As reviewers have been raving about the new Obscura album Akróasis, it was a good moment for Metal-Exposure to have a chat with mastermind Steffen Kummerer. Beneath the abstract layers of this record, yours truly discovered astrophysics, philosophy, planets and stuff and a swordfish.
The first time I saw Obscura was in 2006 on the Elsrock (Netherlands), this was the Retribution era and Obscura was more death metal focused. Since then, the band has mainly taken a progressive path. What is the reason behind that?
“I remember the Elsrock festival. We played there on a short notice because a band dropped out or something. This was ten years ago and we founded the band in 2002. I think we grew into the kind of progressive death metal we are now. Every musician has to start somewhere. As we grew up musicians, the band evolved. The older we got, the more the material developed. Each album release learned us something: in terms of production or how to arrange songs. When you saw us the first time, that was the very first real tour we ever did. We supported Suffocation and of course in that time we learnt so much. There are so many impressions we absorbed and formed into the band we are right now. The same happened with the previous album. Omnivium was a really technical, almost constructed piece of music. What we learned during the live shows afterwards is that we had to change some parts to make it a little bit better. For me it is natural and every band is evolving somehow. As we don’t release the same album over and over again, it progresses and we get better as instrumentalists, as composers and lyricists. As long as our old flesh and bones are working, I would say we are going this way.”
Would you say that Akroasis is more smooth, as you described Omnivium as more constructive?
“We changed a couple of minor things to work out songs in a different way. The production is completely different and the live approach is very present. I would say: yes, this record is more smooth and it is structured in another way. Omnivium was very in-your-face, produced like a death metal album. In terms of speed, arrangement, it is completely full everywhere. My impression of this record is that you get tired after half an hour, because it is too much. On the new record, I wanted to structure it a little bit different: more diversity, different tempos and a bigger dynamic range. If you listen to Akroasis as a whole, there are always elements in between where you can take a breath. The album is arranged as a whole, so that each song merges into the other. I could speak to you for two hours about we changed, haha! Also, important to me was reducing the speed a little bit. The previous record had a couple of songs that sounded really good on the record. However, if you play live above 250 bpm, everything that is reproduced by the PA system sounds like noise to the crowd. It didn’t matter if you had a good or bad show, it didn’t sound good live. So I reduced the speed a little bit. We still have very fast songs like Fractual Dimension, which is 230 bpm and we focused more on rhythm diversity. I think it sounds more fresh. Since we are not on the edge of what we can do, in terms of technicality and speed, the record sounds more laidback or mellow.”
Akroasis is the 3rd instalment of a bigger concept, spread out over four albums. To what extent did you already have the plans for each record when you started with it?
“It is a combination of having room to write it and at the same time having a certain path. When we started with the first album, it was already clear that we would have four albums with four different colours and four different ideas that would lead into a life circle. The beginning and the apocalypse, the life and death were clear from the beginning. Omnivium represented evolution, but it took me a long time to figure out what Akroasis would be. All the albums are lyrically linked. When you saw us during the Retribution era, we were a different, more rough band. The same goes for the lyrics. I’m not a native speaker, as you can hear by my funky German accent and thus I made my steps as a lyricists over the years If you compare the lyrics of Cosmogenesis and Akroasis, there is a big gap in between. To come back to your question: the idea of the four concept album was there, but I still had the freedom of bringing in what I learned in all those years.
Another example, Cosmogenesis had a couple of loose ideas about creation from various religious views, as well as philosophical topics from Goethe. Omnivium incorporates a complete book by one author. On album number three, From the experience of the previous two album I figured out and how to find the groove for the lyrics. On the previous album, the lyrics were a little bit forced on the music. This time, I had the topics and the ideas but we wrote the music first. Afterwards I made the vocal patterns and added the lyrics to that. It works way better. In the end, it is all linked: lyrically, visually and musically. It is very nerdy, I know.”
You mentioned Goethe and another book as inspiration for the previous records. What was the inspiration for Akroasis?
“On Akroasis I use ideas from both Goethe and Friedrich von Schelling, a German naturalist. I found a couple of links that pointed me to the book Akroasis from Hans Kayser, which is about the harmony of the world. I found accidentally that both Goethe and Schelling wrote poems and ideas about this topic. The religious aspect, as a third level or entity, shows that idea from various religious point of views. I’ve inverted all those religious perspectives into a completely anti-cosmic theme and to sum it up: it doesn’t matter if you are an atheist, religious person or a philosophical person, we are all going to die. This is the essence of what is going to happen on the next album. I’m always playing with these three entities: rationality, religion and real life, both horizontal and vertical. On Omnivium for example, I played around with these three elements based on this book of Schelling. You have three personalities who are more or less discussing the pro’s and con’s of those ideas. On Akroasis, it is much more levelled with a first, second and third level above each other. I thought this is very interesting but on the other hand I know most of our fans do not care about the lyrics but want to see the next high speed shred arpeggio or something. I’m a realist about that. To be honest, I’m really happy with the lyrics for the first time, because of fitting the lyrics to the groove, but there is lyrical value. It is important to me. It is on a very abstract level and at the same time it fits to this sci-fi visual aspect we have going on as a band. Most people know us as the band with planets and stuff. If you sum it up in one or two sentences, it all fits very well and it also reflects a lot of personal thoughts about religion, physics and philosophy.”
The concept sounds quite abstract indeed. Can you elaborate on how it relates to you personally?
“You can either scream ‘hail Satan’ on a stage, put blood on your head or put it a little more sublime. All those religions are worth nothing more than a bottle of Coca Cola. You also feel good if you drink Coca Cola, you can also feel good if you are going to church and talk about your sins, so everything to everyone’s own. If you break down what I write on Akroasis, you’ll see that it is extremely dark and negative. Yet it is also open enough that people will not put an ‘explicit’ label on it or something. The lyrics are very personal, but on a very abstract level. It would be too easy otherwise.”
Does the Theory of World Harmonics resonate with you because you are a musician, or is it something else?
“It’s not only being a musician and dealing with a couple of harmonies. I’m actually an engineer and I learned a lot of physics in the last couple of years. I am simply interested in that. I read a couple of books on real astrophysics, the kind that are far away from spiritual thoughts. There are still a couple of different opinions about how our universe is built up, whether or not it is expanding or imploding, but I like to read those different thoughts. So I write about all of this and I have a sort of life philosophy that everything should be in balance: like a band should be in balance and your private and your work life should be in balance. I like that idea and it has nothing to do with religion, but it makes things a little bit easier. That is the personal aspect we talked about earlier. If you read that about Fractual Dimensions and see the lyrics, it seems far apart from each other.”
A lot of people have already said that the song Weltseele is a masterpiece. Outstanding song. What do you think about it yourself?
“Hmm, a good question. This song went through so many stages and so many people worked on it and at some point we didn’t know anymore how to end it. At first the song lasted five minutes and we added more and more. It’s a very diverse song. I also read two reviews that said that the song is arranged in a completely bizarre way. It is a love it or hate it song. I’m not sure if it makes sense to play it live. It would only make sense if we would do a headlining show. Imagine playing a 60 minute show of technical/progressive death metal and ending the set with a epos of 15 minutes.. I’m not sure if people are really into that. Still, overall it is the perfect song to end the record with.”
So if Weltseele is a love it or hate it song: do you love it or hate it?
“I’m not sure yet. It is the same with a couple of other songs. I’m very interested to see how people react to the whole record. There are a couple of songs I really love, that others really hate. It’s the same for ‘Ode to the Sun’. That song was mentioned as a bonus track first. We thought it was too far out of our comfort zone and too far from what we did in the past. The extremes are too far apart. So I’m not sure if people really like it, or hate it. The same goes for me. The final result is something you hate, love or something in between. Right now, some of the songs are in between. Also, my favourite and least favourite songs change every week.”
The last question is something completely different: have you ever Spinal Tap moments?
“A thousand I guess. In 2011 we played our last North-American tour, somewhere in the north of the United States. I don’t remember the city precisely, but I do remember the show. It was after the release of Omnivium and we were in this evolutionary theme. We played at a bizarre club and there was a lot of weird stuff everywhere. I found a huge sword fish of four meters long. Well, we played Ocean Gateways and we did a spontaneous drum fill, I took the swordfish and threw it into the crowd. We continued Ocean Gateways and saw this huge swordfish swimming over the crowd. That was bizarre and one of those Spinal Tap moments where I thought: it’s not going to get any better.”