Obscura Frontman Loves Porcupine Tree, Hates David Hasselhoff
Germany’s Obscura don’t seem to be the kind of band that wastes any time. On the heels of 2009’s ‘Cosmogenesis,’ they are poised to deploy their new record, ‘Omnivium.’ Pulling influences from death and black metal as well as traditional European heavy metal, Obscura are technically and compositionally one of the top bands in extreme music right now.
Guitarist-vocalist Steffen Kummerer was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk with Noisecreep.
Noisecreep: Congratulations on producing such a great record. Where did you record it?
Steffen Kummerer: Thank you for the kind words. ‘Omnivium’ was produced in Germany’s Woodshed Studios with our long time producer V. Santura, who established himself and the studio within a few years. His work on ‘Cosmogenesis,’ the new Pestilence album, and both of the Triptykon releases is outstanding.
Triptykon is amazing. It’s good to see Tom G. Warrior back in action. Are you into them?
The last Celtic Frost full length, ‘Monotheist,’ was a seriously great album and the Triptykon debut is the coherent follow-up.The music is very special as it is unique. I do not know any other band with that kind of sound. Music does not have to be technical or super proggy to get your guts. In general I am very open-minded for all kinds of music, so also black metal is welcome.
Was it a positive experience? Are you happy with the results?
Yes, we are absolutely satisfied with the whole procedure and the result. The album sounds more mature, the whole production sounds very natural, with real dynamics that did not come out of a generated sound. We used exactly the equipment we use during the live situation and kept everything breathing. The drums, for example, are not triggered except 30% of the bass drum during the faster parts to keep the single hits in the same loudness. Also the guitars, bass, and vocals sound very broad and natural, so we are satisfied in the end. We will record the next album in this studio again.
Obscura is not a typical metal band in that the technical level and composition of the songs is superior to many bands. Typically, how much rehearsal and preparation do you do before entering the studio?
Well, unfortunately we do not live in the same city, nor the same country at all. So in fact we compose our material via GuitarPro, a MIDI-based software, to exchange several ideas via the internet. That way you are able to write music whenever you have the muse for it. That can be at 5 o’clock in the morning or whenever you have a melody or rhythm in mind. Everyone prepares his own lines before we hit the studio and during the recording process itself we hear the song for the first time. Maybe unique, but for us [it is] the only solution for the moment.
What is Obscura’s writing process? Is there one primary songwriter or is it more of a collaboration?
We are a collective of four musicians, so Obscura is not a one man show at all. We have three songwriters with Christian Muenzner, Hannes Grossmann, and myself, while Jeroen Thesseling brings a few riffs to the table and improvises his bass lines.
Your newest record ‘Omnivium’ is much darker in feel to your last record ‘Cosmogenesis.’ Were there any differences in approach when you were writing for Omnivium’?
Actually, that came very naturally and was not intended very much. During the songwriting, we felt that the whole material tends into a more neo-classical fold. We drove with the flow, and the flow was a bit darker than the previous album. We had a few more ideas with seven-string guitars, and the theme of the album supported the cold and black label of ‘Omnivium.’
As I mentioned earlier, Obscura isn’t a typical metal band. I hear a lot of non-metal influences. Can you take a minute and describe some of your musical inspirations?
When I started to listen to music and played piano, the main influence was Bach. His compositions always felt more logical than the other great classic compositions. Hard to describe why. Also bands like Portishead, Steven Wilson’s bands and projects, as well as a few rock bands have their place in my personal taste of music.
The inspirations from metal are Death, Dissection, Atheist, Cynic, later Emperor since the beginning, and Symphony X, Dream Theater and Noneuclid since some time as well. When the other members bring some music on the bus we listen to many different styles of music. [Everything] from jazz, prog, flamenco up to brutal death metal, black metal, and cheesy albums. So somehow everything that is around us gives some kind of inspiration.
Steven Wilson! Are you a fan of Porcupine Tree?
Yes, ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’ is fantastic. Also his latest solo release, ‘Insurgentes,’ circulates pretty often at home. His productions have something special. They sound fragile, natural but always have the right punch. Just listen to ‘Black Water Park’ by Opeth and you know what I mean. Looking forward to his next releases.
What are some of the cheesier records you listen to? I think we all have some guilty pleasures.
If you have David Hasselhoff in mind – sorry, not my cup of tea. I guess the Portishead releases, Wolfmother, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, and Phoenix, are kinda cheesy. On the other hand, Dream Evil are cheesy as well.
I also hear a nod to some older European metal/hard rock bands (Scorpions, Mercyful Fate), especially in the solos. Are you guys influenced by some of the earlier bands from the ’70s or ’80s?
Christian Muenzner is a huge fan of ’80s shred albums and I bet all those old big names brought their stamp to his soloing style. In general we enjoy Led Zeppelin, Rush and Scorpions, among others as well. In the end, we write exact the music we like to listen to by ourselves, so everything’s got its place in Obscura. On ‘Omnivium,’ I hear so many different influences. From rock to black metal, from fusion to brutal death metal, and from acoustic interludes to classic choirs.
Do either of the guitarists (Steffen and Christian) have any favorite players that they look up to?
Christian looks up to the big old names, too many to mention. Personally I enjoy the composers and the musicians that bring something unique on the table instead of shred-tastic wankery. Ihsahn, Paul Masvidal, and Steven Wilson are composers I have deep respect for.
How important are lyrics in the overall statement of the band?
The lyrics are a huge part of the grand whole you see as Obscura. Artwork, photography, lyrics, colors, and music are a symbiosis that show you the whole concept. Unfortunately most of the metalheads are not too interested in lyrics, but if someone just relax and enjoy the music that is fine with me. As long there are a few people out there who want to understand the concept and especially the lyrics I will afford many more hours to bring up something special. If there is a handfull of people out there ho are satisfied with the lyrics and see the links inbetween music & lyrics, I am fully satisfied.
Do you currently have any plans to tour the US in 2011?
We will come up with a huge tour this summer and hit the US as well as Canada. I hope to see many of you guys and girls at the shows! Lend your ears to Omnivium and [I’ll] see you on tour!