Interview with Anton Kabanen by Adrian Hextall
The five-piece, Helsinki based heavy metal band BEAST IN BLACK was founded by Anton Kabanen soon after he had parted ways with BATTLE BEAST in 2015. By the end of 2015 the band played their first gig as opening act for NIGHTWISH.
With my album of 2017 ‘Berserker’ already in progress it was completed this summer and a deal was signed with Nuclear Blast almost immediately after it was completed. If you’ve not heard it yet, stop reading, go and find it and listen to the best hour of metal released in the last 12 months. Explaining my love of ‘Berserker’, Anton seems genuinely surprised (NB: I don’t know why… it’s bloody awesome!)
AK: Wow, that’s amazing, really. Thank you in behalf of the whole band also.
AH: [Please excuse total fanboy moment here but…] No, no, no, no. Genuinely, there’s been very few albums I’d been so excited about hearing as ‘Berserker’ and then when I got it, I had a smile on my face for a week so thank you very much. [laughter]
AK: Oh, that’s a good thing to hear.
AH: You’ve had some very good chart results with it as well. It’s been very well received around Europe as far as I can see.
AK: Yeah, we never expected this good start, not that we didn’t believe in it, you know, it’s always that way with your debut album, nowadays especially. I don’t think you can have such high expectations but we were blown away by how well people received it.
AH: You’ve had the right opportunities as well haven’t you? Opening for Nightwish when you were playing your first live show. Most bands as you say, if it’s their first album in a new band, they wouldn’t normally open for a band like Nightwish would they?
AK: Yeah, that’s true as well, you know, we were very excited when they asked– asked us there to come to that show and like one month after that actually Sabaton then also contacted us and not one month after they wanted us to play as their support also and so the gig was one month after the Nightwish show.
Unfortunately the album making took two years, almost two years after those gigs so but anyway it was a good start.
AH: In terms of the time it took to find the band and you know you seem to manage to pull everybody together pretty quickly, write the material and get out on the live scene with relative ease. What was it a fairly straightforward process?
AK: Ah, well, the thing that maybe made it I wouldn’t say easy but like the whole process was easy in terms of that most of the guys I knew from before. They were my friends, everyone except Yannis, was an old friend from the past. Yannis, he was the new face, 2014 was the first time when I found him on Youtube and I contacted him on Facebook and we kept in touch. And finally, in 2015, I think it was January, when we first met face to face. I told him about my plans and he was interested in, that was how it started.
AH: Fantastic. And was there ever any doubt in your mind about Yannis? Did you look at other singers or as soon as you saw him on YouTube, you thought this was the guy I want to front of my band?
AK: We could see the range in his vocal chords. He was very precise with his words, and you know when I was talking to him, and all the vocal chorus that I heard on YouTube, they were all recorded by himself and the editing and everything in the studio is done by him, and the harmony and stuff. So that kind of gave me a good confidence that this guy is not only a good singer, but he can also work in a studio in a professional level. He can produce also himself if needed so I knew that, okay, he is talented, not just in singing but those things as well…
AH: To be able to get that first album out, you need a band that can do multiple things in the process now. It’s just not the case of you guys turning up at the studio to play and sing, you have to have some control over the recording, the engineering, the mastering I presume.
AK: Yeah, I have my own studio and that’s where pretty much where most of the stuff is recorded. Actually the bass tracks were recorded at bass player’s own home studio and he just sent me the files after he had recorded them. So he never actually has even visited my studio up till this day.
But Yannis recorded most of the stuff at my studio but we actually forgot some parts I think one or two parts. No, one part we forgot to record in the studio and then I sent him, called him and sent a message and explain what needs to be recorded at his home or somewhere there in Greece, I don’t know. He manages to do it and then just sends me everything, the parts that he has recorded himself and they worked out fine, nothing wrong with them. So yeah, you’re right. everyone has to know nowadays much more than for example, back in the days when there was no technology and it wasn’t at this high level, and there was no internet.
AH: Absolutely. That ability to send in the files backward and forward when somebody’s worked on it makes it so much easier I would imagine.
AK: Yeah, and there’s constantly going these emails back and forth with our label, like everyday basically. I mean, it would be impossible without Internet.
AH: Going back to Yannis, you mentioned his range is one of the things that stood out, and that is one of the notes that I’ve got written down here as well because on Blind and Frozen, you would almost think at times, there is multiple vocalists singing on there, I’ve never heard anybody with quite a range that he has. It’s something else.
AK: Yeah, he can fully surprise people and that song, it’s a kind of a mindfuck song especially in the verses when he sings in a very feminine way. So many people have asked me, “Who is that woman singing on the album?”. I tell them, “There is no woman singing in that single and the album. It’s all by Yannis”. So that’s great contrast what he can bring, that’s one things we wanted to use or show.
AH: It almost makes him sound like he’s performing a duet doesn’t it?
AK: Yeah, that’s the beauty of it. I was thinking maybe it’s the Ghost in the Rain, that’s the song I thought that could be a duet but Yannis pulled it off himself totally.
AH: There are very heartfelt lyrics on there as well about the loss of a loved one, and there is a huge layer of emotion in there as well. I mean, it is difficult to write songs like that? To find that level of emotion in a lyrics?
AK: Yeah, it is actually. That is not my strongest point, music comes out quite easy but lyrics are, let’s say, there are almost equally important to me as music but a lyric for one song it can take insane amount of times for me. I mean, I can write something, but if I’m not happy with it, I’m just going to work on it, work on it, and change until I’m happy with it.
AH: And where have you got lyrics like that? I mean specifically the whole piece around how much you miss somebody, you live with the pain of not seeing them again and things like that. Is that actually difficult than to perform live on stage as well? Because if you’ve written it and it’s about a bit of a personal song about you, does it actually bite you sometimes when you try to sing it or perform it live?
AK: So far, it hasn’t really had that kind of effect on live shows. On live shows it’s more like a party. It’s about being happy and full of energy and smiling, but there are the moments like, the touching moments and there are moments when I’m alone and writing this stuff, in the process of finding the right lyrics or finding the right notes, finding the right melodies. The creation process itself, that’s the most solitary moment, it’s a very intimate thing.
That’s kind of the most vulnerable moment, but no one usually is there when I write my songs or lyrics, so it’s good that they’re there also.
AH: If it works. Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of the songs that are less personal, where you’ve had inspiration from other things out there in the world, I mean, I see you’ve got a couple of tracks for example, where you’ve got the Japanese, Manga, the Anime influences as well. And presumably, that sort of volume of material that’s out there in that space, that then makes the writing process a little bit easier because there is a lot of colour and content you can draw from that?
AK: Actually, again if it comes to lyrics, it’s equally hard to write those. Well, it’s not my strongest point, but I work on it as long as I need it, until it’s good. The Berzerk stuff, it’s been kind of like my sort of song writing since 2006. That’s why one of my best friends introduced that series to me. Ever since when I first saw the anime, which was from 1997, or 96 and after that I immediately read all the Manga books that’s why it was the first anime. And there was no turning back after that. Battle Beast has songs about Berzerk, and so does this debut album of Beast in Black as well. There’s actually 5 songs if bonus tracks are included, then its’ 5 songs from this debut album based on Berzerk.
AH: And just on that as well with the bonus tracks, was it a conscious decision to keep the running order down, and then have the bonus tracks on certain releases or is it just something that the record label decided to do?
AK: You know, the whole bonus track thing is record label stuff to be honest. We had a plan, to put two or three songs as bonus tracks, but we ran out of time, and so we had to do something else. Those two songs were then chosen as bonus tracks and…
AH: Okay, that makes sense. But I know what you mean though, because when I got the album originally, I got the original listing without the bonus tracks, and based on my reviews around that. And then, all of a sudden, I went and bought the digipack, where I’ve got the extra two tracks on there. It was a nice surprise to see it but it’s also “ooh, I wonder what I’ve missed.” You would almost hate to have bought an album only to discover you have missed the couple of tracks a few years down the line that you never knew about.
AK: Yeah, I remember when Accept released Blood of the Nations in 2010, I bought the album and I like it very much but then at some point I heard the song on YouTube, I think it was called Time Machine if I am not mistaken, I was like, “Yeah, what album is this from?”. It is from Blood of the Nations but it’s a bonus track and I didn’t have it and I was pretty pissed because I like that song pretty much.
AH: No, that’s cool. And on the Anime sign and the Berzerk side, that full sort on impact, especially on the anime side, where it was all overblown, over the top, epic, obviously you’ve captured that sound with the album as well as you had done previously with the Battle Beast releases. Both yourself and Kasperi on the guitar, are you sharing lead guitar duties there? It feels like you are.
AK: Yeah, yeah we are. It’s actually if you open the digital book and check it out, it’s written what soloist played by Kasperi and which solo is played by me. I mean, it’s about 50-50 all and all. Sometimes there is a song, there is one guitar solo, and it’s either played only by Kasperi or by me. For example, Born Again and Blood of a Lion it has Kasperi’s solo, I don’t play solo there. But then there is Eternal Fire, which is my solo there. And there are songs which have two guitar solos which are shared.
So, we try to keep it 50-50. I don’t mind even if he would play more solos than me. That would make my job easier.
AH: Yes indeed. [laughter]. And I was going to ask about that as well, obviously your influence is clearly stamped all over the album, you can see where your extension of what you’ve done, from the point where you first started Battle Beast for example is carried over into this.
AK: Yeah, exactly. Let’s say, the song writer is kind of the heart and soul of the song, what he writes there and then the band members especially the singer gives the attitude of the song, he either can make it lame or he can make it fucking kick ass. I was very happy when Yannis himself sang and I thought, “Wow, he pulled it off”. So we wanted that kind of attitude in that song, and it has to be done that way and he did it, he pulled it off perfectly. And if someone else cannot sing like that, had sung those same note but without that kind of input or attitude, it wouldn’t have worked.
It is unique. Yannis, he is a unique singer because of these things you mention and nowadays, it’s every harder to– to speak out from the mass in terms of the song, like the music itself, with our musical skills. Because all the genres and everything has already been invented and tried out. Many bands, they rely on non musical elements to be unique to stand out from other metal bands, for example, many bands who don’t have necessarily have great singer or great songs, but they come up with something like weird costume and try to create that kind of thing with non musical elements around the band. But that is rare, when nowadays, you can still have a singer in a band that blows people’s mind, just because of his own musical skills.
To me, it’s all about the music. It’s about art, everything else comes after. The success, comes if it comes and all that stuff is secondary. You live your life only once, life is too short. When I do things straight from the heart and I’m only happy, personally you don’t have to compromise the artistic vision for the Beast in Black, it seems to bring joy to people and they still enjoy it, the listeners, and the band members of course, we all enjoy being together and playing this stuff live, so yeah.
AH: That’s very true. And obviously the band playing together live, obviously it’s going to be natural question for a magazine that’s based in the UK, what are the chances of us getting to see you live in the next 12 months?
AK: I hope next year maybe. Maybe in the summer, I’m not sure yet, I cannot promise anything, I know there is going to be a lot of gigs next year, like our agents are working on it very much, basically the whole year is going to be super busy.
Mostly in Europe and in Finland. But let’s see, if there is going to be something more, if there’s going to be time for more because we also have to prepare ourselves for the second album. It’s always difficult thing on making the album when there is a lot of tours and gigs. I was actually working today also on the second album quite often actually.
AH: Presumably you also hope that the process to get to album number 2 being released will be a lot quicker this time?
AK: Of course. We all hope, it’s going to be quicker but I don’t know exactly when it’s going to be released or when it’s going to be ready but all I know is it’s going to be quicker than the first one.
AH: Because I realize for you of course, it’s been a long 3 year journey to get the album out but for the public, it’s a brand new album, for it’s very fresh, we almost don’t want you to move away from focusing on it and playing it live, don’t we?
AK: Yeah, it’s great to play this stuff live but–
AH: The band is always looking for the next one and the public is always looking on the current one I suppose?
AK: Yeah, that’s how it is. We have heard these songs for so many times, in a long time. That’s how it is, for everyone, that’s how it is for all the bands.
AH: I’m sure you guys do you have to Battle Beast material to play a good headline set with this album as well. But as time progresses, you’ll want to have less and less Battle Beast numbers in there and more Beast in Black material?
AK: Yeah time will tell us of course it’s natural to keep all the works involved. Especially in this case when the band name is also related to this Beast. I wanted it to kind of feel like the fourth album of my career. It’s kind of a continuum. But the main reason actually for the name Beast in Black came from the Japanese Manga. But that’s it anyway I wanted to have that Beast character on the cover as well.
I mean if they didn’t want to use the character, they didn’t share the same kind of ideas to the songs or the themes. Except I heard at this one song to my knowledge on their [Battle Beast’s] new album that is kind of Berzerk related if I’m not mistaken. To me it came like out of pure will and desire to write about that, but I don’t know do they– why did they write a song about that also because so that it works out well. It’s your first album and people like that and Berzerk related songs and decided to keep that formula always have some Berzerk related songs. And to me, it was a question of hard, I really wanted to do it not because I had to or people expected it. In some day, I will get bored of writing of Berzerk, I will not write of Berzerk but so far it seems like never ending inspiration coming from there.
AH: Final question if you don’t mind. I don’t want to pry too much in why you left Battle Beast but one of the songs on the album when you get into the lyrics, it naturally suggests that it’s you that almost exercising your demons in the past on what went on and that’s Crazy Mad Insane.
AK: Yeah, you got it perfectly. That’s the song, where I get my demons out so to speak. But the funny thing is I wrote the song actually before my departure from Battle Beast, but the lyrics were not totally complete, I only had some lines, but now after what happened developed this and I thought, now I really have to finish this song because I really know what I want to write there. But it’s better to let your demons out through this kind of art form of speaking, instead of going all Berzerk and not going out on the streets and killing people, or destroying yourself or doing crazy stuff. You never know what would happen if artistic people wouldn’t have that ability to express themselves through that way.
AH: Very true. And interestingly, you made it possibly one of the catchiest tracks in the album and I would imagine it goes down wonderfully well live when you get to the point when everyone can just shout “Fuck you!” from the audience as well. [laughters]
AK: I don’t know how it would work out live, we haven’t played it yet, not a single time, but we will play it soon, we are looking very much forward to play and see how it works out live.
AH: It has to be a song where the audience interaction piece, when there is always that moment when you pause and you do that huge chant, I mean it’s perfect for it and I really hope you do. I’m one of the one that’s looking forward to hearing just because I can imagine doing it with a smile and singing at the top of my voice.
As we wrap up, the dates for the 2018 tour have been announced and thankfully we in the UK do get to see Beast in Black in the early part of the year as the band go on tour with a reformed Rhapsody who are going out on a farewell stint.
Details and ticket info can be found here: