soon after and we began working seriously on writing a debut album.

'Exhumed Of The Earth' was the first band's full-length album. What kind of feeling did you have working on it? Did you have both the musical and lyrical concept in mind from the very start?

Jason and I were excited about death metal and doom. The first song we wrote together was Haemorrhage of Hatred which isn't really a doom song and of all the songs on the album, it probably fits the lyrical theme of the album the least. But it was a starting point. Voyage of the Severed was based on a death metal song I'd written previously but never recorded called Slay the Corpse. But once we got into the swing of things and started combining riffs and building songs, the process really took on life of its own and the songs really constructed themselves in a way. For this first album, in most cases the lyrics came after the music was written and so the lyrics helped more to dictate the arrangements rather than the music itself.

How did you share your roles composing these songs? Who generated the main ideas, and how did you usually elaborate them?

Jason and I each came to the song writing with initial ideas and then we built off each other's ideas. It was really quite an exciting time because we barely knew what we were doing, even during the recording process. When Jayson Sherlock joined the band, we were more than half way into the album already but he started contributing riffs also and so we wove them in and came up with a solid album in the end.

Paramaecium - 'Removed From the Grave' (1993):

Paramaecium always had deep, thoughtful lyrics. And the plot of 'Exhumed Of The Earth' is focused on the story of Christ's life, death and rebirth. Did you see the band as an instrument to spread a kind of gospel? Or was it a means to make people think about these topics of morale, retribution, redemption?

We were all Christians at the time but we didn't particularly see ourselves as evangelists. We weren't trying to tell people how they should live their lives. We weren't trying to convert anyone which was really the objective with a lot of Christian musicians at the time. We merely wanted to explain what we believed. I'm no longer a Christian - I'm now more of a devout and enthusiastic atheist - but I still find the many layers of Christianity and its writings fascinating.

How did you come to conclusion that such music is a good fit for speaking out with this message? How did people usually react to it?

There were a few elements to it. As a lyrical subject, Christianity is fascinating on many levels; literary, philosophical, cultural, historical etc. In the church, we were unusual in playing metal and having death vocals. In the metal scene, we were unusual because of our faith. In the early days most of the metal scene accepted us because we weren't really out there preaching from stage. We were attacked only on one occasion by members of a Satanic band which was funny at the time because they were throwing bottles at us on stage but kept missing because they were a bit drunk. It's also a bit ironic on reflection - being attacked by Satanists for my beliefs - as I personally identify more now with their Humanism than with I do with Christianity.

'Within The Ancient Forest' line-up: Chris Burton (Guitars) with Jayson, Jason and Andrew.

Three years later you wrote and then recorded 'Within The Ancient Forest', a unique conceptual album based on your own book. How was the idea to tie these two aspects of your creativity born?

I've always been a writer and still am. I had begun working on a novel, an allegory to describe, in the guise of a fantasy story, how I personally had explored notions of reality and come at last as a young person to believe in Christianity. I began writing songs and planning out the album as the book was being written over the course of 1995. Jason De Ron and I began writing music to fit the lyrics and so in many ways the album was tighter and more professional than our first. We added some riffs from Jayson Sherlock and recruited an extra guitarist in Chris Burton who helped to fill out the depth of sound and add more guitar harmonies to the music so we could take the songs to another level.

How did the recording sessions go? Did you have a vision of how to record really solid and coherent material?

It was the first time we had recorded digitally instead of straight to tape. So the computer added the ability to polish some things, make things tighter in parts and do more nuanced mixing during production. We had invited a number of other musicians to add features to some of the songs such as piano, harpsichord, and cello etc. So the digital editing made it easy for us to blend the other instruments into the mix with our own instruments.

Paramaecium - 'Song of The Ancient' (1996):

How did you work with all the guest musicians you invited on this album? And there are four guest singers: was that necessary?

We had a keyboard player to add piano and harpsichord. We worked with a cellist and female vocalists. For most of these musicians, I had written out the music score just for their parts so they were able to come into the studio and record all their parts over a couple of days. We probably didn't need more than two female vocalists looking back. We needed a singer for a few of the songs, as well as an operatic singer for I Am Not Alive.

'A Time To Mourn' was recorded with a new line-up, as both Ja(y)sons left the band. Did their absence significantly change Paramaecium's essence?

It did change things. Without Jason De Ron, I'd lost my main song writing partner and was kind of on my own. Jayson Sherlock had always added the perfectionist element to the recording process - demanding we make it better at every stage. Without either of them, I started working on riffs but it wasn't really until I teamed up with Ian Arkley on guitar that the album began to take on a life of its own.

How did you build collaboration between the new line-up? Ian Arkley is a highly prolific musician - how much of him is in this album?

From memory, there is a fair amount of Ian's song writing in the album. I already had riffs for most of the songs and he was able to add to them, extend the riffs - that kind of thing. I stayed with him in the UK for a week and in the evenings we just wrote songs together and put together most of the guts of the album. The way it came together was remarkably fast. I then flew him out to Australia some months later to record.

'A Time To Mourn' line-up: Andrew with Ian Arkley (Guitars).

'A Time To Mourn' has noticeably shorter, more compact songs than 'Within The Ancient Forest'. What influenced those changes?

I think it was the way it was written in such a rush, and also the fact that instead of collecting a bunch of riffs and knitting them together over a year or two, we approached the song writing in a more conventional way because of the limited time we had together. So that meant writing in a verse chorus structure more than the winding paths I'd used earlier when constructing songs. You could probably say the album was less organic and more of a construction. The album was hugely popular in Brazil but less so in our conventional markets of the USA and northern Europe.

'Echoes From The Ground' was recorded five years after 'A Time To Mourn'. What slowed you down?

I had a daughter. Bought a house. I guess life happened. Working in isolation on creative projects probably isn't the best method for me. My focus wanes and I get distracted with other things. An album is a large creative undertaking and I know some artists can smash out song after song, but the way I right normally is to explore riffs - usually on an acoustic guitar to start with - and build from there with developing the riff, and adding transitions and harmonies and the vocal rhythms. I work better on music when I work with other artists and so being isolated for a few years meant that it was a very slow process.

Paramaecium - 'Echoes' (2004):

Paramaecium stopped its activity in 2006, and was reincarnated in 2009 as Death Metal outfit InExordium. What made you take those decisions? And what make you switch completely to more brutal music?

Having realised I needed a song writing partner, I began working again with Jason De Ron and we were going to record another Paramaecium album but the music that came out of those sessions was a bit more like old school death metal. So in many ways it didn't seem to make sense as a Paramaecium project. We decided to record and release the album under a different name and while we were writing Jayson Sherlock approached us to join the album having heard some of the music. Soon afterwards we were offered a headline spot at NordicFest in Oslo and we decided it would be a fitting and poetic way to end Paramaecium's story to put on one last show in that part of the world that had embraced our music from day one, and then to launch three of our new songs at the end of that show. Jason and myself have always been fans of early death metal and the songs lean heavily on that - it's just naturally what came together.

How much of Paramaecium was left in InExordium?

We had a different song writing style. It was a very different approach. Jason De Ron wrote most of the riffs. I was involved in developing the lyrics and formulating the structure of songs. We weren't using orchestral instruments or female vocalists any more and so it was really not much like a Paramaecium release but it was still a very professional album which I'm quite proud of. For now, I am working on music and writing fiction for myself but if anything rises to the surface, or I feel inspired or find the right songwriting partner, I'm hopeful that the future may hold more music releases.

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Visit the Paramaecium bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-09-23 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
Thermal Mass
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