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Obscura Interview

A Conversation with Vocalist/Guitarist Steffen Kummerer

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Obscura

Obscura

Relapse Records
Updated October 06, 2011
The German progressive/technical death metal band Obscura has been creating quite a stir in the genre. The band’s second release, 2009’s Cosmogenesis, garnered huge success, but with this years follow-up album, Omnivium, their path to tech death stardom is shining even brighter. With influences such as Atheist, Cynic, Death, Emperor and Opeth, you just can’t go wrong. Vocalist/guitarist Steffen Kummerer kindly answered some questions by e-mail about the band’s influences, its mix of prog and metal, and the new album.

Kelley Simms: You just wrapped up a North American tour with Children Of Bodom and Devin Townsend. That’s a great bill, how did it go?
Steffen Kummerer: The tour went very positively for all the bands on the bill. It was a pleasure to open up especially for Devin Townsend — we are all fans of his work for many years. Also Children of Bodom and Septicflesh did well on this tour as well as the crew of all the bands. It was a pleasure to play in those huge venues and see if the fans that like the guitar work of CoB could also see something interesting in Obscura's progressive material. In the end it worked out fantastic and the tour was a huge success for everyone that took part in it.

New bass player Linus Klausenitzer was actually your touring bassist for this tour, but now he’s a permanent member. How’s it feel to have him secured in the band and what does he bring to the Obscura sound?
Linus has played all shows for the album Omnivium so far. Before the U.S. run we recruited him for the European tour alongside Hate Eternal as well. His background is pretty much the same as that one of our previous bassist and his style fits perfectly to our music. He also plays in the progressive death metal band Noneuclid, which is extremely demanding and unique material.

He is used to playing on big stages, has a huge musical knowledge and understanding and a positive reputation for all of his projects and bands he played in. After both of the tours we decided to give him the fair chance to step in as our new permanent member due to his dedication, flawless performances and positive vibes he brought into the band every day.

Obscura’s merging of prog and death metal is a great mix. It’s technical but melodic even for being extreme. Who are your influences, past or present?
When I look back to the early days of this band and compare the basic influences to our present sound there is no difference. Since the very beginning bands such as Cynic, Death and Atheist, but also Dissection and later Emperor were part of our sound. Classic music and harmonies are always there, the basic difference is the evolution as composers or musicians in general within those years as well as the input each new member brought to the group. With Christian Muenzner and Hannes Grossmann, also some prog rock and metal vibes found a niche in the overall sound. The basis is always a death metal band, past and present.

You seamlessly fuse jazz elements and metal together similar to Cynic and Atheist and I hear Emperor as well, minus the keyboards. Were any black metal bands an influence? Especially in your vocals I notice some similarities.
Well, here and there are even some keyboards on all recordings, but not that present. A few black metal bands are highly underrated in my opinion. Especially Ihsahn with his solo records and the Emperor releases were an influence, that is quite obvious. The vocals are for a death metal band which are very diverse. From clean choirs to growls, screams, shouts and even a few vocoder effects. Everything is on track.

For example, the song “Prismal Dawn” of the current album has 46 vocal lines that cover almost the whole spectrum. I can not see an especially black metal influenced sound within that. Vocals are more than just some cookie monster breeds for me. You can use them as another instrument and create different vibes while using different styles.

You have a unique version of progressive metal. It’s kind of spacey, Sci-fi, psychedelic even. How did you manage to merge everything together to create something as grand as Omnivium?
Obscura was and is a collective. Every member brings in what he can do best, every idea is welcome and each voice will be heard. You just need a vision of the grand whole and musicians who will share it to write and record a complex album as Omnivium is. The songs are written by the three composers; Christian Muenzner, Hannes Grossman and myself in almost equal parts. I take care of the lyrical themes, artwork and layout input as well as the general direction of the band. If we keep this workflow, I see many more records on the horizon for our fans.

Cosmogenesis really advanced your status as a band, but Omnivium propels your musicianship even further. What did you focus on the most while writing and recording it?
While the songs on Cosmogenesis where mostly written by one member before the lineup had come together, Omnivium features more co-productions of the compositions. For example, the opening track “Septuagint” is equally written by the three of us, but you cannot hear who was writing which part. All three of us have the same musical vision and know how Obscura should sound, how a song should be arranged and what kind of production we want to have. The more demanding parts are part of the arrangement and not used to show the people that we can play.

Was the lyrical concept for Omnivium based on Friedrich Schelling's On Nature's Connection To The Spirit World? How did you come about putting it all together in music form?
The music for the album was written before I started working on the lyrics, but the idea to have the whole record based on Schelling's novel you mentioned was there for a couple of months. Omnivium is the second out of a four album concept we started with Cosmogenesis in 2009. The way old prog rock bands combined deep thoughts with demanding musical approach in many different themes or whole concepts inspired me as a writer massively since I took over the duties as vocalist in Obscura.

Omnivium deals primary with the evolution you can point out from religious beliefs, a naturalistic point of view or alternatively compare it to the biogenesis. Schelling's novel is the basis of the lyrics, the detailed work on each sentence is related to manifold ways of interpretation, led by the reader.

CD opener “Septuagint,” the actual word is Greek for the Hebrew Bible, but is the song about outer space and powers that be? Where did the inspiration come to write a song of this nature?
“Septuagint” is basically the introduction of the three involved aspects: religion, realism and naturalism. Each is represented by a human form discussing present and future existence in an never-ending equally led speech. The Septuagint were the common roots of the Hebrew Bible, Christianity and partly related to Islam.

The intention was to combine the introduction with an obviously religious-pointed name, the Septuagint. As an opening track it combines the de-evolution as well as evolution of religious thoughts and is a fly in for the interested reader in the whole story. The way I write lyrics is the same way I write music.

First you need a basic song structure, add leads, bass lines and beats to form the whole picture. The same happens with lyrics. First you have a basic idea, add multiple layers of thoughts or interpretations and in the end bring it into a form you can include it to a certain song.

As a lyricist/songwriter, who is your biggest influence, either in music or literary writings?
A huge influence are songwriters and guitarists such as Ihsahn, Paul Masvidal, Chuck Schuldiner and Jon Nödtveidt. In general, all kinds of music can be inspiring. I am quite open minded to the past 40 years of rock music that was written, as well as classical music and whatever comes in my stereo. From a lyricist's point of view, I enjoyed lately Schelling, Goethe, Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer very much.

The guitar work on Omnivium is incredible. What were you going for while creating your riffs and leads?
It is always a gut feeling that indicates if an idea is worth to follow or alternatively watch out for another one. There is no ritual, nor a certain mood you need to write material such for Omnivium. The only thing I need is time, which is sometimes a bit rough to find on a day to day situation.

Is the band’s name an homage to a Gorguts song, or did you just like the way it sounded?
It is related to the Canadians, for sure. I respect a band like them who just realized their vision without having commercial thoughts in mind. “Obscura” is an album one of a kind, very special but also extreme in many ways. Many ideas of different genres are spun into the material, but the basis is death metal. I really like the attitude, but I guess we will go our own musical way.

Since forming in 2002, you’ve gone through several lineup changes. Is your current vision of the band still how you saw it at its conception or has it progressed even more?
There was always a reason why a member had to go and leave the band. Every member since the beginning helped to bring the band to the current status we received – a well established act with world wide touring activities. Right now I am absolutely satisfied with our lineup and the input every member brings to the table. We just finished the third tour with our recent lineup and it feels better than ever. The band is in balance and we are more productive than ever.

What’s next for Obscura? Any upcoming tours, DVD’s, etc?
We just confirmed our headlining run for Omnivium in North America which will happen by the end of this year. Currently we are working on a European tour for 2012 and started working on a few video clips. A DVD would be a nice idea, but this is a thought we should keep in mind for the future.

Obscura will be on tour in North America starting in November, 2011. For dates and more info check out their official Facebook page.

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