Beast in Black – Open Your Heart

Tuesday, 29th January 2019

Bursting onto the scene through their debut album Berserker, Beast in Black combine heavy metal and power influences along with a healthy affinity for the outlook, songwriting, and melodies of the 1980’s. Their follow-up From Hell with Love amplifies that passion – it’s obvious through many of the songs that everything from movie soundtracks to bands such as Accept, Bon Jovi, Europe, and W.A.S.P. float through the songwriting and playing. According to guitarist/songwriter Anton Kabanen – it’s all about how you combine these influences and put your own spin on things to make it your own.

Ready to tackle their first European headlining tour run, we reach out to Anton who is happy to dig deeper into his songwriting philosophy, the importance of band chemistry to accomplishing what you want for a musical career, his love of Titanic – and of course a lot of talk about anime, cartoons, and what fans can expect in the future for Beast in Black.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s quite obvious on the second Beast in Black album From Hell with Love you’ve upped the melodic hook and 80’s-oriented influences. Tell us about the development of this material and what you wanted to achieve to expand or broaden the horizons of the band?

Anton Kabanen: That’s kind of a difficult question – because we didn’t have, and I didn’t specifically have, this musical aim with this album. A lot of people have underlined the fact that it’s very 80’s driven- but we didn’t aim to make it very 80’s driven. For most of my songs, that’s 80’s element comes without saying, but when we were choosing the songs we didn’t think the wholeness of the album would sound that strongly like the 80’s. It ended up still being like that. As long as the album sounds good, that’s okay. There wasn’t any super aim to make super cheesy, 80’s material or have it be very aggressive, soft, or keyboard driven. We don’t think like that – we treat every song as an individual thing and in the listening process the songs just give you a certain feeling and you start to like the songs. Then you want that song on the album, and you end up with a collection of songs that are From Hell with Love.

Dead Rhetoric: When you look at the larger than life choruses and keyboard spots through songs like “True Believer” and “Die by the Blade”, what do you apply from the 80’s/older acts that maybe helps you put a different spin on things today? Because you obviously are listening and influenced from a fresh perspective than someone who grew up during those years…

Kabanen: Since I was a child, I’ve always listened to 80’s and 90’s music. As early as I can remember, like the cartoons that I used to watch as a kid – He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Biker Mice from Mars, the opening themes from those cartoons were great. I loved that, and that has had some influence on me. When writing the material – basically until this very day, the influences are there in one way or another in my mind. As a songwriter, in the writing process stuff comes out from the subconscious, and usually the stuff is what I consider good myself. It just happens to be that there is so much from the 80’s and 90’s, that when writing a song like “Die by the Blade” for example I don’t think about trying to copy a certain other 80’s song. Songwriting is more of a listening process to me. When you have something ringing in your mind, you write it down, and then you listen to that melody again and again – you start to think about what to build around it. It needs flesh on the bones, but it should happen naturally.

In the end when it’s ready, sometimes it happens that I realize afterwards, I know where the inspiration or where this musical theme or riff came from. But not during the writing process- I rarely am that conscious or certain of musical references and where they are coming from. That keeps things very natural when you don’t think about it too much. Whatever comes natural is usually good- the stuff they play on the radio, lots of it is from the 80’s. There is a reason for that- those songs stood the test of time. It means there are musical elements in those songs that speak to people regardless of what decade it is. They are evergreen – and people listen to Beast in Black thinking about the fact that there’s something familiar and comfortable to that. There is also something fresh, and the freshness comes from combining those influences. It should be crafted carefully, and that comes with time. Songwriting is also a thing that you have to practice- you can’t just decide one day even if you are a great musician that you are going to be a great songwriter. You have to practice that as well as you practice your instrument.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about the special covers you did for this special edition with the Motörhead song “Killed By Death” and the Robert Tepper song “No Easy Way Out”?

Kabanen: “Killed By Death” was actually our bass player’s (Mate Molnar) idea. To make a cover of that, I knew that song as well since I was a kid, and I liked the original song as well. We decided to have that, and “No Easy Way Out”- Yannis and I talked about this more than two years ago. We wanted to cover that song, the time was right, and we needed a couple of cover songs. All of the other members of the band love that song, it’s a great song from the 80’s and it’s from one of the best soundtracks in movie history with Rocky IV. An amazing soundtrack itself, and that one song is one of the best songs from that soundtrack.

Dead Rhetoric: How did your Italian friend Paolo Ribaldini become involved with lyrical help on the record as you cover another favorite anime series Fist of the North Star for the opener “Cry Out for a Hero”? Down the line, could you imagine yourself composing a soundtrack for an anime movie or series?

Kabanen: In 2006 I really became a fan of Berserk and I thought about writing some songs that would relate to that. But also Fist of the North Star, I’ve been a fan of that series since 2008. He is also a fan of both of those, it was great to write together about a topic that both of us are interested in.

Dead Rhetoric: I also heard that you have been very careful when it came to specific words and themes fit right – down to the correct pronunciation and syllables – for this release this time around…

Kabanen: I have always been careful with that since the beginning. It is a fine thing when it comes to vocal lines – you have to be careful with that, you cannot be clumsy. Even if English is not my native language, I want to be correct with it. The correct places to stress the words, and which vowel you have to stress first. Stuff like that- sometimes you have to make changes as well because of artistic reasons. Some of the time I want to keep it natural, and that takes time. When you have something that you want to say, a story – but then there’s the melody that puts these restrictions syllable-wise, then you have to try to say the thing you wanted to say in a certain amount of syllables. You try to figure out different words to try to summarize the thing you wanted to say. It’s always challenging but somehow it ends up working out. I think hard work is the answer as well- you just have to focus and keep on working on something until it’s complete and you are satisfied.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video shoot for “Sweet Little Lies” – it seems like the band had a lot of fun with the synchronized stage moves and the narrative sequences in the club, conveying again a lot of your personalities in the track…

Kabanen: Yes, “Sweet Little Lies” that song, it was obviously 80’s. Even when you listen to it, you knew the music video has to be represent itself visually from that decade as well. It was a great shoot – and it was organized well and we have a great team. The director Ville and the production manager Patrik, they are a super team. We love working with them. This happened in one or two days, the whole thing- the acting parts and the music video shoot.

It worked out well because the preparations were done correctly. It was a new experience for us – we wanted to do something different compared to “Blind and Frozen”, this is a totally different music video. We didn’t want to repeat that, so every time we do a music video, we want to give something for the fans, and something new from Beast in Black’s perspective. There’s lots of music videos that have similarities to “Sweet Little Lies”, but from our side it’s something very new. It still has this Beast in Black touch to it- which is very important because that’s like your signature as a unit when you do songs and music videos. There’s something that should make you different from others, even if you are in the same genre of music.

Dead Rhetoric: You went on a series of tours with W.A.S.P., Rhapsody, and Nightwish among others to support the debut record. What did you learn more while being on the road with these bands that you were able to apply to Beast in Black either from a professionalism/work ethic standpoint or regarding the live performance aspects?

Kabanen: A very good question because I’ve never thought about it consciously like that. On every tour there are a nuances that you learn. The most important thing on any tour is to always have the band chemistry. That’s the core of it all. If there’s something wrong there, then it’s hard to imagine how you can continue touring and developing your band to grow up. The most important thing is maintaining great band chemistry. It’s what I’ve learned the most in this band, and my previous band Battle Beast. You need to have that in balance.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess the development of the band at this point? Do you believe you are about where you expected to be in terms of establishing Beast in Black as its own entity, separate from your work in Battle Beast?

Kabanen: We had no expectations. We do what we do and hope for the best. Nobody expected us to go out this well since the debut album. Now we just hope that we can continue growing and establishing a bigger fanbase all around the world. We have to tour in parts of the world where we still haven’t toured. It always takes a lot of work and organization, but that’s why we are here. We love what we do, and since people have received us so well, we want to keep the flame burning so to speak. Life’s too short for plan B’s and all that kinds of stuff. There’s nothing wrong with plan B’s, but when you are doing something, you better do something 100% and with your full heart.

Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about Anton the person outside of being a songwriter, musician, and leader for Beast in Black?

Kabanen: My favorite movie is Titanic and my favorite song is “My Heart Will Go On”. Maybe that’s a shocker for some people. I love cooking for example. I don’t think I’ve left it unsaid that I love cartoons and stuff like that. In my free time I like watching old cartoons, reading books, and cook food – watch Titanic every now and then.

Dead Rhetoric: You are going to be doing a headline tour across Europe soon after the album’s release. Are you surprised by how quickly you’ve been able to move up to those ranks two albums in, and what can the fans expect from Beast in Black in a headlining capacity that may be harder to deliver in a shorter festival or opening slot setting?

Kabanen: The headline tour is a challenge for us – but a challenge every band should accept and take if they want to build a career. Ticket sales have been great – and it will be a powerful package that we are going to deliver. About a 90-minute set – and we are going to play the debut album and this second album almost in their entirety. We have to think of more stuff to do to entertain the crowds in a headlining show. You don’t want to repeat too many of the same elements.

On a shorter show, you have certain choreography. We have to think about physically how to move and how to interact with the audiences. Thinking of new visual things- but the most important thing is still every minute that you are on stage – make it count. Be happy, enjoy it, play the songs correctly and let people see that the band is enjoying what they do. They are already powered up with positive energy from that, it doesn’t always require more magic tricks or special effects. They want to see the real human connection, something warm and not just a job to go there and play, emotion-less. These guys like what they do, they are on fire. That causes something within the audience to make them enjoy the show with full hearts.

We will always think of something small, little surprises to try to make those happen in headlining shows. Festival shows are a bit easier because they are shorter- a headline tour is more stressful from the working perspective, with more organization, more equipment, more expenses. It’s all part of the package of being in a band. And you have to be ready for all kinds of tours and gigs.

Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to sit down and have a dinner conversation with a set of musicians, past or present, who would you include at your dinner table and what would the conversation consist of?

Kabanen: James Horner. He is the guy who wrote Braveheart and Titanic soundtracks. I would talk about anything, not necessarily music. What he likes to do, how he lives, what kind of hobbies he has apart from flying on a plane. I know he loves that he loves to fly- that’s also how he died. In California he was flying a small plane and it crashed. I would talk about anything – I’ve watched a lot of interviews from him and he seems like he has a very warm personality, very honest and open about things when he talks.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the most challenging aspect for Beast in Black to tackle or overcome? How do you balance the music and business activities within the group?

Kabanen: In the beginning, business is always tricky. You want to grow, but there’s not that much money and you still have to invest to make some kind of impact. You don’t want to go with half-power. The most important thing is the band chemistry – when everyone is pulling in the same direction. All the challenges from that can be conquered- it has to be a strong unit. Anything that we have come across we have dealt with and overcome the challenges. It gives you this pleasure that we did it, we made it, we took another step forward in some area and that motivates us to carry on, no matter what comes next.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months shaping up for Beast In Black or any other music-related activities you may be pursuing?

Kabanen: Hopefully many, many gigs. There are already are lots of gigs coming up, but the more the merrier. Whenever there is free time, personally I hope we can start to think and prepare for the third album. Recordings, choose the songs, stuff like that. Life’s too short- it may sound corny, but it is. We don’t want to waste time, if we can make an album sooner than later, then it’s great. We want to use the time wisely.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think bands these days spend too much time working on material and releasing less albums because the touring market has changed things around for where bands make their most money?

Kabanen: It depends what kind of album you are working on and your goals. I can’t speak for other bands because my personal passion is songwriting. I would love to record as many albums as possible in this lifetime. Other bands maybe the biggest passion is to go on tour and play as many gigs as possible instead of recording as much music as possible. It depends on what your main motives are.

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