Most über-drummers are obsessed with complexity and precision. Hannes Grossman, the wunderkind from tech-death band Obscura, is no different. New release Omnivium offers plenty of both.
Grossmann’s goal for the sophomore album, however, was to play less. That might be a cliché of conventional drumming wisdom, but it’s downright radical in a style of music where overplaying is the norm.
“I just had the impression that on [2009 debut] Cosmogenesis I played as much as possible,” he says on the phone from Nuremburg. “I think if you play like that all the time, integrating cymbals everywhere, playing wild fills, very often they lose their meaning. If you want to put in a very fast pattern within some slow patterns and not overdo certain fills, then those patterns can stand out a little better. So that’s what I tried to do.”
Don’t worry. Omnivium – produced in Munich by V. Santura of black-metallers Tryptikon and lyrically based on the works of 19th century philosopher Friedrich Schelling – has virtuosity out the wazoo. A key difference is that Grossmann’s chops now feel essential rather than decorative. Omnivium is also more melodic, and perhaps looser, or as loose as it can be in the band’s intricate set pieces. “I focused especially on micro-timing,” he says in pedagogue-speak. “For every different part I tried to find out what’s the right timing: Playing ahead, exactly on with the group, or slightly back, and if I need to make a little more swing or that kind of feeling. So in certain parts of the album, you can maybe recognize that I play a little more laidback, and that’s very intentional.”
No need for the band members to use a click: Grossman is the metronome. And with the sharp tempo changes throughout Omnivium, they had to be on their toes. “The guitars have to match not the pace of the click but my drumming,” he says “But on the other hand when [the song] is going into the next part, which might be jazz beat or that kind of stuff, it’s always better to play more in front of the beat because you want to get going. How can you play a blastbeat laidback?”
You can’t, and Hannes doesn’t. While Cosmogenesis averaged slightly faster tempos, Omnivium tracks “Prismal Dawn” and “Aevum” are each 250 bpm (125 in the groove sections) and the blast section of “A Transcendental Serenade” hits 260 – a personal best.
Elsewhere, Grossman gets polyrhythmic when he can. The track “Celestial Spheres” features a 6/8 but he plays it as a 3/4. “It’s not really a very complex modulation,” he explains. “It’s actually pretty easy, but I try to put the high accent on weird countings because I want to get away from the typical heavy-metal phrasing where everything is on the down beat.”
The stylistic anomalies that make Obscura unique in metal – or even within the tech-death subgenre – are precisely what bring out the haters. The use of an Auto-Tune-esque filter on Steffen Kummerer’s vocals might send most metal dudes running for the exits, but within Obscura’s baroque song structures the result is oddly beautiful, a kind of robotic Gregorian chant. “Younger people don’t want to hear clean vocals anymore and that’s just weird because I grew up with clean vocals,” he explains. “And there shouldn’t be any boundaries to this kind of music because it’s not very commercial anyway. Why would I care about some fans who don’t like that kind of singing? Maybe it means we sell a hundred less records to the U.S. [laughs] I don’t know.”
Grossmann became obsessed with drums by age 12. As a teen he received private instructions from Donnie MacKay, a Canadian living in Nuremburg who turned his young charge onto jazz, fusion, Latin, and other non-Euro traditions. “He obviously came from this American system and that’s pretty much an advantage,” Grossmann explains. “I wasn’t into that kind of music school where you just learn, like, the snare drum for three years. In Germany it’s kind of conservative with musical education.”
At 18, he didn’t see music as a career so he went away to university and got a masters in economics. “In America companies hire you because you are good at something,” he says, “but in Germany they are more interested that you have a title or diploma.”
During his studies, he landed in Necrophagist. The German death-metal band has a cult following, but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere at the time. (Indeed, 2004’s Epitaph, featuring Hannes’ parts, is still the most recent album.) That’s when he met the guys in Obscura and they discovered a mutual love of challenging, eclectic music. For example, Obscura bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling is hugely influenced by flamenco.
Grossman doesn’t fancy touring 365/24/7 just to pay rent, so teaching is an additional source of income. “A lot of my students are pretty advanced so I end up learning things from them too,” he adds cheerfully. A self-produced instructional DVD comes out later this month, and if that’s not enough to keep him busy there’s Blotted Science, an instrumental supergroup in which, incidentally, both Derek Roddy and Chris Adler used to drum. No matter what happens, Grossman will always take pride in the fact that Marco Minnemann, one of the über-est of über-drummers, had to fill Hannes’ shoes after he left Necrophagist. “Obviously he is a great drummer and so we said ’Hey, give it a try,’” Grossman recalls. “He said ’Wow, it’s good metal. I always wanted to do something like that.’ But yeah, that was cool.”