Beast In Black is a Finnish power metal band that was founded in 2015 by Anton Kabanen, the main songwriter and driving force of the group, after he parted ways with his previous band Battle Beast in the same year. Since then, Beast In Black immediately struck a chord with both the music industry and the fans, having garnered a solid following from tours and festival appearances supporting established acts such as Nightwish and W.A.S.P. In 2017, the band released their debut album Berserker which was received with high acclaim and now on the 9th of February 2019, they released their second LP, From Hell with Love.
Andy Kim from Radio 13 got a chance to chat with Anton about a variety of matters ranging from band line-up changes, the current state of the metal scene including how the forefathers of metal are starting to end their journeys and where Beast In Black fits within it, how manga and anime, especially the series ‘Berserk’, inspires him and of course their upcoming album, being released within a matter of days since this interview was conducted.
Andy: Beast In Black started immediately after what happened with Battle Beast. So what was the process of forming a new band like, and how has the transition and overall change to a whole new lineup affected you?
Anton: Well the change happened I think in 2014 when it was obvious at some point that it was going to end for me, my journey in Battle Beast. So I already started thinking about what to do next. I knew that I still felt like I wanted to continue what I started, this heavy metal thing because I write music in all kinds of genres but I think metal is the main thing. So I wanted to form a new band with the same kind of ideology.
Like the word ‘beast’ in the name is a personal thing and this time I just wanted to make sure I’m more careful with the lineup choice. You’ve got to trust your intuition more when it comes to finding the right members for the band. So it was quite fast in the end actually... since most of the members were already my old friends and I didn’t have to scout for many people. Yannis Papadopoulos, the singer, is the newest member. I didn’t know him before I had contacted him on Facebook after I found him on YouTube and we stayed in touch and at some point we met, I think early 2015 face to face for the first time and I introduced to him my idea of what to do next and he was interested and that’s about it.
All of the rest of the members were my old friends. But then the drummer Sami, he left the band in 2017 and we had to find a fill-in drummer for the then upcoming tour with W.A.S.P, Atte Palokangas was recommended to us by another drummer friend of mine. Atte played a few shows with us and after that in December, that W.A.S.P tour didn’t last as long as it was supposed to, it was supposed to be 1 month long but it ended after 4 shows but nonetheless after that we played a new tour and after this second tour it was clear that this is definitely our guy. He is 100% Beast in Black. I just gave him a call after a talk with the band members that we wanted Atte to join as a full member. It took 1 second for him to answer ‘yes’ on the phone, and so here we are now.
Andy: When lineup changes happen, a lot of bands say they don’t like it at the start because it’s obviously not an ideal situation to be in, but then in hindsight they say that ultimately, when lineup changes happen it’s a good thing, because it allows them to better bands and musicians. Do you think this is the same case with you as well?
Anton: Definitely with us yeah... even though there’s only been one change, it was a good change. Actually we’re still very good friends with the previous drummer Sami and he actually came last month to our last show of the tour and before that he’s come to some shows. So we’re in touch and there’s no bad blood or anything between us. We’re still all friends and it was good that he also realised that Beast In Black needs someone who can commit himself 100% for the band and Sami said that he had his own reasons, like he couldn’t give it his everything. So he wanted to step aside, which is also in a way very noble thing but it was just a problem with the time when he was starting and it was the very beginning and we were hungry to get record deals and tour. You don’t want to tell record labels, managements and booking agents ‘Yeah, we want to do this and that but we don’t have a drummer’. Nonetheless the situation was solved very well in the end, so all good.
Andy: And now that Beast In Black has been active for about 3 years now, what are some of your favourite aspects of this whole new lineup?
Anton: Definitely the band chemistry I have to say. It’s the first time that I’m in a band like this, we’ve been touring a lot, lots of gigs last year and 2017 and I noticed that we always enjoy our time together when we’re in the rehearsal space or on tour and that’s a great thing.
Andy: Now let’s focus on Beast In Black in the context of the current metal scene. Nowadays, I feel like the current trend of metal is more either on the progressive side, or more intense and underground such as death metal with down-tuned guitars and more than 6 strings, but it seems like your band is going back to the roots and sticking to the fundamental sounds of something like 80’s classic hard rock alongside some more modern influences, and the songwriting itself is quite pop-oriented, by this I mean the songwriting comes across as very sensible. So how do you feel like Beast In Black fits in today’s metal scene?
Anton: I just think Beast In Black is a traditional heavy metal band with spices from 80’s and 90’s keyboard world. But in the end, as a songwriter, music is music. There’s just good music and bad music and that’s of course subjective. I’ve been writing stuff that I have been since the beginning and I never felt the need to follow any trends because when you do something artistic either as a songwriter or movie maker or a writer or whatever, artist should always stand 100% behind their work... otherwise how could they share their work with the public in good conscience? That’s my answer.
Do what you feel is right in your heart and not really care about trends. It’s better to do your own thing and that creates trends. If you think about Yngwie Malmsteen, he was just doing his own thing and he created this neoclassical power metal thing with the guitar virtuoso style. He didn’t follow a trend, he created it. It’s a different thing.
Andy: Speaking of going back to basics, the classic metal bands that started it all are starting to die off obviously first with Black Sabbath, now Slayer is on their final tour, and all these monumental and legendary bands like Judas Priest, Metallica and so on are all going to stop touring and making music relatively soon. How do you feel about this? Is this something that you sometimes have in mind perhaps when you are writing in the studio or playing music live yourself? That at least a part of you is saying, ‘I have to be as good as these bands that have inspired me because I’m part of the next generation of musicians that came up after them, and I’m going to have to replace them’.
Anton: There’s always time for everything. In a way, it’s a great thing that many people have given us feedback like, hey guys you guys are the next Judas Priest or something like that for example. There are a lot of people who want to listen to that type of music but we’re all human, everything good comes to an end. All these bands like Judas Priest and all, they’re not immortal physically even though the music will last forever. And so whatever new bands do, or whatever Beast In Black does we just want to do it, I know I’m not repeating myself but we want to do it from our hearts and if we do it, people will have a genuine connection to the band and appreciate what we do more. And that’s the recipe to earn your own status in the metal scene and the music world and so forth if you want to have a long career.
I think Iron Maiden is a good example. They just do what they do and they love it, at least that’s how it looks like, and people love them very much. That’s the way to do it in my opinion, that’s a good example.
Andy: Let’s move on from something other than music because I’ve read that you’re a fan of manga and anime, namely ‘Berserk’ and ‘Fist of the North Star’ were influences on a number songs on the new album. So when and how did you start getting into them, and how do these art forms influence you and your music?
Anton: I saw lots of different kinds of anime as a kid and teenager but it wasn’t until 2006 when a good childhood friend of mine introduced Berserk the anime to me. I watched the first episode and I was hooked onto it right away and I had to watch the other episodes in one go. In about 1 or 2 days I watched the rest in its entirety and after the last episode I thought this is the biggest cliffhanger of all time, so I had to know what happens after that, so I started to read the manga after that final episode of anime. Ever since I’ve been reading that I have all the manga books from Berserk.
Fist of the North Star came about 2 or 3 years later when I was in Helsinki just walking around town, there was this, not flee market, but this kind of antique kind of shop which sells old books, old VHS cassettes and stuff like that, and I noticed there were a lot of VHS cassettes outside there on the walkway, in a small box. I bought all the VHS cassettes there, they were like 50 cents each. I watched them all and one of them happened to be ‘Fist of the North Star in original VHS cassette. I was like, ‘woah what is this, this is so cool’ and I got interested in that anime and later watched all the episodes.
Andy: I’m familiar with ‘Berserk’ the manga as well and it’s obviously extremely dark, violent and twisted and for me, it seems like the type of music that would be made inspired by ‘Berserk’ would lean towards something like death metal or horror music. But as we previously discussed your sound is quite the opposite, it’s bright, pop and fun. At least to me it gives off those vibes.
Anton: Yeah it’s funny, often I hear that our music is uplifting and powerful. It’s true, I want to have a strong feeling from the music but to me these things, they can even feel dramatic inside of me but I don’t know how others feel the music that we play and I write. Some of the lyrics can be dark, for example The Fifth Angel from the debut album, it’s very powerful and musically upbeat and uplifting but in terms of lyrical material, there is not anything bright. The thing about Berserk and why it’s so great is it’s all about the whole package that’s all been done well. The characters, the story, and the artwork itself, how well it’s drawn and it’s not afraid to deal with or show the characters’ good and bad sides. It shows humans in their worst and their best.
When someone wants to find meaning in their life or ask who am I, what do I do here, what is my purpose or dream, it deals with camaraderie, brotherhood, love and hate, lust for vengeance. When you have everything there, you’re not afraid to show the best and worst sides, you realize how human they are and that’s the most fascinating part about berserk, not the violence or the supernatural stuff. To me the supernatural stuff with the demons and all is just more like an additional spice or icing on the cake, basically.
Andy: To highlight the human side.
Anton: Yeah, the essence is always the human side. Have that, and you can start to see those things through the characters’ eyes. When you see through their eyes you become more fascinated and relate to them more and realise, ‘hey this is not made up, these are real situations they deal with’. You start to really believe it, those characters come alive inside your head. And that’s where the inspiration comes for it.
Andy: Concentrating on your upcoming album now, ‘From Hell with Love’- what does this phrase mean to you in the context of the album as a whole?
Anton: Well it has many meanings, I like to keep it open for people to interpret themselves but for example one meaning for me is, if you have something or someone that you love or you are passionate about something, you’re ready to pay any price and go through hell for it or for that person or whatever it might be. Anyone can draw their own conclusions because everyone has something important they’ve gone through or are still going through. So it just felt like the album title when the songs were being written. It always spoke to me that this feels like it should be the album title because there’s something like that that you can easily relate to. To start to think about what it means.
Andy: Anything noteworthy from either the creative or recording process in the studio that was particularly different for you and the band on this album that you’d like to share?
Anton: Two biggest differences are super tight schedule while making the album. Last year we had festivals almost every week and the album had to be made in between the festivals on weekdays. And also because I produced and mixed it. it meant no social life in 2018. And the second thing is that a friend of mine an Italian guy, Paolo Ribaldini, who lives in Helsinki in the same city as me helped me co-write some lyrics. We co-wrote five lyrics and one lyric is his own and the rest are mine. These are the most different but we are all equally proud of this album as our first album. They are both 100% Beast in Black and they have their own character and sound.
Andy: So far you’ve released two songs from the new record with music videos. Lyrically, ‘Die by the Blade’ seems like a more fantasy-inspired song while ‘Sweet True Lies’ is more based on real-life. So how do you balance the fantasy aspect with the more realistic themes?
Anton: That’s a good question. You’ve got to trust your intuition. That’s how it goes, it’s always about that when choosing songs and themes and what to write about. You have to just find the right emotional space and try to feel what makes you tick at that moment. If you have something you want to say or something that is interesting or fascinating to you, you just have to grab that thing and write about it.
Andy: Alongside the other tracks on the album, are there any particular songs on the record that you’d like to highlight and elaborate on? Because a lot of these songs are primarily classic metal style tracks but they have a lot of other influences as well like pop, folk like in the song Oceandeep I found, or even electronic and symphonic elements.
Anton: Well I don’t have any favourites, it often depends on the day because music and any art is related to feelings and emotions. Someday I feel like one song is more to my liking, another day some other song is to my liking from the previous day. Generally speaking I think the title track is very good and represents the album. If I have to choose one song to show someone what album represents it would be the title track. It has strong guitar riffs, a catchy chorus and also disco elements, so just a little of everything almost.
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Released: 09 Feb 2019