German Progressive Death Metal Masters OBSCURA are currently basking in the success of and universal acclaim for their recently-released new album Akróasis (Relapse Records). Our own French Cheese had this to say in his review: “From start to finish, OBSCURA have proven a bit of time off has not impacted their ability to produce a record that will dumbfound its listener.” He’s absolutely right. I wanted to get a glimpse into the world of Steffen Kummerer (vocals & guitars) and Co. and had the chance to do so not too long ago through the interview you see below. He was kind enough to take me through the creative process and more. Have a look:
Amps: Five long years between albums…did you ever find the wait frustrating or maddening? I’m sure you wanted things to happen quickly, right?
Steffen: On paper it looks like five long years in between Akróasis and the previous record, but actually we have been pretty busy touring to support Omnivium globally for about three years. In that time I got the opportunity to be part of the DEATH DTA family and played a few tours and lastly changes in our lineup had their share to delay the album about one year. Anyway, quality is more important than a rushed record. We haven’t been a band putting out records every year and I would rather keep it that way and prepare everything properly.
Amps: How have the newer members transitioned into the group? Further, how is the overall vibe in the band?
Steffen: Sebastian Lanser (drums) is a big name, just not within the death metal scene at this time. Also Rafael Trujillo (guitar) has a long history of work as a session guitarist for big rock productions, TV shows and formations far away from extreme metal. Sebastian is a well-known drummer within the art, rock and metal scene in Europe. Within the metal scene especially, the band PANZERBALLETT shines through many other acts with their unique combination of Jazz & Metal. Aside from playing metal, Sebastian works with Martin Grubinger, a worldwide respected Austrian percussionist with a huge following. Linus Klausenitzer (bass) met Sebastian at a music fair in Germany (Frankfurter Musikmesse) some time ago and has been in touch a few times. We knew about his abilities and work, so we met a few times, shared our ideas and immediately started to work on Akróasis. His understanding of rhythm and spinning odd-times in our prog death metal context brought a new level to our band. Aside from his musical input, he is a very positive guy and became a good friend of everyone in the group.
Rafael joined the band after the recordings of our new album in October/November 2015. He graduated from Munich Guitar Institute, MGI and studies Jazz at Amsterdam Conservatorium, University of Arts since last year. Rafael is in first place a metalhead, but with his knowledge in theory, harmony and long experience with different artists he brings some fresh ideas to the table when it comes to writing new music. He collaborated a few times with Sebastian in various projects and proved his character and guitar skills in various meetings. Right now we prepare our upcoming tours and shows together to present our new members and of course the new songs to our fans in a live situation. Great vibes, everyone is prepared, top notch and I can’t wait to hit the road with good friends again.
Amps: Now that the record is done, what goes through your mind after hearing the mixed and mastered final product from start to finish?
Steffen: The album was delivered in July last year, so I have a certain distance to the record and see a few ideas more analytic and objective than right after finishing the last touch on it. The mix and master turned out exactly what was in our mindset when starting to write for the album. Especially the drum sound turned out perfect – including more room acoustics paid off. As every musician looking back to finished work you find a few things that could be done differently in the future – arrangements, use of sounds but also how to write music together. We shared ideas for the next record at this point and worked on new material for some time. Right now I am just satisfied with Akróasis and can’t wait to perform those songs on stage.
Amps: People who have heard Akróasis, myself included, have been blown away. I imagine that must feel good. Did you know you had something special on your hands as the songs took shape?
Steffen: We found our own identity as a band during the last records and with Akróasis we opened our own book so to say. The overall vibe of the record feels unique and one of a kind. Combining this laid back vibe with technical or progressive death metal bands rarely did in the past and from my perspective the album is extremely musical, complex and multilayered in more than one way. The whole band took two steps forward, raised the bar for ourselves and focused on songwriting completely. The whole album feels so balanced. Every musician has his parts to shine through without overdoing anything on the respective instruments. For me every record we released is special and I am proud of every single one. Akróasis is as important to the band as our first demo Illegimitation was. We follow this path and I am grateful more and more people are getting into the band and this vision.
Amps: As far as your writing goes, is it something you constantly do, or just whenever inspiration strikes?
Steffen: Working for any of the bands I am part of I work very structured. Over months or years, I collect riffs and loose ideas. In the early days with an old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, nowadays with Cubase or ProTools there are many options to collect snippets. Writing for an album, I go into only one band at a time, take about one or two months and write the outlines for everything that is my contribution at once within that period. With this material, recorded demo tracks, and written sheet music everyone in the band is welcome to add ideas and we arrange together what will finally end up on an album. I cannot write a song out of context and name it a new OBSCURA tune or a THULCANDRA song that waits on hard disc until we start working on a new album.
Amps: Outside of the band, what do you do to unwind? Any non-musical hobbies or interests?
Steffen: These days I read a lot of old classics of Dante, Tolstoy and Hesse to calm down after a long day in the studio. Also collecting old print metal magazines is a hobby – I recently purchased a collection of old underground black and death metal magazines. Aside from that, video production and photography is my daily work for a few months which I enjoy a lot.
Amps: Do you have any tour plans lined up yet? How long do you think you’ll be out?
Steffen: We support DEATH DTA in Europe, play our own festival tour and are about to book the rest of the year with festivals and tours in Australia, India, South America and hope to come back to North America by the end of the year. I would estimate two, up to three years of touring in support of Akróasis before a new album drops. There are many countries we haven’t had the chance to visit yet, and we love to visit new cultures to play for our fans.
Amps: After Omnivium did you feel any pressure to try and replicate that success? Or did you just take it one day at a time and let things happen naturally?
Steffen: Well we already proved that Akróasis is more successful than the previous album; the band grows every day and the response is gigantic so far. Since we started the band in 2002 and everyone mentioned we won’t make it outside the city and that this kind of extreme metal attracts no one we just write the music we love and do what we think is right and brings us further. I am grateful that more and more people are getting into OBSCURA and our audience is getting bigger and bigger. Pressure I do not feel here. If you do what you like and be honest to yourself, you reach more than any plastic act ever could. People have a sense for that, so we just keep to what we always did – writing music and go on tour.
Amps: In this age of Google and Wikipedia, tell us ONE thing about you that we can’t find online.
Steffen: I am a passionate chef and love to cook for friends and guests that visit us. As a teenager I worked for a few years in a restaurant and kept the passion up to this date. It was a good job to finance music equipment and start the band before I went to university.
Amps: What would you like to say to all the OBSCURA fans worldwide?
Steffen: Thank you for supporting the band for more than a decade, being loyal over the years and I hope to see you soon during the shows for Akróasis.
Different bands work in different ways. It is always fascinating to me, learning how ideas start in a group to how they end up in my CD player. I can tell you this for sure: OBSCURA are a very unique band in every sense of the word. If you’re a longtime fan you know what i mean. If you’re a recent convert, or haven’t heard them, check out Akróasis. You won’t be sorry.