Beast In Black – A Cyberpunk ConnectionTuesday, 16th November 2021
Elevating themselves quickly as favorites in the melodic power metal field, Beast in Black issues a third album with Dark Connection that features a lot of affinity for 80’s sci-fi/cyberpunk movies as well as continuing the anime / cartoon appreciation established throughout their career. Also engaging stronger keyboard/synthesizer elements while not forgetting the catchy guitar hooks and soaring vocal melodies that have been trademarks from the start, it’s obvious the band do not feel content to rest on their creative laurels.
We caught up with guitarist/composer Anton Kabanen once again, who thoughtfully handled my questions once again through a recent Skype chat. You’ll learn more about the extensive video work for the record that went hand in hand with the album creation, thoughts on songwriting, favorite composers, future goals/challenges to build the band, and plans for massive touring over the next few years.
Dead Rhetoric: The third album from Beast in Black is Dark Connection. You freely admit that this record contains the most multi-layered synthesizers for a Beast in Black album. How do you maintain a balance with filling the sound between the natural instrumentation for the band, serve the needs of the songs, and hopefully satisfy the desires of what fans have come to know, love and expect from Beast in Black?
Anton Kabanen: It’s actually really simple. You just have to do what you like for yourself. You have to trust your own creative instincts, what resonates within you in that moment when you are working on a song. Just do it, whatever you hear in your head. Like a really strong keyboard riff or a specific sound that you want in there, that’s it. I believe when you do everything honestly in art and you really care about it, then people can sense it and they also care about it. That’s how I’ve always worked. You have to stand behind your creations 100%.
It’s a difficult thing to explain really. There are so many approaches how to break down the songwriting process. There are so many parts to it, and layers.
Dead Rhetoric: Has it reached a point with the use of keyboards to hire a keyboardist for the live shows?
Kabanen: No, we have a solution for that. It’s not a real keyboard player, let me put it this way. We have something in the making, regarding the live shows and the keyboard element.
Dead Rhetoric: You also mention that the best songs can be stripped down to an essence at base level with an acoustic guitar and piano. Is this how you stockpile initial ideas on both the musical hook and vocal melody platforms to build out for Beast in Black songs? Which songs on the new album do you believe came to you the easiest because of this philosophy?
Kabanen: Sometimes songs are born like that, but I don’t have a strict method. A song can be born while you take a stroll in the town, you hear something in your head and alright, there is the melody. You don’t necessarily need an instrument with you in order to compose. Sometimes when you grab an instrument, the idea starts to speak to you and the melody works to go in the direction that you feel it wants to go in. For example, the chorus of “Broken Survivors” was born like that. I grabbed an acoustic guitar and played it, and in one minute the chorus was written. I can’t remember how minutes, but it was quite instant. I heard that melody in my head and I had to play it out, enjoy how it sounds and refine a few notes. That’s not a rule to write always with an instrument. What I meant by that, songs to be stripped down, no matter how they are composed, always in Beast in Black songs you can find that essence in all of our songs, the main theme and melody, the chorus or main riff. Many of those things which work on that basic level, even if the song wasn’t born with an acoustic guitar or piano.
On the debut album, one example out of many, the riff of “End of the World”, the keyboard riff or brass ensemble part, that was composed while I was driving in my car in Helsinki. Just in the head, and it still works as a melody without being composed with a guitar or piano.
Dead Rhetoric: “Moonlight Rendezvous” is the first single/video for the new album. Was this the logical first choice to preview the record, and how do you think the video shoot went? Was this a collaborative effort between the director/ film crew and the band to get what you most wanted visually to capture?
Kabanen: The song was one of the most obvious choices as the first single, because it has all the Beast in Black trademarks. A heavy riff, a catchy and big chorus, great singing from Yannis (Papadopoulos) as he chose different colors of his voice, the guitar solos, plenty of keyboards. But there is also this really long intro, which we hadn’t done earlier, and that intro sounds retro/futuristic in the soundscape. It fits to the cyberpunk theme, and it strengthened the choice to be the first single. It was a huge collaboration with the director/writer Katri Ilona Koppanen. It would have never been made without her. She really devoted herself to this project for almost one and a half years. The first script came in May 2020. From then on, we worked on it at the same time as the album, so it wasn’t every single day in that time. In the course of this time, the album was made, the promo pictures were made, the video got done, we planned two other music videos. There were a lot of different projects going on at the same time, but that was definitely the most massive one alongside the album itself.
Dead Rhetoric: The video does pay homage to a lot of the 80’s sci-fi/cyberpunk movies, correct?
Kabanen: Yes, definitely. Blade Runner is the most obvious one. The song’s story was mostly influenced by Armitage III. It’s a cyberpunk video anime series from 1995. I think it’s quite safe to assume that anime itself was influenced by Blade Runner, hence it all fits together. They all stick together, and the movie is the most known and used reference in this whole genre called cyberpunk for a reason. It has stood the test of time, and why we decided to make the best out of this in this situation. It stays loyal to the story of the lyrics, as we wanted to tell the story in our own way, not just purely copy it. I wanted to write the song and make it feel real, and there is this future when it’s hard to tell the difference between a humanic robot and a human. Because those robots seem even stronger with humane features than the humans themselves. They still don’t get the same rights in that world, and that’s an interesting thing. Why is it like that? It’s an interesting relationship to see where they gain respect for each other equally. It was a fascinating topic and an emotional topic at the same time.
Dead Rhetoric: Roman Ismailov once again did the cover art for the new album – and has worked with you for years. What do you enjoy most about his work, and do you still think it’s important to set the right tone before an album is played with striking cover art?
Kabanen: The best thing working with him is, first of all, on the album cover there is a beast but it’s really small. You can see the beast’s reflection, he knows how to draw the beast and he’s been drawing it and refining it since day one. We have a long, long history as he has worked with me in my previous band Battle Beast. He’s a really good friend of mine. It’s always to nice to work with someone we always appreciate and like as a human being. And he’s really good in drawing the Beast in Black style artwork.
Setting the tone was important. In 2018 I already knew this album was going to be a sci-fi/cyber punk-oriented, and it needed the cover art that shows visually that it can relate to the topics of the lyrics. There’s the beast that is in front of the woman, it represents the connection between a living creature and an artificial creature. It’s there in the artwork as well as the lyrics, so they support each other. He did a good job with that.
Dead Rhetoric: You chose to do two distinct covers again with “Battle Hymn” from Manowar and “They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson. How did you arrive at these choices, and do you believe the fans enjoy the way you pay tribute to these artists through your own versions of these songs?
Kabanen: We hope that the fans will enjoy these songs – not just Beast in Black fans but also Manowar fans and Michael Jackson fans because we really stay loyal to the original material that made those songs what they are. We knew what we would have to keep, and some things we felt that we want to change, some small things, we did. When there was some room for adding something, we did what it felt to give this extra value for the song. The balance is quite good in honoring the original and still making it sound as a Beast in Black vibe. It was easy to choose those songs because they are great songs. That’s it. There are many good songs in the world, but you have this instant feeling of what is a great song for a cover. You should stick to that and do it – otherwise it’s a never-ending story of what cover to choose. The moment was obvious and clear. I remember Yannis told me backstage on a European tour in 2019, we should do the Manowar cover “Battle Hymn”. We imagined that song as a Beast in Black version, and that’s about it. The same with the Michael Jackson song, I can’t remember when or where we talked about it, but it was also in 2019. It was an instant yes, let’s make it happen.
Dead Rhetoric: Knowing your love for the Berserk manga series (which again comes up in three songs for this record), how did you take the news of the author’s death in May of this year? Do you believe the series should continue with other writers in his honor if he so chose to want this as his legacy?
Kabanen: It was devastating to hear about his passing. It still is when I stop to think about it and the story, all the love he poured into his life’s work and into those characters, those worlds in which he created. It’s really hard to accept that he is not there anymore. I think it’s always a double-edged sword when an author dies and there is a question to continue or not. I probably would not continue, because it wouldn’t be the same. The story and the legacy would live on but the story is already immortalized – it will never disappear because it’s proven it’s place in this humankind’s history. It’s a part of popular culture, there is no need to continue the story because the already existing volumes and all the merchandise, it’s still there and it will always be. It will be reprinted when old volumes are out of stock, new volumes will be there. That’s how it will survive, even if no one continues the story from where it’s been left. What has been created, it will never die.
Dead Rhetoric: Now having established Beast in Black through three albums, are there new goals and challenges you set up for yourself and the band as far as where you want to be in your career? Or do you believe you’ve made steady, incremental improvements at the right pace for an ideal worldwide following?
Kabanen: First of all, we have to keep things interesting for ourselves. And like all the rest of the bands in the world, we do the same thing: touring, and then an album. Touring, album – that’s how it goes. With each cycle, we hope that the band grows as quickly as possible into a bigger and bigger band. The more successful that becomes, the more chances you have and resources to make your visions come true when it comes to artistic things. It is a way of life. At least for me, and I don’t think for Beast in Black it’s just something like – okay, to tour and make money. That’s boring – if the point would be to become the richest people on earth, we would not be doing music at all. We would educate ourselves in a totally different field. As artists you should always be hungry for the art, because you love to do it. And we love to entertain people.
Along the lines, we have to always reinvent ourselves little by little and keep it fresh. We want to do this for a long period of time. It can easily become boring if you find some kind of a pattern and repeat it because it’s a successful pattern. I love challenges and uncharted territory and elements of risk and excitement. When you succeed to making this new vision into a reality and you see that people enjoy it, they like it and appreciate it, that’s the most rewarding feeling. It’s better than anything else.
Dead Rhetoric: In a previous talk we had, you mention that an ideal songwriter should practice at the art of songwriting just as much as they will practice at their instrument. What areas of focus or insight can you provide that you think makes for a great songwriter? Who do you consider some of the best songwriters of all-time?
Kabanen: Practicing good songwriting, you can strip down your skills into basic works. It resonates honestly in yourself, the great melody, great chord progressions, good lyrics. That’s basically it. It’s a matter of taste after that, the subjective view a composer and producer has. What kind of instrumentation will the song have? What kind of soundscapes, mixing, singers, all that comes afterwards.
Best composers. My favorite composer of all time is James Horner. The one who composed the soundtracks for Titanic and Braveheart. Unfortunately he has also died, he died in 2015. Apart from him, sticking to film soundtrack people John Williams is great, Hans Zimmer. They had this thing I was talking about – strong themes and melodies. Which were recognizable, they recognize their melodies. It’s not background, ambient soundscapes. Yes, they do that as well – but the older works from Hans, they had those great melodies and themes. John Williams with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park – everyone knows those melodies. They are great songs too, and work more than in the movies. They can stand alone and still work. And also Basil Poledouris – he composed the first Conan the Barbarian film, Starship Troopers, and Robocop. He has so many immortal melodies.
Apart from films, some of my favorite bands in metal are Judas Priest, Manowar, and W.A.S.P. I would say those band members who composed those greatest songs from those bands are my favorite composers. And from the Finnish music scene, Tuomas Holopainen from Nightwish and it used to be Timo Tolkki from Stratovarius. He has written some great, beautiful, and powerful music.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you handle the extended downtime due to COVID-19 and the pandemic? Did you end up going deeper into your love for books, cartoons, and cooking – or find new passions/hobbies to pursue?
Kabanen: I was busy with this album. The lyric writing process started in early 2020, and it took half a year during that period. When the pandemic hit, it didn’t affect my work. I would have been by myself most of the time focusing on the lyrics and then going to the studio to record this stuff with the guys. The pandemic made it possible in the first place to be completed by this time. Otherwise, Dark Connection would have seen the light of day in 2023 or something.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Beast in Black over the next twelve to eighteen months to support this record?
Kabanen: We plan to tour really massively. At least two years, or even possibly three to four years. We really want to squeeze everything out from Dark Connection. To go to the territories we really haven’t been before – tours in North America, South America, go again to Japan, Russia, the European tours. At the same time, tour on the fourth album obviously, music videos, stuff like that. Think about the concept for the fourth album, do all sorts of plans and arrangements for the future.