Obscura‘s Steffen Kummerer is in Munich; it’s five o’clock in the morning where he is. I am sorry, Steffen. “You don’t have to be sorry! I’m happy to be doing the interviews today – it’s the first time ever that we’re coming down under so we’re really excited.”

It’s Obscura’s first time ever visiting Australia and they’re on a headlining tour – no wonder they’re keen. “It’s been on my bucket list for many, many years, and now finally we have four shows. It could be more but I’m happy.”

Well, you’re coming at the right time of year; the end of March and beginning of April is splendid weather-wise; not too hot and not too cold. Old-man style chat about the weather over, I ask about the origins of the band’s name, which came from the 1998 Gorguts album title – you’re were obviously a fan, aye? “Back then I simply loved their originality. There’s nothing that sounds exactly like them – and that’s still the case, in my opinion – and that’s what I really enjoy. I guess musically, at that time, I had been influenced more by Cynic, Death, Atheist, Pestilence – all of those early nineties tech/death metal and prog/death metal bands.”

So what drew you to progressive death metal as opposed to traditional death metal? “Somehow we tried to find our own niche and when we started, bands like Cannibal Corpse were noted as death metal and we altered the name [of the style of music] a little bit to better represent what we were doing; we’re not only playing death metal so we tried to find our own niche, and that’s why it’s called progressive death metal. Some label it technical death metal but whatever you may call it, it’s metal in the end.”

I move on to the incredible complex instrumentation and composition that Obscura are famous for; where do you even start when writing a tune? “Everybody has a different way of writing; I write
everything on my guitar as a skeleton with a couple of rough riffs and then I start recording, and from there I dismantle everything and get it into a real arrangement, and then start putting the meat on it with all of the details. I write everything down on sheet music.”

This blows my fucking mind – what must that look like? An psychotic ink-dipped spider let loose on a page? Steffen continues, explaining that he then distributes the music to the rest of the band for input and voila – there’s your big, fat (and exceedingly complex) Obscura tune. But, as he says “It all starts with a couple of riffs, like the usual stuff that every other band on the planet does – the only difference is that we work way longer and way more in detail than some other bands.”

That’s putting it mildly, I say… and he laughs, adding “And of course, we are the big nerds, I guess…”

So how difficult is it to reproduce the music live? “Of course it’s quite demanding, and of course we are not a jazz band, jamming on stage and watching our fingers playing, and we’ve made the task of reproducing a little easier since I discovered in-ear monitoring. This makes everything a little bit easier as there’s no excuse like ‘I couldn’t hear my guitar’ or ‘I couldn’t hear my drummer’ which makes that inter-play a little bit more smooth, and everything is written down as sheet music so there is no single note left for improvisation so you know exactly what you have to play.”

My mind is blown once again. So, there’s no improvisation whatsoever? “No. No improvisation at all. As you mentioned, it’s such complicated music so we have to write everything down, and we have to stick to the composition as it was written otherwise it’s going to be a mess.”

I mention, having interviewed several other German guitarists, that the majority seem to opt for note for note rehearsals. Is Obscura another example of what I call ‘precise German instrumentation technology’? He laughs, saying “I’m not sure if it’s a German thing – there are some excellent jazz musicians out there that are only improvising but for me, improvisation is simply not my thing.”

So does that make rehearsals frustrating at times; if someone’s not quite bang on note for note, does that get quite annoying? Again, he chuckles, “Actually, yes! I have to be honest! We don’t
rehearse too often, For tours we meet two or three times and bring all of the gear.”

He tells me how they meet up with the trucks of equipment in a secret location in Austria (OK, it’s not a secret location but you get the idea). “It’s basically like playing a show; we all meet, unload gear, and rehearse – but basically everyone has to prepare at home. Since everything is composed, there’s no room for ‘I don’t know how to play this part’ – and if someone is not prepared, it’s definitely frustrating!”

I mention that Steffen holds a Masters degree in media engineering, and he tells me that he builds studios and audio rigs for television stations (he has also previously worked for BMW
and Rolls Royce – Whallop! CV fact, right there). You studied while still working and playing music? “Yes, that was a very big task…” He has a tendency to down-play things, I tell you. Reflecting on this mammoth task, he says “I don’t know how it was possible to do both things, especially between 2009 and 2011, we played up to two hundred and fifty shows a year and I was a full-time student.”

This would have been between Cosmogenesis (2009) and Omnivium (2011), and he tells sad tales of poverty, supporting tours, and hunger – a story all too familiar to bands, yes? “But if you work hard, somehow it pays off…”

So can you now live off of the band, or do you have to work as well? “When we started [essentially for the first three albums] our standards of living were quite low, but after the release of Akroasis
(2016) things started to get better. But even now, I’m looking out for several projects.”

He mentions the band’s family commitments, and with children, they decided not to tour so much. So you have to see these guys when they come out. But don’t worry, Steffen assures me that he still knows how to party but more importantly the band’s understanding of touring has improved greatly since they started. “We know way more about production, light production, and how to set-up audio and video… so there are no cancelled shows and everything tends to run very smoothly.”

Steffen Kummerer, a very charming man. Obscura have put the work in so you don’t have to. Go and show them some love.

You heard the man! Obscura play the following shows on their upcoming Australian tour – get involved!

Thursday March 28 – Brisbane, Crowbar

Friday, March 29th – Sydney, The Factory Theatre

Saturday, March 30th – Melbourne, Corner Hotel