Imagine you are part of a committee put together with the goal of creating and destroying a universe. You and a small group of colleagues are required to plan out each of the four steps along the way. How you want to create, evolve, influence, and, ultimately, destroy your creation is up to you.
Now, imagine that halfway through your 10-year planning process, some of your extremely talented colleagues up and leave to join other planning committees, leaving you to reassemble your universe with a new team.
Now, imagine trying to write music for this complex and challenging narrative you started over a decade ago.
That’s exactly the journey vocalist and guitarist Steffen Kummerer of Germany’s Obscura embarked upon, and with the release of the final album in a quartet the band kicked off with 2009’s Cosmogenesis, 2011’s Omnivium, and 2016’s Akróasis, he has shattered even the highest expectations.
Through all of this turmoil and intellectual rigor, Obscura have come out of their four-album cycle at their creative pinnacle. Diluvium—out July 13 via Relapse Records—is the band’s most complex, progressive, and immersive record to date, offering a whole host of sonic and thematic references to their past works. It’s the prog-death version of a director actually nailing the end of a cinematic universe, except this time, no money-hungry producer is going to exhume the creative corpse decades later for profit—or will they?
Kummerer has been the only constant in Obscura’s impressive creative run, and it’s a huge credit to his fortitude that the group have improved upon each of these four successive releases. For Diluvium, Kummerer acknowledges that he and the band had a lot of fun completing this cycle. “Actually, both at the same time. All of those four records are linked musically, but also especially in the lyrics,” he explains. “With Diluvium, it was really nice to put out the last piece of this. It took, like, 10 years. We started this in 2007, and some songs are older than that. Finishing everything was relieving and rewarding at the same time. It was a long journey, but at the same time, I’m just happy that we made it. You have four records with the same visual artist, four records with exactly the same producer, and I think we evolved from a death metal band with clear influences into something that I would call our own musical identity, so to say. I’m very happy with where we are now.”
Diluvium is a big step forward for a band who didn’t need to prove anything. Every ounce of progression is counterbalanced with a keener ear toward melody and musical might. Kummerer is appreciative and notes what he believes helps Obscura stand out. “What makes our band different from others in the genre is simply big choruses, in my opinion,” he shares. “This is what we elaborated in the Cosmogenesis record. I mean, the first song that was written was a song called ‘Incarnated,’ which has a musical melody that sticks in your head. Musical melodies and choruses can put even a very complex song in an easy-to-follow manner and makes it easier to digest as a listener. I think that’s a cool advantage we have as a band. If you go in a more macro look and see how complex some of the rhythms are—especially with [drummer] Sebastian Lanser, who is working with [all sorts of weird] patterns. It’s not buried, but at the same time, it’s easy to get if you just listen to it without analyzing it. This is not a coincidence, as it’s something I picked up from bands like Death and Cynic.”
Obscura work because they get what made those classic bands—like Death and Cynic—great, rather than trying to emulate their patterns and styles. It’s also the type of prog-tech music that works at a real visceral level, where the listener can feel the riffs and rhythms in their neck and gut without needing to stop and count along. This is metal, not math class—though, math is cool, stay in school.
There was an important element of self-study that helped put Diluvium over the top. “There are also a couple of easier-to-get songs on the record—like ‘The Seventh Aeon,’ as well as ‘The Conjuration’—which is a different aspect of the band and actually goes back to the early days, when we started as a blackened death metal band in 2002, 2003,” Kummerer says. “It’s kind of funny that, as a coincidence, we brought this back into the last record of this four-record cycle. We end where we started.”
This four-record cycle is not unlike the Ouroboros: the snake eats its own tail, everything ends where it begins. How much of that was on purpose? “Some pieces have been intentional; others have been evolving,” Kummerer notes. “When we started with this four-record concept, it was clear that we wanted to have four records, and we had a rough idea of what we are going to do and how we are going to do. At the same time, we had so much freedom to put what we wanted into those basic ideas. It’s very funny to go back to what we have done 10 years ago and relate to it, because you have a lot of mostly positive memories of this life cycle. These four albums represent a life cycle that is turning on and on again. There are so many Easter eggs put into it, musically and lyrically. For example, the very last chord on the last song on Diluvium, [‘A Last Farewell’], is the very first chord you hear on Cosmogenesis. Whatever ends with Diluvium begins with Cosmogenesis.”
Obscura are almost as notorious for their technical proficiency as they are for their love of infusing philosophy into their records. “[Diluvium] is dealing with the ultimate apocalypse. This is the life cycle that starts and ends and repeats itself,” Kummerer reveals. “This shall be the ultimate end of all ends, so to say. I wrote a couple of songs about how some witnesses might watch the whole procedure, especially the opening track, [‘Clandestine Stars.’] It’s about the end of all being and having the consciousness, being aware that you’re part of a never-ending cycle.”
“It’s more or less the end of all ends. It’s more black metal than any black metal band could ever be,” he laughs.
Much like Dr. Ray Stantz with Gozer the Gozerian, Kummerer was able to choose his destructor. “There’s a theory I read some years ago that everything is more or less dissolving in a big sea of elements into nothingness,” he recalls. “It’s a very interesting thought, and you can visualize it very well. At the same time, it’s connected to the second album in our cycle, Omnivium. That album is based on evolution with an underwater theme, so I thought connecting this with Diluvium with this big apocalyptic oceanic flood would be a perfect fit for an album title.”
All this begs the question: Does he ever want to make it easier on himself, to just write a simple song with little meaning? Why does Kummerer make it so hard on himself? “I can give you the simple answer: I’m a nerd,” he laughs. “If I wanted to write about driving a Mustang with two women and some beers, I might be able to do it, but it wouldn’t be something I could stand behind. For me, personally, there is a certain value I can offer by writing something I’m passionate about.”
“All our records deal with topics at three different levels: religion, astrophysics, and philosophy,” he continues, “Both Akróais and Diluvium are extremely agnostic. Inverted thoughts, like those anti-cosmic ideas, are in the lyrics. This is pretty dark, but it’s not very obvious. It’s not like somebody’s screaming, ‘Hail Satan!’ for the sake of it. It’s more in-depth and sublime.”
Even the most gnostic among us won’t be able to help but recognize the achievement that Obscura have completed, and like all things that must end, their cosmic quartet has only scratched the surface of what they are capable of.