Interview: Anton Kabanen from Beast In Black

Interview: Anton Kabanen from Beast In Black

- in Written interviews

Created in 2015 by Anton Kabanen, this band keeps growing strongly from year to year, releasing albums and sharing tours with top metal names around the world. Last week they have released the third studio album, which is as firmly catchy as the previous ones. We reached the mastermind of Beast In Black some weeks before the Dark Connection release and talked about cyberpunk, which is the core theme of the album, how pandemic has affected the band, and why Beast In Black doesn’t play online shows.

Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. We had a talk with you two years ago before the release of the From Hell With Love album. And so here we go again!
Happy to be here!

And the first question is: how are you after the one and a half year of pandemic, and now, when everything finally goes back on track with the release and show plans. Do you feel better now?
Well, I feel a bit better, at least because the album is done. It’s a slight relief. The pandemic didn’t really affect the work, actually it only helped it. Actually, the album would not have been made if it wasn’t for pandemic because that is the reason why we had enough time to make this album. Otherwise, it would have been ready in 2023 or something like that.

Even without the pandemic, you made the second album in two years after the first one. Does this mean that you needed more time for the third album?
Well, it depends. When you have more time, you sometimes spend it more, even if you don’t need to. The songwriting process is always fast; it’s more like the actual recording/editing/producing/mixing, especially mixing, and all these things in the studio take most of the time. And since I produce the album myself, I decide how much time goes into what. And since there was a pandemic, at least I tried to take care of all the smallest things that I wanted and make it without a rush. But the more you spend time on something, the harder it becomes to let go of it. I think that’s kind of happened with this album. But I have this feeling in a way with all the albums. It’s always difficult to let it go.

So what is Dark Connection musically?
It has all the trademarks of Beast In Black that you already are hopefully familiar with. We kind of expand it – the heavy side and also the synth side, so there is more metal, like heaviness on this album, but at the same time, there are also more keyboards and energy as well. So we expanded the expectation from it, so to speak.

In From Hell With Love, as you said in our previous interview, you had many songs that were written before, for example for the first album. Is Dark Connection something like this, or include only entirely new songs?
Yeah, it’s something similar to the past. I always start the process like that – I go through the old songs and old ideas first, and then new ideas and songs are born along the way. And from all of that, I try to kind of make a hybrid that has the past and the present material. So in that sense, it’s not different how the ingredients were built up, but the content is something new for us – this cyberpunk theme with which many lyrics are dealing, especially visuals – album cover art, promo pictures, music video. When you look at those, you have a grasp instantly – okay, that’s clear direction theme-wise, where this album goes.

Maybe kind of a straightforward question, but why cyberpunk?
Actually, it’s a return to the roots, in a way. I’ve always been a fan of cyberpunk – I’ve been a fan of science fiction, especially this subgenre. I started with cyberpunk in my previous band, Battle Beast; the first two albums were cyberpunk-influenced very much. And after that I didn’t write songs inspired by cyberpunk – for many years until now with the third album of Beast In Black. So to me from personal perspective, from my personal career, it’s the things that I like, it’s a return to the roots – or at least one part of them, because there are many things that I have done over ten years ago, but this is not into me anymore.

Cyberpunk is just a fascinating subject. First of all, there’s so much visual storytelling in it, and it gives you stories. If you look at some nice still picture, it gives you kind of a full story – like “wow, there’s something big going on”, there’s kind of a background story – for example, when you look at the picture where there is a character in kind of a dystopian city. For some reason, I like this kind of apocalyptic scenario, where things aren’t going so brightly; there is something fascinating about that. But this album is actually more about the connections between a human individual and a humanoid robot individual. That emotional side is more interesting at the moment for me than just the technical stuff that comes with science fiction and cyberpunk. So it’s a very emotional album, even though. Technological stuff is the thing that comes to mind when you talk about science fiction and so on. This is the other side of the coin, when you deal with the actual emotions of the people and humanoid robots, when you kind of live in sided world in your imagination. That’s interesting for me, and that’s why I came back to this topic – I always felt that I wanna go back someday. And here we are! Let see what happens next.

You said that the character of the Beast has its place in every album of Beast In Black. But what is its place in this cyberpunk conception? We see it’s reflection in the girl’s glasses on the cover, but does it appear somewhere in the lyrics?
Well, all the songs, in the end, are meant to be interpreted by the listener. You can imagine having the Beast there whenever you want. But it’s not a concept album that tells the story of the Beast – it’s more about how you wanna see it. The album has three sections: there are songs inspired by animes, then there’re songs which are primarily based on Berserker, the anime/manga – that is something that has been part of each Beast In Black album, and there’s the third category, which is personal. There is no Beast as a character having the adventures somewhere, but I don’t say it can’t be there. That is the whole point of any type or form of art – it’s meant to give you visions inside your mind, your own interpretations and stories, based on the lyrics and the music you absorbing.

What do cover songs for Michael Jackson and Manowar do here?
We just like those songs, they are great songs. Me and Yannis, we talked about those in some backstage on our European tour in 2019, and we said, “Hey, they are great songs.” I think first we talked about Manowar‘s song, and he mentioned that we should make a cover, and I said, “Hey, that’s a great idea,” and that’s it. I guess something similar happened with Michael Jackson‘s song. I can’t remember where and when exactly the idea came about it, it was instantly like “wow,” it clicked right away, we felt like “okay, this is the choice,” because both songs have great, catchy melodies. Michael Jackson‘s song has an especially catchy chorus, the big chorus that still keeps growing after the first one; it comes like three or four times in the whole song, and in the very end it becomes really-really huge. And it’s a typical Beast In Black style song – it has the simple ingredients, and that’s why it was easy to have that. There is no specific reason for having covers on these songs – it’s always should be a good song, that’s the first criteria. And after those, we just think about how are we going to make it, how is Yannis going to interpret, to sing it, in a what style. And how much are we going to keep from the original songs, how many details, and what do we want to change. Even if we change something much – for example, in Michael Jackson‘s song we added quite a lot of things – but still, at the same time, it sounds exactly like the original in some way, because we pay attention to the song’s build-ups, and you gonna get the same energy, the same feeling, that it starts from something really small and grows to a huge, mass towards the end. I think we manage to keep that; I hope so.

In the one interview, you mentioned that you don’t want to make online concerts because it’s a “waste of time.” Have you changed your mind somehow or do you still think that it’s not a good thing to do?
Let put it this way: no one in Beast In Black enjoys that. We’ve talked about it, and not a single member finds that appealing, so it’s an easy decision for us. We don’t think that it’s something we could enjoy. Even if that became more popular, we wouldn’t do it because when you play live, you gotta have the audience there. We always have fun on stage, we smile a lot, but we smile at the people, not the empty rooms, not the walls. We gotta have people, that’s why we do that, and if there aren’t people, it would be really difficult to have the same atmosphere, the feeling, and the energy. And the show wouldn’t be as good, and we don’t want to give the show that is not 100%. We always want to give 100%, and we need people there.

With the pandemic, borders closed and everything like this, did it make some problems for you as the international band to rehearse, work on the album, etc.?
No. Album-making-wise, we never get together to play the songs. Everyone does their homework, like learning the new songs by themselves. We played four festival shows this year, and for those, we had rehearsals; I think it was like 2-4 days, something like that. But for the album, we don’t rehearse together; we don’t need to.

So, as I can conclude from your answers, the pandemic didn’t affect the band for bad, but did affect it for good, creating some time to make the new album.
Yeah, you could say that because we also spent a lot of time and energy on the music video “Moonlight Rendezvous.” It wouldn’t have been done unless we had the time to do the work for it. And the point is, you have to adapt and make the best out of a situation of what you have at hand. So when the band can’t actively tour, we put all that energy into creativity, being curious about trying new things. And that’s exactly what we did – we wanted to make an album that is something new. This cyberpunk thing – even if to me it’s an old thing – but it’s a huge topic, there are many things you can write songs about, you can deal with different perspectives in that. Even though it’s about the connection between the human being and the humanoid robot, there are many options for putting that in different perspectives and situations. And music video was something very ambitious – okay, let’s make something that most of the bands don’t do, let’s make kind of a mini-movie. I know bands have done that, but at least not in this genre. I don’t know any band, at least from the metal scene that has done a video like this – a cyberpunk short film with a heavy metal song as a soundtrack for it. So it’s basically what we wanted to do. It was a challenge, but because of the pandemic, we were able to make it the way we made it.

If we are talking about the “Moonlight Rendezvous,” it’s the first video of Beast In Black, where you don’t play instruments but act like heroes, like bad guys. Was this idea like “we finally want to be in the cast and not just play instruments” or something different?
That was my idea, I told Katri Ilona Koppanen, the director-writer – “okay, make us into bad guys, I don’t want us to be good guys, we definitely have to be bad guys and not to play anything.” And that was a fun part of the process. Let’s make a story that is based on the lyrics. I was there making the story, but she did most of the actual scriptwriting, typing that stuff. I was more like a conversation partner, explaining my ideas and stories, that it should correlate with the lyrics and then adding these ideas like making us into bad guys, the stuff like that. That was all fun, the creative part.

When we talked to you two years ago, you were just about to go on your first tour as a headliner, not like a support band. Now you are going on the next tour as the headliner to support the Dark Connection album. And after these years of the project, do you consider yourself now as something like a big band?
No, you can never consider yourself like… Let put it this way: I don’t think we’ll ever be satisfied with any results. But that’s the nature of the hungry artist – you gotta always want to have something more, to grow as an artist, to become a bigger band. So you will have more resources for creative and wider visions like what you have. Of course, we are happy with this good success so far, and we keep going in that direction, keep growing. We can do it, this thing, being better and better, give more back to the fans; the more we get – this success and resources – the more we put into creating the stuff; that’s in our minds.

And where do you see Beast In Black in twenty years?
It’s a good question. No one knows. Hopefully, playing stadium shows and having tons of material in our catalog that is all listenable and viewable. I hope we can maintain the good quality until the end of our career as Beast In Black. That’s the biggest challenge, I guess: to always have only good material. Every band and every artist hopes and wishes that their every album, every video, every promo picture, and everything is always good, and there are no bad ones in between, but I don’t know if there is anyone who has succeeded. I hope we can. That’s very ambitious, I know, but you gotta have that hunger and drive. And we do. And when the day comes that we don’t have the drive – well, we will not even try to do anything by force. It has to be authentic hunger and drive that make you do these things.

The last question, kind of “side question”: the themes and some of Beast In Black conceptions can find – and actually they find – the big feedback in geek community. Have you considered any options to make something more in this field, like playing at ComicCons or releasing a graphic novel or a book? I know you had some ideas on making something like this about the Beast.
Well, let’s see. At the moment, let’s just finish this whole release process of Dark Connection and – what’s the next step? Of course, the tour, but I mean content-wise, creative process-wise. Let’s see, what could we do, what should we do. For now, we’ll try to focus on this album’s birth process, so the birth goes well, and people find it enjoyable and listenable, and not just listenable – I hope people will have a lasting listening experience with this album, so they can relisten-relisten-relisten day after day. But these other ideas you said about – everything is possible. We’re open to these different ways, exploring different options… But at least streaming live shows are not one of those things.

Any ideas except for the online shows. Okay, got it. The previous question was supposed to be the last one, but let me add one more. Now you are concentrated on this release and this tour. Do you have any plans after it? Will you make some pause to rest or right away go to work on the new material?
To put it simply, we hope that we can tour massively with this album. I know it’s difficult because of the pandemic, but we hope that the world will find the solution to adapt and do things in a normal way. We would like to go into new areas where we haven’t toured before and make it really-really massive touring experience. And after that, we just again will make an album. While touring, I’m sure new ideas will be born. So it’s a tour, album, many tours, and then album, and just repeat, repeat and repeat for twenty years. Then we are hopefully in that stadium level.

Sounds like a plan.
Yeah, we at least hope so, and we will try our best.

And we really hope to see you soon here in Ukraine. Your show with Nightwish in Kyiv was postponed two times, and your fans here really expect to see you one day.
We would love to come there, really. Let’s not lose our hopes, and let’s try to believe that there will be a way to adapt to all this and make things quite normal again – hopefully, sooner than later. Thanks for being patient and waiting, and we promise that we’ll give our best when we are there.

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