May 14, 2015 Interview – Steffen Kummerer of Thulcandra
The ability to have a variety of creative outlets to explore is a special one to behold. For German multi-instrumentalist and producer Steffen Kummerer, the combination of talent and determination has made him a well-known name in the Metal world. First founding the highly technical and Progressive Death Metal band Obscura in 2002, Kummerer dove into the Black Metal genre a year later with Thulcandra. Balancing time between both bands as the creative force, a tragic loss of co-founder and friend Jurgen Zintz inevitably put Thulcandra on hiatus, until 2008 when Kummrer would re-launch the project, thus releasing their debut record Fallen Angel’s Dominion in 2010. Quickly becoming a dominant name within the Black Metal genre, Thulcandra has since released two more albums including their most recent from 2015, entitled Ascension Lost. Regarded as one of the most anticipated Black Metal releases of the year, the band dive further into the realm of dark, melodic, and atmospheric tones. Recently we sat down with Kummerer for a personal look at his vision behind Thulcandra, their new album, plans for a new Obscura album, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You began Thulcandra back in 2003. Tragically, co-founder Jurgen Zintz took his own life in 2005. Was it a difficult decision for you to restart the band a few years later?
Steffen Kummerer – The band was on hold for a few years until the recordings of our demos fell into my hands when I moved to another city in 2008. Of course it felt a bit strange on one hand, but on the other we started a band, recorded a demo prior to working on our debut album, and never finished it. In fact it was when the Ludwig Twins, Sebastian (Lead Guitar) and Tobias (Bass Guitar), joined the band to bring Thulcandra back on track when we finally had a real band again. Since then, the three of us have been the core of the band and work together on every decision. Also, with the release of Ascension Lost, ten years after Jürgens passing, we finally released the four tracks of our demo the way it was thought when we recorded them in 2005. It is a matter of respect to him to finish what we once begun and for me it feels like a relief having it done.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a fitting tribute to him and his work with you. Since restarting Thulcandra around 2008, the band has established themselves as a respected act in the modern Black Metal scene. What has the experience been like seeing the band blossom like it has?
Steffen Kummerer – Since our debut album Fallen Angel’s Dominion in 2010 we received positive feedback from all over the world and established a loyal fan base. While we played a first full European tour with our second album, the new album Ascension Lost seems like a real breakthrough for the band and leaves us with manifold offers to play concerts or tours. We built up this group from scratch and I am proud of all records up to date.
CrypticRock.com – As you should be. The band really has developed themselves as you stated. In between the break of Thulcandra, you did in fact keep your other project Obscura going. Obscura has a vastly different sound. How important is it to you to have these two different outlets to write songs?
Steffen Kummerer – My musical background is broad and I love writing music from different musical dimensions. Personally, it is a good way keeping things in balance while working with a Prog Death Metal band such as Obscura and a pure Black and Death Metal group as Thulcandra. Both groups are separated as much as possible, but here and there you will hear who writes music as this is my handwriting so to say.
CrypticRock.com – Right, it is good to keep things balances and separate that way. You began with music as a pianist, what inspired him to pick up a guitar later on in life?
Steffen Kummerer – At the age of 10 I was accepted at a boarding school for music in Germany. Besides music theory and singing you had to choose between piano and violin to become you first instrument. Back then a piano seems to be the right decision. When I got into metal and especially later into Extreme Metal it was obvious that playing a piano on stage wouldn’t rule that much, so I picked up a guitar at the age of 16 and started from scratch learning the instrument. Thee ear and harmonic lessons from the early days especially helped a lot mastering the new instrument after a while.
CrypticRock.com – It is fantastic that you had that backbone of the piano to move forward with guitar. As mentioned, Thulcandra recently returned with their third studio album, tilted Ascension Lost. This is in fact the band’s first new album in four years. What was the writing and recording process like for this record?
Steffen Kummerer – The last records are clearly written differently. While 2011’s Under A Frozen Sun was composed before any song was played with an instrument, our new album was completely written on a gut-feeling; back to the core of songwriting in a Metal band I would say. The songs are based on strong riffs, not collages of four, up to six, guitar layers which brings the record a more direct and pure value. The Heavy Metal influences are pretty clear and some hints with orchestrations and more twin guitars break through the overall dark and gloomy songs and varies during the forty-five minutes effort.
Ascension Lost was the first full album being produced in my own studio facilities, Klangfabrik Landshut, a fully operating recording studio. Especially, the drum sound is pure Rock, barely edited, and not triggered. The idea was to catch the full performance and feeling of the songs without overproducing the record. To mix and master the album, we worked with longtime producer V. Santura at Woodshed Studios, Landshut, Germany. The whole record was pre-produced and written down on sheet music as a whole in my studio before we started with the process of recording. So besides a few leads, there are no experiments, just the songs we wrote in the way you will find them on the album.
CrypticRock.com – The record certainly stays true to your technical style. It is overall an extremely well-constructed piece from start to finish. When you go into a record, is the objective to make sure these tracks, while remaining distinct to one another, flow seamlessly as a cohesive piece of work?
Steffen Kummerer – Well, I do not see Thulcandra as a technical band at all. We try to play around with the dynamics on purpose. Songs as “Exalted Resistance” feel more brutal at first listen if you have a nice acoustic piece prior to the song. Also, the details such as orchestrations or synths within the leads brighten up the whole structure and let each song breath a bit more. I love forty-five to fifty-five minute long albums that keep you interested within the whole record, but also keep this half way through break for the vinyl lovers that came in the ’80s. It has to flow from one song to another to become an enjoyable record.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, those are the best type of records, no matter the genre. Thulcandra certainly seems to keep the cold and dark atmosphere of older style Melodic Black Metal alive. Do you feel that sensation is the essence of what makes a Black Metal record effective?
Steffen Kummerer – It is all about the right feeling and vibe. To gain this feeling you need, at first, good songs and lyrics, a fitting production, and, of course, the visual treatment for the album. We spent months working on all details, having everything done the way we imagined, so yes, the mentioned atmosphere is the essence of this music.
CrypticRock.com – That is clearly evident. It is refreshing to hear such a strong atmosphere on a Black Metal genre record such as this now a days. The band has a couple of live dates lined up in Europe, but are there plans to eventually tour abroad and perhaps hit North America?
Steffen Kummerer – We are currently looking for the right tour and of course touring partner. Since Thulcandra is not performing live a lot, we look for something special, a tour that is worth for every fan to visit. If it is Europe, South or North America – we would take on the offer if it fits. You have a few established festivals such as Maryland Deathfest inviting underground bands from Europe, perhaps this could be an option for the future as well.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of touring, in recent years you have also been active with Death’s Death to All Tour. What has this experience been like?
Steffen Kummerer – Being on the road with the band that made you picking up your guitar in the first place is special and an honor. I was invited for the first Death DTA tour in 2012, but had to cancel due to visa problems, which was a bummer. Fortunately, Eric Greif called me again and since then I was part of four tours, three in Europe, and one in South America. The musicians and the crew are fantastic people and every show feels special supporting the work and music of Chuck Schuldiner.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a truly amazing experience to be a part of. Now that Thulcandra’s new record is complete, will there be plans in the immediate future to rekindle some new material with Obscura?
Steffen Kummerer – I recently finished the pre-production of the new Obscura album. Watch out for some announcements and prepare your ears for some new and interesting music.
CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic news. Many will be excited to hear the new material. Seeing as you have been involved in music most of your life, what are some of your musical influences?
Steffen Kummerer – Besides the Death and Black Metal bands we talked about, I love old Prog Rock such as Camel, Mahavishnu Orchestra, World music, John Coltrane, Trip Hop, old Rock legends like Led Zeppelin and Van Halen, but also newer groups as Mastodon, Grand Magus or classic composers as Pärt, Schoenberg, Berg, and others.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a very good mix of music. It is wonderful to have a diverse taste in music and not limit yourself. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Steffen Kummerer – All of the Marvel Movies are pure Horror to me as a fan of the real deal ’80s and ’90s comics.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Take it you are not a fan a fan of the Marvel Comic films then. What type of films do you enjoy watching?
Steffen Kummerer – The marvel movies do not do justice to the original comics, it feels like the whole stories have been wrapped in the Hollywood popcorn package and filled with sugar. Some of the comics are not that happy ending positive than those movies went through. I enjoy movies that are out of the box, a bite more experimental and doesn’t follow the worn out schemes with the same story over and over again. Big Fish (2003), Bunny and the Bull (2009), Nothing (2003), and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) are fantastic. To switch my brain off after a long recording session also Married with Children or Futurama works fine.