Beast in Black – Elegant PerseveranceThursday, 2nd November 2017
The taste of success often can have bittersweet ramifications. Especially when as the main songwriter of a group, you find that personal and business difficulties come into focus, soon ousting you from said group just as the band reaches headlining status. Such is the case for guitarist Anton Kabanen, who many should be familiar with if you’ve listened to Battle Beast for any number of years. He would be the driving creative force behind the band’s first three albums – only to leave the band in early 2015.
While Battle Beast continues with new members and their latest record, Anton also assembled a fresh lineup of musicians to develop Beast in Black. Guitarist Kasperi Heikkinen used to be in U.D.O., while bassist Mate Molnar comes from Wisdom. Drummer Sami Hänninen and vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos round out the quintet – and their debut album Berserker continues the bombastic, catchy heavy metal that Anton established in the past. There are patches of synth-pop/triumphant strains too that may push people into Sabaton as well, but rest assured that if you’ve loved Anton’s work during the Battle Beast period, there’s nothing to steer you wrong here.
Shortly before the release of the debut record, we spoke with Anton about his sudden departure from Battle Beast, the recording sessions behind Berserker, his love of 80’s synth pop and how he incorporates this into Beast in Black, and his affinities for Japanese manga.
Dead Rhetoric: Your dismissal from Battle Beast came as a shock to most listeners. Looking back, were there signs that something was going wrong, and how long did it take for you to pick up the pieces to develop Beast in Black?
Anton Kabanen: Yeah, there were signs, for a long time actually. In the beginning of 2014 it really started, the strongest push to the bad direction started then. To (keep) it short, one of the main themes we were arguing about were the rights to the band name- who would have the rights. And when it started in early 2014 that lasted until the very end of the year. Because of that, at some point I realized that this road was going to end, because I didn’t get the rights to it myself. There was a lot of pressure from their side that I don’t really want to go into details about, it doesn’t make any difference now- but because of that I knew it will end- and I asked myself what I wanted to do after this. Did I want to continue with some different kind of music or continue within metal? It felt natural to continue with the same kind of heavy metal that I’ve been doing so far. I haven’t said nearly all the things I wanted to say with this music.
In February 2015, the last show with me in Battle Beast was done- so I had to think about who I wanted to join the new band. Sami, the drummer, contacted me and wanted to play in this band. Mate the bass player, he was looking for a new guitar player for his band which is Wisdom, at the same time I needed a bass player. He has been a friend of mine from a couple of years back, so we decided to help each other out. And Kasperi, the guitar player I’ve known since 2010. A few years after I met him, we became buddies and at some point I asked him to join this band- he was the first guitarist I asked and he agreed, even though he was playing in the German metal band U.D.O. at the time. That was his priority, but he agreed, and the team was born and formed quite fast. Yannis the singer, I came across him on YouTube in 2014- we’ve kept in touch through the internet. When I first met him in 2015 I asked him if he wanted to start this project I would be starting, and he agreed. It happened quite fast, because most of the guys in the band are friends who I knew from the past. And I had the idea of forming a new band long before it took place.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between what your songwriting was like in Battle Beast and how you’ve developed the sound of Beast in Black?
Kabanen: Songwriting-wise, I don’t really see that much of a difference to be honest. It’s hard for me to hear the songs like others hear them. I hear them from inside so to speak, because the ideas for the songs come from my mind and I never truly think of things objectively. This is my style and they don’t feel that different. I would just say the biggest differences are in the band members themselves- their personalities can also be heard on the album, especially in terms of the singer. This is a male singer, that is the biggest difference compared to the past, as I’ve worked with two great female singers. I appreciate them as singers, Nitte and Noora are great singers, but this time there is a great male singer and it’s very different, a fresh thing for me to hear for the music that I wrote. The band members bring the biggest difference, not the songwriting itself.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for Berserker? Were there any specific challenges or surprises that came up or you had to work through that resulted in an even stronger outcome?
Kabanen: (There were) quite many challenges, but it’s mostly boring, technical stuff in the studio. I produced the album in my own studio and the recording process took over the time span of two years. Most of the actual recordings happened in the summer of last year and ended at the end of the year. Before that we had recorded some bits and pieces of some keyboard stuff, it was a long process and we couldn’t do things in one session. One guy would come to the studio to do his parts, then there would be something else happening in my life, not just the band stuff. There would be breaks, then a month later the singer would come in. The bass player recorded his parts in Hungary, in his home studio and he sent me the files.
The songwriting – it’s always been the same thing since the very first album of Battle Beast. I have this method of choosing the songs in the library or catalog of songs I have over the years. From those songs, and there are hundreds of songs, I choose thirty-ish songs. Then we will listen to those songs with the band members and they will tell me from those songs which ones we will work on for the album. Even so, while we are thinking of the songs and starting the recordings, at the same time I keep writing new songs- as that’s kind of what I like doing the most. At some point, I realize the new song that I wrote I think it must be on the new album, so then we have to think about what song to remove from the album. It’s difficult to answer how and from what time period the songs come from. One song on the album is eight years old – it was written in 2009. The music video song “Blind and Frozen”, it’s a hybrid of a part that’s five or six years old, but the chorus is brand new, that was written in 2016.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the video for “Blind and Frozen”- as it seems to feature a damsel in distress storyline beyond the band performance footage? Do you enjoy the video medium, given the bombastic and symphonic/power nature of the band’s material?
Kabanen: Yes, the whole video I’m very proud of. It’s something meaningful, the lyrics are something to which I think many people can relate to. It’s a story of lost love, and there are about a billion songs about lost love in the world, but it’s still with the visuals, something that looks beautiful. It was one of the major pieces of advice we gave to the director because nowadays there is so much sex and bombastic stuff – not really like this romantic and beauty. I wanted this elegant beauty, and I think it worked out well. I didn’t even choose the song myself to be the single- my band members, manager, friends, all said that this song had the potential to be a number one single. So we chose that, and the preparations began to shoot the video with myself and the director to figure out how the visual story would develop out of the lyrics, which are very personal. You have to amplify the visual side of it. I don’t live in a castle or anything like that- and that’s one of the appeals in metal, you have to overdramatize things to make them larger than life sometimes. It worked out very well, we are very happy about the results- and people seem to like it. We never expected this kind of response and feedback to the video.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did the development of the 80’s style synth parts come up? It’s definitely a prominent feature in songs like “Born Again” and “Crazy, Mad, Insane”…
Kabanen: I’ve always loved that stuff since I was a kid- it didn’t really manifest that clearly into my songwriting until the third Battle Beast album with the song “Touch in the Night”. When I was a kid I watched a lot of old cartoons, movies, and listened to the music of the 80’s and 90’s, and that is where it derives from. So in the song “Touch in the Night”, I decided to put those synth pop keyboards/disco elements in and see how it works out. Metal people were freaking out, some of my friends they almost shut their stereo off when they heard that song, was I serious? I was serious, I like this kind of stuff- but don’t worry, there is still metal on there. And now after three years I look at the views on the video and I’m surprised it became a very popular song. I decided to continue the tradition with this- for example with “Crazy, Mad, Insane” that is the equivalent (to that song) on the Beast in Black (album). But that is the limit- only one or two songs maximum which are very heavily synth-pop songs to be on a record, we are a heavy metal band. If I (was) going to make a full-album of synth-pop style music, I’d do a new side project for that besides this band.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a preference when it comes to the studio versus stage? And what can the fans expect when Beast in Black perform in a live situation?
Kabanen: Personally, I would choose the studio over performing live, because songwriting is my biggest passion and has always been as long as I remember. As far as the second part of your question, I would say you can expect a great heavy metal show. We are very much anticipating and excited to be touring with W.A.S.P. across Europe. One of the reasons is because W.A.S.P. is one of the main influences when it comes to the band for Beast in Black- a legendary 80’s band that I’ve always looked up to very much. All the albums. It’s a great match in our opinion- it makes it a stronger impact when you have this kind of heavy metal package that tours together. Both the fans and the people will get two bands that are playing more or less with the same rules so to speak.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you become attracted to Japanese manga – and do you see a connection these days between anime and heavy metal?
Kabanen: I don’t necessarily see a connection between anime and heavy metal but to know it for Berserk, the anime and heavy metal comic, was through a very close friend of mine who introduced this to me in 2006. It deals with such themes to which all the people can relate to. It’s something real, the manga is a mirror to people and the story/songs are a mirror when there is something in it that the people can relate to. The manga deals with fulfilling your dreams, camaraderie, betrayal, love, perseverance, finding yourself and asking yourself who you are, what do you want from this life, and where are you heading- do you have a purpose. All these things are an essential part to this manga, I can relate to these themes and they are very important. It’s a pleasure to write songs about it because I can feel these things- and many other people can as well. A good manga and a good song are mirrors for millions of people- that’s the bottom line. We are reflecting what people feel.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it feel like you are starting over again – or do you feel that your previous work with Battle Beast gives you stronger appeal versus most newcomers?
Kabanen: It feels in a way that I am starting over, but there is this basis of course. We have contacts for which it was easier to start over. In a way, I feel that this is the fourth Battle Beast album, so to speak. Like I said earlier, I wanted to continue to do this type of music and that’s why I continue in the same vision, even if that previous road has ended. The most important thing is that what you do comes from the heart, and I’ve always felt that music is what I want to do. With this group of people, we want to play the music, go out on stage and play live- we like each other and the chemistry is good. It gives us all the more reason to do this, be motivated in doing this. When they hear the album, and see the live shows, the band will live because of that- not because of my past like this is the guy from Battle Beast. They will be sincerely interested in the music that’s put out now, the atmosphere that we convey to the audience.
Dead Rhetoric: What can the fans expect from Beast in Black over the next six to twelve months?
Kabanen: A lot of shows, and when we are not going to play shows, we will be working on new material. Work, work, work- there is too much music that needs to be recorded. Until that, we will be doing many shows- one or two tours after this first tour, summer festivals, Europe- maybe somewhere else as well. We want to get into North America for sure- it’s a dream come true. It needs to be done at some point, we want to tour the whole world, step by step- when we see the chance we will take it. It’s only a matter of time, it will happen quite soon based on how things are going now. I don’t think people will have to wait too long, hopefully within the next year or two years.