Review Summary: A trailblazer whose time never came
The mid-90s were a time of embracing new influences for extreme metal, as more and more bands discovered there’s more to music than sticking to the same old rigid template. The extremely fertile Finnish scene was arguably the first to perform this feat, with Xysma’s 1990 full length seamlessly fusing their death metal roots with rock reminiscent of the times of old. Other acts took note, and within a few years the land was rich with releases incorporating rock and melodic touches. Even big dogs like Sentenced or Amorphis weren’t afraid to take the plunge and experiment with their sound. Paraxism were, arguably, the most accomplished of this cohort. They took some cues from the other bands surrounding them, but their musical concoction is distinct and instantly recognizable, characterized by 70s/80s influences augmented with moog/electric violin textures. 1996 saw the release of their only non-demo output, an EP on Crawfish (a minuscule label that also dropped Disgrace’s first non-death-metal release and the only EP by Turku heavy metallers Fuzzbender).
.xism Excursion sees the band at their most compositionally mature, trading in some of the neck-snapping vitriol of their prior demos for more breathing room for grooves, harmonies and orchestration. Nowhere is this as evident as in the anchor track of the EP and the best song Paraxism ever penned, “Fear”. The deceptively simple, streamlined structure features constant shifts in vibe and ever-evolving arrangements. The few final notes of a riff grow into a section of its own, mutating its orchestration a few times before the track takes a sharp turn towards another direction. A menacing, winding moog melody turns a simple chord progression into an intricate display, soon contrasted by a simplistic octave-centric phrase which grows out of seeds sown somewhere in the background. A melodic riff opts to steer clear of the dreaded thirds cliché when expanding its girth, and the fourths make it sound oddly sorrowful. Don’t forget the obligatory fluid, intelligent soloing and you get a winner.
That doesn’t mean that the other two songs are anything to sneeze at, mind you. “Hills” has a distinctly modern groove and a riff that sounds like it came straight from the 70s competing for attention under different guises before they get suddenly one-upped by the returning intro theme. “Leech” is the most conventionally metal of the bunch, but the onslaught is casually interrupted by a bossa nova drum break midway through, and towards the end the song implodes into a wicked robotic riff with a downright evil lead on top. Nothing overstays its welcome, and once the three tracks finish the listener is left wanting more.
The additional orchestration is not flaunted in your face at all times to show off how edgy the band is, instead working in conjunction with the riffing to enhance the atmosphere. The moog is pretty much omnipresent, tightly correlated with what the rhythm guitar is doing, meshing really well with the machine-like fuzz to create an outlandish tone for the foundation of the EP. In spite of repeated listening, I can’t vouch for the split of the solos among the instrumentalists, but my best guess would be the electric violinist getting “Leech” with all the others taken by the guitarist. If this is indeed the case, Jiri Sironen is one of the most unsung guitar heroes of our time, with an extremely smooth, wah-drenched delivery the trademarks of an unparalleled style of his own.
In all fairness, I have no clue why these guys never became huge, or even made it to a full-length. All the vital ingredients were in place – the music they made was catchy yet original and full of substance, fuelled by competent instrumentalists and atypical ingredients. The band’s back catalogue, excluding the hard-hitting first tape, is distinctly ahead of its time, blazing down a path subtly hinted at by their peers. It’s a shame that things didn’t play out differently, as Paraxism deserved far more attention than they got.