Artist Interviews Heavy Month

Interview – Steffen Kummerer

Steffen Kummerer is guitarist, singer and songwriter in the death metal band Obscura as well as the black metal band Thulcandra. He's also been a touring member of the official tribute band to Death. We are really excited to talk to him about music and gear.

#1 – “Diluvium” (2018 – Relapse) has been out a while now, you toured it extensively so what are you up to these days?

“Diluvium” was released in July 2018 and we toured in North America, Central Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand in support of the record. We are half way through our touring cycle for the record and announce a row of concerts in the upcoming weeks. The album turned out successful and surpassed the previous record “Akroasis” (2016) in every way. I just started to write material for the next album recently and altered the better part of our setlist to bring back different and even never performed compositions on stage.

#2 – How do your gear and approach to dialing in tone change when recording or playing live with your other band Thulcandra?

Obscura and Thulcandra both work with my live setup for both guitarists. Aside from the amplifiers I only use 6 string guitars for Thulcandra. As main guitar for Thulcandra I got a wonderful ESP Eclipse Custom with a Floyd Rose System, loaded with EMG Pickups. As a backup and mainly for live shows I use a classic ESP E-II V, a flying V shaped guitar with EMGs that sound slightly brighter, less sharp than the Eclipse.

All amplifiers are built in one shock-proofed custom rack and consists of a TC Electronic G-Major2 unit for effects, an ENGL e530 preamp and a e840/50 amplifier. I bought this setup in early 2009, after Obscura recorded “Cosmogenesis” and use the same setup since then. We recorded “Omnivium” (2011) and “Akroasis” (2016) with this equipment and just changed to an ENGL Fireball to record “Diluvium” (2018). Part of the setup are 4 4×12” Standard ENGL cabinets we also bring on tour ever since.

The only main difference is the fact that Obscura performs with an In-Ear System while only Thulcandra’s drummer performs alongside a click track. Related to the different musical style we keep a more open and rough approach that is compensated with more rehearsals than Obscura.

#3 – While on the subject; Being that Obscura semi-recently released an album, does that mean we could have a new Thulcandra album on its way or in progress to follow up 2015’s “Ascension Lost” (Napalm Records)?

We are currently preproducing the new album and work on a release estimated for the end of 2019. Initially, we wanted to write and record the album in 2018, but Obscura grew over the last years and our touring schedule expanded so much that we had to postpone the plans to 2019. While “Ascension Lost” was meant to be pretty much straight forward, the new material feels more diverse with longer and more detailed writing.

#4 – “Diluvium” is such an incredibly tight sounding album, what gear was used by both yourself and Rafael (Trujillo – Obscura – guitar) on the album?

To gain a sharper guitar sound I altered the live setup with an ENGL Fireball 100 amplifier combined with a Celestion Vintage 30 loaded 4×12” ENGL E412GB Pro Cabinet. I recorded rhythm guitars with an ESP Horizon E-II and my leads with a ESP M-II Custom guitar while Rafael used a Kiesel axe for his parts. All acoustic guitars have been recorded with an LTD Acoustics D-430E by both guitarists.

#5 – The lead tone on the newest Obscura album is so tight and compressed but the gain seems quite low. Can you explain how you dial things in?

The intention to work with this sound was based on the approach to work on a straight but clean and audible while straight forward guitar tone to underline the arrangements of the record. Compared to the previous album you mainly hear one guitar left and one on the right while on “Akroasis” we worked on a wall of sound with several different layers of guitars. For some rhythm parts I used a tube screamer before the amplifier to crank the tone a slightly bit. The signal flow was quite simple; ESP Horizon E-II -> Tube Screamer -> Amplifier ENGL Fireball 100 -> ENGL 4×12” PRO Guitar Cabinet.

#6 – How do your current live rigs differ from what was used on the album?

We use the same live rig since 2009 with the earlier mentioned rack gear. I work with ENGL on something completely new we will bring on the next tour in early 2020. The new setup shall be used on the upcoming record and all live shows. For live shows I used for the “Diluvium” cycle an ESP Custom M-II with bolt on neck and a varied EMG setup. ESP just sent me a brand-new Arrow 7 String with a Floyd Rose and EMGs for the next tours and shows that leads to a pointier look.

#7 – Obscura has been a very active band for around 17 years now, how has your set up and taste in gear changed as you evolved as a player and musician?

For around 15 years I played RAN Guitars and worked on a row of custom instruments with the company before switching to ESP Guitars a while ago. When I started playing guitar, I haven’t had the experience and knowledge about materials, woods, parts and shaping or crafting instruments I gained until today. I experimented with different setups, guitars and companies, different bridges, mechanics and of course many different amplifiers and effect units. Overall, I reduced the gain of my amplifiers for a more clear and sharper sound while I switched from an EMG 81 / 85 setup to an EMG 57 / 66 set with a less compressed but more open feel. With ENGL I found my personal amp and use the same gear in the last ten years. In 2018 I attended to the NAMM show in Los Angeles and since years I visit or work at Musikmesse Frankfurt to get inspired by new gear or work with new companies to keep evolving my personal sound.

#8 – What kind of experience do you have with amp sim software or other digital modeling type gear?

I grew up with the evolution of modeling amps and amp sim software. Over the years I worked with most of the common software and followed the evolution from being a nice idea, becoming a gadget with horrible sounds up to nowadays acceptance to use software only based gear as full substitutes for amplifiers. Recently I saw a band at a live show without any gear, only a laptop with a running DAW and VST Plugins routed directly into a PA. The pros are quite undebatable as well as the cons for modeling amps.

Using a unit of Line6 / Fractal Audio / Kemper unit might be convenient and easy to setup gear for home recordings or FlyIn shows during a tour and also the palette of sounds and effects feels tempting at first sight. Unfortunately, you are related to the local PA with 100% and there is no chance to sound decent, even with the most experienced FOH, if the house system cannot hold any standard. Second, within smaller clubs up to a capacity of let’s say 500 attendants the first two or three rows standing behind the PA speakers and only hear drums and perhaps a slight part of the rest which does not satisfy any attendant of a show.

Some bands bought an amplifier in addition to their Fractal Audio / Line 6 units to use cabinets on stage and returned to a bigger rack which then does not feel very convenient anymore with all the extra gear. Third, the modeling amps / plugins sound barely like a tube amplifier. Most units work with a simple profiling technique, an impulse response of a certain state of a amp / cab / mic chain. A tube amplifier works different and can be compared to a dynamic instrument while modeling amps rather work linear. Even the newer generation of modeling amps with improved engines lacking massively and I haven’t heard a decent recording with those units until today.

In the end it depends on a player’s taste, his personal setup and experience to decide about his gear. There is no right or wrong. Personally, I prefer a dynamic system with tube amplifiers and a setup that underlines my playing and defines my tone and overall sound. I don’t like the idea of just working with presets, maybe altered here and there, and sound like a thousand others who skip through the same presets.

#9 – With so many guys around you in modern metal switching to the convenient Axefx/Kemper approach, have you been tempted to do the same?

Forming your own opinion about a topic needs at least some experience and knowledge, so I used an AxeFX Ultra during our recent Australian / New Zealand / Japan tour due to many flights, condensed equipment and an easy to setup piece of gear. That have been the only pros. Compared to my own setup, this unit simply doesn’t match the bands standard and is undebatable a piece of gear I will never play live again. Aside from using this gear for effect sounds, there is no place for modeling amps on an Obscura record. I rather work on a solution for my amplifiers to develop a more convenient setup.

#10 – Tab books have sort of declined over the years with the internet having an endless supply of tablature. To me it shows incredible loyalty to your fans to not only provide but personally transcribe your songs in that way. How much time do you put into the books?

Transcribing, designing and printing books takes a lot of effort and time, but all books have been well-received by our fans and sell excellent. Every now and then we reprint all guitar and bass tablature books due to the demand. Fans want to have a physical copy in their hands and work through the whole book, getting inspired, gain some tricks and enhance their technical abilities. Seeing hundreds of covers online feels rewarding and somehow connects you to the fans. Personally, I am honored seeing fans all over the planet covering your songs and put so much work into learning this demanding material.

#11 – If someone asked you on the spot to quickly name three of your favorite guitar tones ever recorded, what would your response be?

Yngwie Malmsteen – Rising Force

Necrophagist – Epitaph

Death – Symbolic

I can’t thank Steffen Kummerer enough for talking with HASR. Everything about Steffen is impressive to me. His vocals, playing and writing with both bands, he did an impossibly great job with Chuck Shuldiner’s vocals and playing in the Death tribute and everything else he has accomplished. To consistently be one of the top artists in a genre like tech-death can’t be easy given the constant evolution of the genre and it’s players so that alone is a serious accomplishment. Check out all of Steffen’s work with Obscura, Thulcandra asap

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