They may be part of the zeitgeist of twisted, unpredictable and experimental progressive death metal, but Obscura’s vocalist/guitarist frontman Steffen Kummerer beams a sunny, positive disposition. The tech-death mastermind, eager to comment on the weather in his home nation, was also eagerly asking after this writer’s own city of Melbourne, divulging he’d heard many great things about all the upcoming cities and venues on their Australian tour. “I don’t know what to expect from Australia at all,” he says. “We’ve just heard so many great and wild stories about your fine country, so we’re very excited.” Adding to the elation was the fact that the band had just finished touring cycles of North America and, more recently Europe, on the back of the critically acclaimed tech-prog-death killer LP, ‘Diluvium’.
“I am really looking forward to Australia – it’s something that’s been on my personal bucket list for a long time,” he admits. “Over the last four records and ten years we’ve toured North and Central Americas as well as Europe and Asia, but the opportunity to do Australia has only just come through. Gleefully, he adds, “We hear from friends in Cannibal Corpse and TheBlack Dahlia Murder that you guys are mental and you love to rage, and love a good party!” The tension and excitement from both sides of the phone is palpable; a mutual kinetic excitement about the upcoming tour.
Given ‘Diluvium’ has been played mercilessly across countless continental shows, the reception has been interestingly varied. “‘Diluvium’ is an album of varying tempo, and that’s something we’ve seen direct feedback from in audience,” he notes. “In Europe, for example, the mid-tempo stuff is received much better than the high-speed, shredding material. In North America, it’s completely different – they love to see you shred, show off and do polyrhythms.” We reassure Kummerer that in no uncertain measure that, so long as they’re onstage and plugged in, Australian heads will be banging.
The release of ‘Diluvium’ brings about a relief for the band too, finally culminating a ten-year, four-album conceptual cycle. “The idea of the last album is it’s the end of all ends, the apocalypse,” he muses, “and in that respect the whole production is quite sharp and direct in comparison to, say, ‘Akroasis’, which is much more delay and reverb influenced and cinematic. My question to myself is, ‘what’s going to be next?’ I’m trying to finish the songwriting for the next record around the end of this year, but sometimes it’s hard to plan to be creative. Sometimes you’ll have a couple of months where nothing really happens at all; you just have to go with the flow.”
Tempering the urge to write more with keeping the band energised and on-track seems priority for the frontman, who notes that Obscura have fulfilled both their conceptual storyline and their contract with Relapse Records, which “Brings everything back to scratch, back to day one – we have complete freedom from this point on. We are, however, using that freedom to focus on enjoying the album release, touring and looking forward to places we haven’t enjoyed before.”
As one of the bastions of the tech-death and progressive death metal movements, when those terms inevitably are bandied about, Kummerer notes he’s quick to relay his thoughts on both and the metal scene at large in 2019. “We are one of the first ‘tech-death’ bands lumped with that tag that are still around, having started in 2002 – 17 years ago. A lot of others like Necrophagist have thrown in the towel.” He says this without derision, however; more optimistic in tones as he notes the consistency and quality of new acts arriving on the extreme metal scene. “On our last NA tour we invited Inferi, we invited Archspire from Canada, as well as Beyond Creation – this is for me this is the new generation of technical, progressive, whatever-you-want-to-call-it death metal. I see from the audience’s reactions each night that that the scene is very much alive.”
Taking it more broadly, he posits that the metal scene overall is more noticeable. “In general, metal overall – regardless of subgenre – is a hugely established scene. Spotify recently found that metal listeners are most loyal streamers in general, and it’s a genre with lots of people wanting to identify with the artists.” Whilst he feels this could be cause for concern (“Do we really know how large the scene can be and still be sustainable?”), he notes bands such as Fallujah and Rivers of Nihil who started “more traditional and then went a little bit more off-the-hook” open avenues for both progressive and extreme music fans. “These bands open doors and borders for people not yet necessarily into super aggressive, extreme stuff, but like the traditional death metal fans can find this genre has both an experimental and heavy edge to it.”
Speaking about opening doors – what to expect from Obscura when the doors open on various Australian venues later in the month? “Oh boy,” Kummerer proclaims with mischievous glee, “let’s just say we’re not a jazz band – we’re not going to just stand there looking at our frets. If Australians are as wild as I’ve heard and the mood is right, it sounds like we’re going to have one big tech-death arena party!”