Pummelling Putridity: Probing the Purulence and Putrefaction of Paraphistomiasis

This month on the dissecting slab are the veteran Cumbrian outfit Paramphistomiasis, who formed way back in 1984 as a five-piece born out of a common interest in autopsy manuals and the then extreme fringes of heavy metal. Lead vocalist Tam Danielson had formerly fronted the experimental punk group Pus-Sucker and brought the frenetic malevolence of the punk genre into unhealthy fusion with the hardcore/industrial obsessions of bassist John Clymore and lead guitarist Nathan Yewstill. Their self-financed debut Ankylostoma ceylanicum, named after a parasitic tropical worm, saw the light of day in 1986 after a number of demos of varying quality, and was, as much then as now, a masterpiece, featuring a very dark and swirling mix that alternately highlighted and hid in fedback obscurity some crushing guitar and drum work, between which the choked and guttural tones of Danielson trawled like an undead, coprophagous leech.

Years ahead of its time, Ankylostoma sold on word of mouth amongst only the most extreme of the metal cognoscenti and although the slightly greater success of the group’s two later albums had the usual knock-back effect, it’s doubtful that world-wide sales of their debut have edged beyond the low hundreds, even today. These low initial sales and attendant disillusionment undoubtedly played no small role in the subsequent uncertainties that plagued the group’s line-up, with rhythm guitarist and drummer changing on what seemed like a weekly basis during ’86 and ’87, and the departure of Yewstill for Carlisle’s Skeletal Rictus on the eve of the group’s second studio outing seemed to sound the death knell for their hopes of garnering even moderate attention for this follow-up release.

Putting their troubles behind them, however, they hit Cockermouth’s Foot’n’Mouth studios with renewed and venomous energy, and despite losing a further two drummers en route to the finished product, their second LP, Bothriocephalatic Ulceration, was available on mail-order on the Warm Dysentery label by the end of 1987. Initial reaction to the release in the underground was muted, and it’s possible that Ulceration would have only marginally outsold Ankylostoma, had it not been for rumours that three of the tracks on the new album were actually re-runs of material on the first, but played backwards at twice the speed.

In seeming accordance with the maxim “The only bad publicity is no publicity”, the rumours kicked sales onto a higher gear and the group were able to finance a triple-headed tour of Scandinavia and the Low Countries with label-mates Bilharzia and Ischio-Rectal Fistula, soloing venues in the Swedish cities of Gothenburg and Vanderheim when members of the other two groups succumbed to food poisoning following a visit to a Turkish restaurant in Stockholm.

On their return, Paramphistomiasis were greeted with the news that an internal investigation in Warm Dysentery had revealed that the rumours had gone part of the way to the truth: in a one-in-a-million oversight at the mixing desk, a track from Ankylostoma had indeed found its way onto Ulceration, played backwards at twice the speed.

In an interview with the underground ’zine Haemorrhagic Nephritis, Danielson said at the time: “The second album was in many ways a rushed job and no-one had ever sat down and listened to it all the way through at one sitting before the release. I’m not sure that we’d’ve noticed anyway, because we’re using a very dirty guitar sound at the moment and when we recorded the album we didn’t have all that much money to spare for production.”

The two tracks in question, “Muco-membranous Colic” (off Ankylostoma) and “Myocardial Infarction” (off Ulceration), later played back-to-back on the Warm Dysentery compilation Dank Days of Decomposition, and, despite the intimate relationship between them, they towered head and shoulders above the twenty-odd other tracks on the LP, which featured further acts on the Warm Dysentery roster, amongst them the by-no-means-easily-written-off Crush Injuries, Kalpaic Asphyxiation and Yyggr.

The two years between their second and third albums saw the Paramphistomiasis onrush slow a little. Although the line-up had stabilized during the above-mentioned European tour, with the still-incumbent Kevin Langmire and Garry O’Keefe filling, respectively, the rhythm guitar and drum slots, Danielson and Clymore, who wrote (and write) ninety per cent of the group’s material, found their time increasingly taken up with outside problems and projects. A legal dispute over royalties from the three albums released by Pus-Sucker on the Mephitic Smegma label saw Danielson sidelined for months, during which time he was persuaded into the studio with no fewer than three of his other previous outfits. Clymore, who had been a founder member of the seminal Staphylococcus, performed guest slots in the debut albums of the two groups to emerge from the break-up of the group and then broke his arm when he slipped on frozen vomit outside a Carlisle pub during pre-Xmas festivities.

When, after several months, Clymore announced that he was again fit for action, Paramphistomiasis toured briefly once more in Scandinavia, picking up some excellent reviews in the more perceptive of the Norwegian and Swedish underground ’zines and returned to HQ to undertake a fifteen-date UK tour in conjunction with Skeletal Rictus, home, as been mentioned, for the ex-Paramphistomiasis guitarist Nathan Yewstill. The tour, coverage of which in the national DM press was not unadjacent to nil, was, nevertheless, a fresh experience for even the most blasé death/grindcore fan, with the group’s by now overwhelmingly powerful stage act featuring a backdrop slide-show of over-exposed photographs of gangrenous and helminth-infested wounds from the group’s all-time favourite necroptic manual, Dr. Hans L. Pedderssen’s Helminthica Necropathologica, and enormous industrial blowers that blasted stomach-lurchingly strong odours of decomposition through the audience at intervals during the set.

Initially slow ticket sales picked up tremendously as news of Paramphistomiasis’s killer show went before them, and the group rounded off the tour with a triumphant homecoming to a sold-out audience at Marsden Lane, two-hundred capacity home of the previous year’s runners-up in Amateur Spartans Northern League Division E, Dranholme Celtic, for whom a previous Paramphistomiasis drummer had once played in goal.

The end of the tour, however, seemed to spark the final fragmentation of Skeletal Rictus, who had struggled to match even half of what Paramphistomiasis had served up to rabidly eager audiences, and it came as no surprise to those who had followed the fortunes of the two groups when Skeletal Rictus called it a day and Nathan Yewstill re-joined Paramphistomiasis, shortly followed by the Skeletal Rictus bassist, Leon Stenhouse. Now six-strong and boasting an even more brutal sound courtesy of a sponsorship deal with a local guitar shop that allowed them their pick of equipment, the group seemed more than ready for their third album, but over nine months were to pass before the expanded line-up entered the Warm Dysentery studios.

To this day mystery surrounds this hiatus in the group’s career, particularly in view of the fact that previously unheard material debuted on the UK tour and featuring perhaps seven tracks in all, had, according to a Haemorrhagic Nephritis interview, been composed with an early third album release in mind. That the third album was so slow in arriving has to be seen as the group’s biggest misfortune — or misjudgement — to date, because there can be little doubt that the surge of interest in the group on the extreme death/grindcore fringe following their triumphant tour could have lifted a new album to hitherto undreamt of heights in the DM charts. For the diehard fan, the third album, which arrived in early ’89, was more than worth the wait but by then the more fly-by-night punters had turned their attention to newer or more fashionable acts.

Despite this missed opportunity, Oesophagostomiasis remains the group’s most vicious vinyl statement to date. It’s true that a lot of it doesn’t reward play on even the tenth or twentieth turntable outing and there’s a tendency on some of the slower tracks for Yewstill’s more “delicate” lead work to be lost in the tsunami flood of the Clymore/Stenhouse twin-bass attack, but viewed as a whole it cuts chunks out of the best of the competition and proceeds thence to trample them into bloody pulp underfoot. Danielson’s vocal work lends powerful credence to the apocryphal(?) stories that he recorded most of the tracks with a scalded throat received after a draught of coffee from a faulty drinks dispenser and whilst suffering severe pain from the kidney infection that would later see him hospitalized for over a fortnight. O’Keefe’s drum work, already one of the group’s strongest — if least heard — assets, finally achieved its due prominence in the mix, mixing thunderous heaviness with complex and subtly varied rhythms.

The artwork for the album sleeve too broke new ground in psychobrutality, with airbrush-enhanced mortuary pics overlaid in a semi-transparent mosaic on a now-notorious “maggot-ghoul” decapitation scene. Initial runs of the sleeve were flecked with what looked (and smelled) like dried vomit, courtesy of an ingenious bio-plastic technique that had been pioneered by Warm Dysentery the previous month with the very first Paramphistomiasis single, a re-mastered version of Ankylostoma ceylanicum ’s “Epididymitis”.

Touring to promote the new album was soon under way, and the group were delighted by the news that active interest was being shown in their earlier work by the American label Septic Sludge, which went on to release Ankylostoma ceylanicum and Bothriocephalatic Ulceration in, respectively, the spring and autumn of 1990. CD versions of these American releases featured bonus tracks in the form of Paramphistomiasis covers of songs from the group-members’ earlier projects. British fans are promised sight of these (plus a lot else besides) on a long-awaited Paramphistomiasis Rarities album, due for release here shortly before the group undertake a ten-date US tour in promotion of Oesophagostomiasis, which will hit the stores stateside towards the end of 1991. On their return from the States, the group promise a headlining tour of twenty-five European venues with label-mates Nekro-Fetische and a still-to-be-announced act from the lineup of Danish label Sanguivore.

A change in direction for the band is also in the offing, to judge by Danielson’s words in a recent Haemorrhagic Nephritis interview: “Up till now we’ve based our approach mostly around the helminth infection/gangrene end of the market, but there’s been a feeling in the band as a whole that a fresh approach would maybe kickstart some aspects of our playing and song-writing that have died off a little over the past few months. I don’t know what it’ll be. John [Clymore]’s been heavily into industrial injuries since late last year, so I imagine his vote’ll go in that direction. I’m interested myself at the moment in high-velocity bullet wounds and some of the bone-marrow diseases, but I’m not sure that they’d supply enough material for even one album. There’s been some talk of a concept album based on adipocere production in water-logged corpses, but at the moment that’s all it is, just talk. We’ll just have to see, I suppose.”

Whatever its approach, the fourth album is certain to carry on the brutal Paramphistomiasis tradition in fine style. That it will be the album to finally bring the band into the consciousness of the DM mainstream is a little less sure. All that can be said is that Paramphistomiasis’s hard work and commitment to their craft deserve reward sooner or later, though whether they’ll receive it in a genre whose increasing overpopulation tends — particularly in these financially straitened times — to cut down on the willingness of the average fan to experiment with purchases lies in the lap of whatever dark god rules the fortunes of extreme death/grindcore bands.

Elsewhere other-posted:

• More Musings on Music

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