Two decades is a damn long time to be doing anything. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, 20 years is a blip in human existence but, when you’re living the ins and outs of your daily life, that span of years can feel like most of a lifetime. Keeping with something and putting in the work necessary to not only hone your skills at your craft but to build a name for yourself within your world, that’s a lot of effort that needs to be sustained over years that present plenty of ups and downs. That being said, doing anything of value is worth the blood, sweat, and tears, and, if you ask Thulcandra’s legion of devoted fans, the reward for the years of toil that the band has put into their craft has certainly not been for naught.
Formed in 2003, German melodic black metallers Thulcandra have been building an impressive following over four high quality releases. From the 2010 debut, Fallen Angel’s Dominion, through 2021’s excellent A Dying Wish, Thulcandra has proven itself as one of the more consistent bands in the melodic black metal scene. Now, on the eve of their latest LP, Hail the Abyss, releasing May 19, Thulcandra looks to keep the hot streak alive. I recently caught up with vocalist/guitarist Steffen Kummerer to chat about his band’s history and their upcoming record.
First off, how did Thulcandra get started? How did that first lineup meet and what made you want to start a black metal band together?
Steffen: Thulcandra has been born as a band featuring Obscura members to channel all ideas that related towards a more melodic and black metal alley. We all knew each other and worked on developing our very own version of [the] Swedish black and death metal we grew up with in the late ’90s. At the time, no one was listening to this particular music anymore, we have been far away from any trend and just worked on music we all admire. Thulcandra was founded back in 2003.
What got you into extreme metal in the first place and who are some of the bigger influences for this band?
Steffen: We became fans first, and started to play our respective instruments later. We all started at around 14 to 16 and made our first steps in either Obscura or Thulcandra. The development of both bands show the path the involved musicians went as well. We started from scratch and kept going all the years and still release music with both bands and play shows internationally. For Thulcandra, Dissection, Unanimated, and Sacramentum have been the biggest influences since day one.
What’s the music writing process like for the band? Has it changed at all over the years as members have come and gone?
Steffen: Usually both guitarists work on demos while the entire band works on final arrangements. Sometimes we shared lyrics, sometimes not, it changed through the years and featured all members that have been part of the band in some form. Every idea was welcome and we worked as a collective on the five records, two EPs, and the demo. It feels naturally and healthy to give everyone a certain freedom to contribute.
What’s the lyric writing process like? What kind of themes do you like to explore with your lyrics and is there anything in particular that you turn to for inspiration?
Steffen: Each album has been different. Ascension Lost has been a full concept album based on classic literature, while the debut album and our second effort have been collections of various themes. Everything can be part of a record, we are not bound to anything.
You guys have released four killer full-lengths, with a fifth one on the way. How do you feel the band has grown and evolved throughout making these records? Is it harder to make records now with the experience behind you or more difficult since you don’t want to repeat yourself?
Steffen: With years of experience in studios and during live shows, we work more focused on recordings and also writing music than in the beginning. We made clear what kind of musical style we follow since founding the band in 2003. Nothing [has] changed and nothing will change. We perform the music we enjoy, not what people want to hear. Being that confident of what we are creating, we lean back and let the metal flow.
The most recent record, A Dying Wish, was another great release that fits in perfectly into the discography. What was the writing/recording process like for that one? Two years on, are you still happy with the record or is there anything you’d change?
Steffen: There are always parts you would like to change after the release of an album. Still, A Dying Wish turned out excellent and had been well received by fans and press alike. The album was long in the making and ultimately has been written through some tragedy of the band that shines through every time I listen to the record. Our late bassist, Christian Kratzer, passed away caused by an accident. This turned into some dark and honest music and lyrics on the record.
What can you tell me about the new album, Hail the Abyss? How was the writing/recording process for that one? What can fans expect from album number five?
Steffen: We worked once again with Dan Swanö (Dissection, Opeth, Bloodbath) and recorded in the same studios in our area, Klangfabrik Landshut and Five Lakes Studios Munich. Basically with the same setup as for A Dying Wish, we focused more on dynamics and worked on faster but [also] especially slower tempos. We worked a bit more with choirs and a string ensemble to underline the broader approach to gain different vibes within the whole album. The whole record turned out to be very diverse with each song standing on its own. No song sounds like the other but still the band’s sound shines through. I love the record and we are all proud of what we have created.
With the new record, were you trying to build off A Dying Wish or take things in a new direction? How much does the previous record tend to influence the band when preparing for the next record?
Steffen: A Dying Wish opened a door towards more slower and heavy music. Especially the title track turned out to become a fan-favorite, which came as a surprise to us. The blend of classic heavy metal, twin guitars, and black metal hasn’t been anything new. Still, within Thulcandra we found out those ideas fit very well with our uptempo and aggressive compositions to show a certain contrast during the 50-min album. In a way, A Dying Wish influenced the new record, that is correct.
What’s the inspiration, lyrically and musically, behind the first single from that new album “As I Walk Through the Gateway?” It definitely has got me stoked for the full album!
Steffen: The song has been based on a classic songwriting concept to feature different melodies, themes, that see a repetition in various forms and combinations. The whole composition has been thought out and has been composed from scratch with the intention to show a rather classic note, spiced up with galloping riffs as contrast. While the thrashy attitude pushes forward, the melodic approach feels rather fragile and sensitive. With both contrasts we play during the arrangement which turned out into a nice song on the record, and within a live setting.
The cover for the new record is really striking as well and it breaks from the more blue themed covers you’ve had before. Was that a conscious change? Who did the cover and how much direction did you give them?
Steffen: Once again we worked with Herbert Lochner, who also created the artwork for our previous album, A Dying Wish. We wanted to keep his style and vibe within the band and work on a long term basis with Herbert. The cover still features our beloved colors, but we spiced up the logo with some gold to work with some contrasts here as well. Since the most limited vinyl releases of Thulcandra are produced in gold, this was a conscious move to keep the feeling and overall impression of the band.
Being that you guys have been at this for some time, how do you keep a healthy band dynamic? When there have been openings in the band, what do you look for in a potential member?
Steffen: Persons change every now and then, the band stays. Thulcandra has been around for more than 20 years and within this time, the lives of each member [have] made some turns, changed and moved. Sometimes decisions in life make it impossible to keep an active band going, especially with regular shows, releases, and rehearsals. Performing music well has been only one part of being in a band, a fitting character shows the second part. You need to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise this band might not be the right group of people for you.
What’s your local scene like? Is it pretty active and do you feel that it has had an effect on growing and shaping the band, either positively or negatively?
Steffen: Within Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, as well as the Czech Republic, our scene offers a wide variation of talented musicians and bands. Thulcandra is based in Munich, southern Germany, which seems very close to the mentioned countries. Aside from the bands, there are uncounted venues, clubs, and festivals to play shows and a healthy and strong metal scene overall. Without this environment, our band would have never left the rehearsal room.
Lastly, what’s next for Thulcandra? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Steffen: We work on more shows in North America and Europe to promote Hail The Abyss and prepare re-releasing all records on vinyl through our label, Napalm Records. The demand becomes bigger year by year, and we are grateful for the massive support of our loyal fanbase. More to come, so watch out.
Photo at top: Hail the Abyss album cover. The album is out May 19th!