26.5 C
Athens

Interview With Steffen Kummerer (Obscura)

Published:

Last Updated on 09:06 PM by Giorgos Tsekas

This February Obscura released their new album titled “Akroasis”. So it was an opportunity for us to talk with Steffen Kummerer, singer and guitarist of the band, about this release and have a glimpse inside the mind of a talented musician.

Hello and welcome to metal invader Steffen.

Hey, great pleasure to speak to you.

It has been 10 years since your first album (“Retribution” 2006) if I am not mistaken and 13 years since your first demo (“Illegimitation” 2003). As the only one left from the original line up how do you feel about this achievement, being a part of a band for more than 10 years?

Well, when we started with the band, back in 2002 actually, everybody told us “like ok, this is heavy metal and extreme metal” and “teenagers, they may change their mind within the next month” but well, now we are talking about a new album 14 years later and a couple of shows we are playing in the future, so actually I am very proud of what we reached and what we gathered within the last 14 years, over a decade. And well, we released a couple of good albums and we haven’t reached the end yet, we have a new album to speak about and I am very happy that this band is still alive after such a long time.

I noticed that you have released your new songs via streaming for your fans, until the official release of your album. What was the response from your fans until now?

So far it’s like with every band that releases new songs. Some people love it, some people don’t care, and some people don’t like it. But overall I can say that the reaction from our fan base was quite positive. I don’t know how this album will attract people who don’t know the band yet and don’t have a clue. What I got from mails and messages so far is that the album is very well received, all the ratings are pretty high and to be honest even higher than the previous albums. Some people don’t like the direction we are into, but I love it and most of our fans love it too. They see where we evolved, where we changed things, sometimes things we had to change, drums production for example, in terms of songwriting things are a bit more fluid and I am happy so many people like it.

You had another change in your line up last year, a new guitarist. Has he been a vital part in writing your new songs? How big was his contribution?

Last year we got a new guitarist, our current guitarist, Rafael Trujillo. He joined the band after we recorded this album, so he had no input in this album. He joined the band last year, October or November but the album got delivered mid of July, so he joined the band months later. So far we are working on our live shows and he is also part of writing our next album. We are already sharing ideas.

What’s your typical approach as a band on writing new songs?

That’s a good question. Actually it’s like a look in two sides at once. First of all, when you release an album every band is telling that straight after releasing it there are always points you say “we should have done this differently” or “ok, this is something I am not 100% happy with” and that’s actually the way I start song writing. But I am not writing the songs alone so I can only speak for myself. When I write songs I try to first of all have a hooky chorus and also some things that always tell you “ok, this is it exactly” and that “this is somehow the songs of Obscura”, telling you which band is playing but at the same time I try to get something new in the band, something that can develop your style somehow without neglecting your roots, without neglecting your roots or changing your sound. Somehow keeping the road you are in but without getting boring, haha. I guess that fits pretty well. So I always try to have fluid arrangements, something valuable, a song that has something to say and even without the lyrics it should tell you a story from start to end, in a musical way. That is the way I write.

I see. “Akroasis” had a really nice cover. I loved the artwork. Would you like to tell us more about it? Does it have a special meaning to you or the band?

Actually the “Akroasis” album is part of a 4 album concept and it is number 3. So the artwork is linked with the 2 previous albums, “Omnivium” and “Cosmogenesis”, in terms of the colors, so all the colors are different in a certain way but also in the elements that are used in the artwork. In the background of the artwork on the upper right and somewhere behind the horizon of the upper left you can see pieces of the artwork from the previous albums. It is somehow like a story that is evolving from “Cosmogenesis” and represents something like a life circle from birth to death. And “Akroasis” is number 3 in that. It’s basically blending different views from a philosophy point of view, astrophysics but also a religious point of view, the harmony of the world. And this is actually the link to the artwork. On the lower right you see those fractals, the triangles, this represents the harmonic structures, existence or universe that blend with the lyrical concept. So this is all mixed, merged into one whole, like the artwork, the lyrics and the music. It’s one big piece to me. We are working with Orion Landau, an artist from the USA. He is actually working for a lot of bands from Relapse Records. He also does different art styles, he did a big exhibition on Times Square in New York for Apple couple of years ago. And he is really in the art scene. So on one hand he is a metalhead but on the other hand he also looks behind the surface, and we are like that as a band. We are a bunch of metalheads but we are not only listening to metal but also you know, looking a little bit far away and bring this into our music. Back to the topic, Orion, for me, is a big part of this whole look. He made 5 covers for us, including “Akroasis”, so far. He shows, in a visual way, the identity of the band. I am absolutely happy to work with him, it’s very easy to. He is putting something of himself into each and every artwork and I am very happy to work with him.

So in a way he is another member of the band.

Somehow, yes. I mean, a band is not only the band from my perspective. In our case it’s not just the band members but also the producer we are working with for 13 years no, he produced our first album, Orion, also the live crew and the record label. Those are all people that are helping us somehow and you know, they are part of everything we are doing. It is the music and the band on one side but everyone around is very important, not to mention Orion and especially V. Santura, the producer. They are very important for our band.

You said before about being metalheads that don’t stay to metal music only, but you go beyond. That gives me the opportunity to ask you a typical question, though I believe you will give us an interesting answer. I would like you to name a few bands or musicians that has been a big influence to you or the band in general.

In terms of metal it’s pretty easy. Death of course, Atheist, Cynic, Pestilence, Nocturnus. All those early 90s tech death and prog death bands. They have been a very strong influence when we started. I think it shows even now sometimes. The band Death is kind of obvious, they have been a big influence. On the other hand there is a huge black metal scene where I live, in South Germany. Most of my friends listen to black metal and so am I. So other bands like Dissection, Emperor, I wouldn’t mention Darkthrone haha, Marduk and all of these bands, they had also their share of making me picking up a guitar to play extreme metal. In the later years it is not only extreme metal but also Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree is very interesting. On our previous album, “Omnivium”, there is a big part that is like a big bow to the “Mahavishnu” orchestra of John McLaughlin. Lately I am listening to a lot of Dave Weckl, aside from discovering a couple of new bands. So there isn’t only one band but a pretty board musical spectrum. We are a death metal band but no one tells you not to listen to other styles of music, so I am very interested in discovering new music and I try to find something new every now and then. It also helps a lot is that when we are on tour many bands give us their demos or debut albums or albums. I listen to everything, every CD or CD-R or whatever format it is and sometimes there is some really interesting material, so I am pretty open minded when it comes to that.

In my opinion 2015 was a year full of great releases for the metal scene. Either old bands returning with great albums or new bands that released really great stuff. So the question is: have you listened to anything that you think that was great and would recommend to your fans or other metalheads?

2015 releases only or what I have listened in general during the last year?

Things that you listened in 2015, it could a new release or something completely underground that you recently discovered.

I just discovered a few weeks ago and completely blew me away was a band called Vektor from the USA. It’s somehow a thrash band with some black metal vibe. That’s fantastic music, I really looking forward to see them live and I think they are about to release a new album this year, I think in the next couple of months. I listened to their previous record a lot during the last weeks. Aside from that also Mastodon’s “Once More ‘Round the Sun”. What else? I discovered an actually old band from Germany, but they just put out a second album titled “Gateway to the Antisphere”, they are called Sulphur Aeon. They are very very dark and it’s like an utterly grim feeling. It’s something like between doom and Morbid Angel. Fantastic band, they are an underground band, not from my area, I think they are from northern Germany or something but they are a killer band. As I mentioned I am always open minded and I try to checkout new bands. Aside from that I am buying a lot of re-issue of old albums that I lost while moving to new houses. The new At the Gates, Amorphis, I could go on forever you know, haha.

I have a kind of personal question. In “Akroasis” you used the auto tune technique in some songs. To me it sounded a bit weird, so I would like to ask you: Were you trying to create a specific feeling or atmosphere using that technique?

Yes, definitely. You see, we have this sci fi vibe within the artworks and music sometimes, the spacey sounds. But this robotic voice you are referring to is a vocoder technique that also the band Cynic used on their 1993 album “Focus”. We used this kind of technique also in our last two albums but not the same way in our third. The difference is that on the last two albums we worked all the vocal arrangements in the studio while in this we did it prior entering the studio. So what we did was we had this technique, we have some kind of experience with cause of our earlier albums, but we changed it a bit. This time we composed all those melody lines in the vocoder like you would arrange a string sample so at times we have up to 5 different voices that are changing and evolving all the time. So we have like a different musical level, you can write completely different music just with this. What I wanted to try was to basically have another musical color within our songs. If you reduced “Akroasis” just to the death metal vocals and distorted screams I am doing, something would be missing. From my perspective if you put this unique sound a few bands only have used for their albums you will have a broad array of options to work within the vocal arrangements and also the music. For me it’s the link between the screaming vocals and the melody from the guitars and the bass. I think it is pretty elementary for the band. I know it’s pretty unique and some people hate it and think it is a fucking gay idea, I have read all about that, haha. But I like it.

I wouldn’t call it a gay idea but to me it sounded completely alien compared to the album and that’s why I wanted to ask you that. After all the artist should always be able to explain to the listener what he had in mind.

Music is always a subjective thing. Sometimes people like it and sometimes they don’t. It’s ok. I mean if you don’t like the vocoder it’s totally ok. It’s unique and as you said it sounded alien, we are a sci fi band, haha.

Germany is famous for its metal bands. How is the current metal scene now, compared to the older days?

Good question. I think we got a lot of bands coming up, very interesting bands, promising bands that seem to get a lot of attention. But on the other hand Germany is a very very conservative country and it’s very hard to combine a semi-professional job, like touring 1 or 2 times a year, to a real job. So most of the bands play for a hobby and don’t have the intention of turning to a touring band. So on one hand you have a lot of creative work and talented musicians coming up, but at the same time they are limited in what they are able to do in terms of touring, you know, getting out of their comfort zone or playing shows somewhere they haven’t been there. And this is a little sad. But in terms of music Germany is better than ever. Cause instruments are way cheaper than 20 years ago and recording an album is so cheap these days. You just need a computer and audio interface and a couple of plug ins. If you know what you are doing you can produce an album for like 400 euros and this on the one hand floods the scene with new releases almost every day but on the other hand the mid-sized artist are getting hindered so to say. It’s a fore and back but things are evolving all the time, times are changing and no one knows how it will be in 10 years but so far it’s pretty interesting to see how everything goes. Speaking about my city, where I am living, in Landshut, an hour away from Munich, I have no idea what teenagers do nowadays. When I was a kid we picked up a guitar, went to our rehearsal room and made the loudest noise we could. Nowadays the kids I guess are sitting in front of facebook. But speaking of this city we have a couple of good bands like Dark Fortress. I think it’s pretty vital that everything works in a hobby way at least.

If I am not mistaken you are going to visit us in Greece.

Yes, in Athens and Thessaloniki.

Do you know anything about the Greek metal scene, do you listen to any Greek bands and what is your opinion about the local scene?

Well, I have a couple of stories about that, if you want to hear it. When we did our first headlining tour in 2007, the first time we played in Greece was in Athens, in AN Club. We were supposed to play in Thessaloniki but something happened with the club and it was cancelled. But what I can say is that it was a completely underground tour. You can not be more underground than this. Driving in a van, coming down there, no real equipment, haha, it was total underground. I remember we were welcomed there with such a warm heart and I am still in touch with some people from there. Like a couple of bands like Terrordrome from Thessaloniki or Mortal Torment from Athens. I am still in touch with them now and then, some of them are on tour with Suicidal Angels as part of their crew and we meet now and then and I still remember that as the true underground scene. And people have being unbelievably open minded, that was really cool. It doesn’t matter how many shows we have played, it was like 9 years ago but it keep this in mind every time. The same goes for our second visit to you. Made a similar tour to what we will do in March and April but with Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus some years ago. I think it was 2009. We went from Italy to Athens and later on to Thessaloniki and we met so many people we are still in touch with. This is something special to me you know. It’s not about playing music, we are a death metal band, and we can not play music for money cause you don’t get rich with that. We would rather have good time, with good friends, on the road and meeting cool people. This is what it’s all about. And I remember so many people being there and I can’t wait to come back after so much time. I am looking forward to play in Athens again. Speaking of the local scene, the drummer of my other band, Thulcandra, is of Greek heritage.

Really?

Yes, Alessadro. He also played for Nargaroth and some other bands. So, he is actually bringing in obscure, bizarre underground bands, like old school black metal and the like. I think bands like Rotting Christ, whom we shared the scene a couple of times, are still the leaders and biggest bands from 15 years ago and they are still now and I really wonder what will come next. Suicidal Angels are also pretty successful in Europe but I am really interested in underground bands. I forget the name, but I got a message from a fan a few weeks ago, about a very interesting tech death band that only record in analog. But I can’t remember the name right now. I think there a lot of bands coming up, but it’s pretty hard for a Greek band to get their foot on the ground somewhere else. There are only a few bands that tour around. I think something is pretty hard over there, but as I said it’s pretty cheap to record nowadays and it seems there are a couple of good black metal bands coming from Greece.

I think it’s the same problem that you mentioned about your town but for different reasons. It is easy, like you said, to record, but it is really hard to go on touring cause they would not survive without a day job.

Same was here when we started to tour. We were students then and as students you live in a single apartment, haha, and eat ravioli out of a can, you know, haha. It works for some time, but when you are getting older it’s really hard, or if you have a family or a real job. I guess no job would accept the fact that you take off 3 or 4 months a year to tour with the band. A few bosses accept that but it is really unusual.

Would you like to tell us something else to finish this interview? A message to your fans or to people who just found out about your band through this interview.

Well, the best way to explore a new band is to come to our show with Death DTA, we are supporting. We will play as tight as fuck. We are looking to come over to Greece again and I would love to play more often over there. Let’s see how this will go.

We have great drinks too. You Germans got beer but we got ouzo.

I have also stories about ouzo, but we keep them secret, haha. I told you about the concert with Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus in Thessaloniki. There was, I won’t tell you the name, but he is actually a known guitarist now. He brought 2 litters of self-made moonshine, I am not sure what it was exactly but I think it was raki. It was harder than ouzo, I took 2 sips of it and I thought I was going blind. We all thought we were going to die. I told you I got a couple of things I remember and I will always keep that in my mind, haha. So I can’t wait to meet a lot of people again, maybe he will come again, haha.

I will bring you some tsipouro then when I come to your show!

Oh dude, so I am getting blind this time.

No, I will give it to you after the show.

Perfect, that’s the professional way to drink, after the show, haha.

Steffen thank you for the interview. Good luck with your new album and your tour.

Thank you very much, it was a pleasure talking to you and I can’t wait for this raki-like drink. Thank you very much for the interview!

 

Angel Spiliopoulos
Angel Spiliopoulos
"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

Related articles

spot_img

Castle Rat – Into The Realm

Recent articles

spot_img

Castle Rat – Into The Realm