Interview with guitarists Anton Kabanen and Kasperi Heikkinen
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: February 8, 2019
Finland's powerhouse, Beast in Black, has been working hard since their inception in 2015. The mastermind of the band, Anton Kabanen, has proved he has the heart of a lion, firm in his beliefs in his music, never giving up and getting stronger year after year.
The band's debut album, Berserker, released on Nuclear Blast Records in November 2017, rapidly found its way on to many 2017 best-of lists, which gave the band a clear signal they were doing something right in terms of keeping the metal-loving audience entertained and happy. The beasts have been touring quite a bit ever since, supporting the debut but also working on their follow-up album, From Hell with Love.
Guitarists Anton Kabanen and Kasperi Heikkinen had a couple of days in Helsinki, Finland, in mid-January 2019 set aside for talking about their new album, touring plans, etc. with media representatives. The Metal Crypt decided to take advantage of this opportunity to ask a few questions of these talkative and overly friendly lads...
Luxi: Let's start this conversation by asking what kind of tricks Beast in Black have up their sleeves for 2019?
Anton: For us 2019 basically means gigs, gigs, and even more gigs. Plus, I believe we may also focus on our third album at some point. First, however, we need to rehearse for our own headlining tour, which will start at the end of February.
Luxi: Did you make any New Year's resolutions that maybe might be hard to keep?
Kasperi: Hell no...! It's not something I do because I know by experience that I cannot keep them. It's just better to push ahead—year after year, without making empty promises. Life is MUCH easier that way!
OPUS NO. TWO—FROM HELL WITH LOVE
Luxi: OK, we are here to talk about your new album, From Hell with Love. As your debut album was so well received, did you feel more pressure with this new one?
Anton: To be honest with you, not at all. It was a pretty tough process to make this second album from start to finish, mostly due to the tight deadline we had. I mean, we were doing a festival gig nearly every weekend, leaving us Monday through Friday to work on the album. For example, as we were recording the vocals at my studio, I was writing lyrics in the mornings and evenings during those sessions, so the schedule was really tight. There was always something that I had to get done, which was pretty stressful to be honest.
Writing the songs for this album was a no-brainer, but the actual recording sessions, plus writing the lyrics, brought their own challenges. We also had a tour with Nightwish just about to start, so we decided to nail the very last deadline before the tour. We really didn't have any other choice but to get the album done; no plan B.
Luxi: Did Nuclear Blast set strict deadlines of when they wanted to get the finished package?
Anton: It was Máté (Molnár), our bassist, who was mainly making plans with the label representatives regarding all those other practicalities of the making of this new record, including some specific deadlines and stuff.
Luxi: With how many songs did you enter the studio with and with how many songs did you come up with, excluding the cover songs ("Killed by Death" by Motörhead and "No Easy Way Out" by Robert Tepper)?
Anton: We went in with the eleven songs and came out from the studio with those eleven songs as far as I can remember.
Kasperi: Yes, it was eleven songs in total that we had with us when we entered the studio. However, we had to change one song, a ballad, to some other song during the recording sessions because the lyrics weren't finished. The whole recording process, as Anton already mentioned, was really tight and we got everything done a day or two before the Nightwish tour.
Anton: If someone needs a tip for a quick diet, just ask. While I was trying to mix the whole album in a month, my weight dropped something like six kilograms (about 13.2 pounds), I believe. I was losing weight due to all the stress of trying to get everything done before the final deadline. Others may eat a lot when the stress is on, but I did just the opposite. I think I lost my appetite completely while all this was going on.
Kasperi: Losing weight by being under huge stresses may not be the most ideal way to drop weight, haha!
EIGHTIES HEAVY METAL MEETS DISCO FEVER
Luxi: I have been listening to the new album a lot lately, preparing for this interview, and I must say it is a very good continuation of the debut. You do have this special "gift" of marrying eighties heavy metal with slices of the nineties disco elements and doing it all without being corny. Where does all this stem from?
Anton: I would say all of us really dig those time periods in music; the eighties and nineties. I am a fan of many things done during the nineties. It's in my blood, I guess. However, I don't see our stuff as corny or cheesy sounding as many may. Somehow, the stuff we do comes very naturally for us. I think there's a difference between creating cheesy stuff on purpose and creating it the way that comes naturally. When someone does some over-the-top type of stuff in a cheesy way, they can get caught red-handed. But if everything comes out in a naturally cheesy way, it shows everyone these guys are serious with their stuff, you know.
Kasperi. Indeed. Serious but not too serious.
Anton: That was well put, yes.
Luxi: I remember when one of my childhood favorite heavy metal bands, Judas Priest, put out the infamous, "disco-orientated" Turbo album, I was so disappointed by it. But nowadays, I see it in a whole different light. I think the title track of your new album, "From Hell with Love", for example, is a good example of how one can mix nineties disco beats with eighties heavy metal well.
Anton: It's nice to hear you have found our music appealing. For me, everything comes very naturally. I don't think too much about how this or that part sounds. Everything just comes naturally from my spine, subconsciousness or whatever. I remember when I was doing my first or second interview, a journalist made a Backstreet Boys reference to some part in one of our songs. I was like, "Hmm ... okay!".
Kasperi: At the end of the day, it's up to the ear of a listener, whatever musical references they want to make out of any music in general.
Anton: That's all true. For me, it's always hard to tell if we have some parts in our music that may remind people of this or that band, this or that song, etc.
Kasperi: When you think about the history of western music, it has many of the same musical phenomena in general. It may not be restricted a genre or subgenre of musical style, not at all. In a way, everything's been done when it comes to music; to be honest it's really difficult, if not impossible, to do something new and groundbreaking within music anymore. You just rearrange some familiar bits and pieces in a different way.
About the title track of the album, in the beginning, Anton only had one riff ready for it; the intro riff. He was kind of unsure if it was something we could use. I encouraged him saying we should definitely use it for one of our songs because it sounded so good. Eventually, that particular riff in question ended up being a part of the title of our album, "From Hell with Love".
Luxi: As for the lyrics on this record, are you responsible for all of them?
Anton: No. This is actually the first time one of my friends helped me out. Paolo Ribaldini helped me with six songs in all. We co-wrote the lyrics for the five songs and he did all the lyrics for one. The rest of the songs have my lyrics.
Luxi: Is there some sort of a deeper meaning or message behind the lyrics of the title track, maybe based on your past life, for example?
Anton: I wrote the lyrics for the title track myself. I have always said that the purpose of art is to raise thoughts and questions among people so that everyone has a chance to interpret them the way they want. I think some people may connect the lyrics of "From Hell with Love" to the manga of Berserk when reading the lyrics and some people may feel a connection to the lyrics through their own life experiences. The lyrics that I use in this song are full of metaphors and it was my intention to leave people something to think about. In my opinion, it would kill some of the magic if I revealed too much of what my lyrics are all about. That would decrease a listener's chances of finding his/her own way to interpret the lyrics. If I revealed everything in full detail, I am sure it would kill some of the excitement. It's the listener's task to make their own interpretations of what is said in the lyrics. It's always important to leave some room for people to make their own thoughts about something.
Then again, it's a whole different thing when some of the lyrics are clearly based on the Berserk manga. I don't want to open up about them too much because like I already mentioned, it's important to leave some room for listeners' own thoughts and imagination.
Luxi: This new album shows many sides of the band, even more than your debut. You even have what I call a "power ballad" called "Oceandeep", on the album, which is very different from the rest of the material. Can you tell us more about it?
Anton: Sure. This song came about from one of the personal things I experienced. I woke up early in the morning after having a dream about an important person in my life. Most of the lyrics for this song spontaneously appeared in my mind, which I wrote right after I woke up. I believe I had some sort of flow going through me at that moment because it's really rare for me to write lyrics so easily and effortlessly. This is also the reason we chose "Oceandeep" for this record because the other ballad-type song didn't have lyrics ready. "Oceandeep" was actually a pretty quick song for us to make, both lyrically and musically.
"Oceandeep" is all about longing, lyric-wise. Just a quick glance at the chorus tells you that right off the bat.
Luxi: From ballads to more straightforward songs, you have a good number of more muscular and take-no-prisoners type of songs on this record, like "This Is War," "Cry Out for a Here" and "No Surrender". Is it crucial keep your stuff varied?
Anton: That's correct. I have always felt that this band should reveal its many colors and not just one or two. It's important for us to consider the order we want to put our songs in to avoid musical formulas, songs with the same tempos and shit. It's also very important for us to maintain a heavy metal feel throughout our material because that's what we love doing most; playing metal music.
Kasperi: Yes, being able to do varied and diverse stuff is important, not only for bands but also for their fans. Doing monotone, one-dimensional music gets boring really quick. I hear albums that are all in the same key or tempos and that really kills your excitement. It's really all about this variation of song material that keeps one's interest level high and providing a good reason to return back to it some other time.
Luxi: One of the special characteristics of your music is the exceptionally catchy choruses that you seem to have an almost criminal amount of on your albums. What's your secret?
Anton: Well, having as simple a mind as I have, they actually come relatively easy for us, you know. I have absolutely no talent to make them sound more complicated...
Seriously speaking, in this day and age, people have unfortunately forgotten how to make a catchy chorus like bands back in the eighties did and that is what we are trying to do today. I feel like this element has disappeared from many of today's metal bands and I don't feel like we are doing anything THAT exceptional. It's just that we, in Beast in Black, are just continuing the heritage of catchy and melodic choruses that other bands already did some 30+ years ago—and that's it, I guess. It's beyond my understanding as to why other bands don't do the same as we are doing, exploiting with a more open mind what was left for them by bands in the past.
Kasperi: It's hard to tell really. Perhaps it has something to do with some of those prejudices that people may have about making music and not wanting to feel like repeating old musical formulas. I think bands today seem to be a little bit too afraid of repeating those patterns in their own songs, which is nothing to be ashamed of, not at all.
Also, I already mentioned earlier, everything's already been done within (metal) music, practically speaking. The same elements are being recycled. We feel like we belong to the same (old) school where someone like Desmond Child comes from, in which melody is the driving force. Music should be, from our point of view at least, catchy, easily adopted and interesting. And that's a challenge keeping it interesting for everyone so that fans will go back to it even after many years.
CHEESINESS IS FOR GOOD IN METAL
Luxi: And speaking of catchiness, especially in the chorus parts, you have a song called "Repentless" on this new record and I don't know if I am the only one to say this, but for some peculiar reason, it reminded me of, well, Nightwish. I don't know if I need to get my ears checked but that's what they told me. To be sure, I played the song for my wife and she immediately spat out Nightwish's name...
Anton: I believe this is again, all about the influences that I have personally dug over the years; they simply come from my subconsciousness and while I am in the middle of the songwriting process, this is just something that is hard to avoid. The influences are there all the time and you never know when something you do may remind someone of Nightwish or Manowar or Judas Priest or even Backstreet Boys, etc. Everyone is surely influenced by something. If we get strictly analytical about this particular chorus, what happens is there's a trioli rhythm and the accents come on the beats in it. That's what happens in the chorus part of this song, to put it simply. Does someone own the copyright on this rhythmic pattern? No, I don't think so. Hence I have no problem understanding the association to Nightwish in the chorus part of the song...
Kasperi: Also, people just love to make comparisons. They have always loved it. It's natural for people to compare bands to each other, basing all of these comparisons to what they have heard in the past, and putting them into some specific musical categories which, at the end of the day, is kind of unnecessary, in my opinion, at least. Most of the people, however, have this habit to draw comparisons from their past musical experiences, which I can understand. Making comparisons between bands/songs has somehow automatically been branded into people's brains, I suppose.
Anton: It's cool if people compare your music to good bands (in our own books) but if someone comes to us and says, "hey, this song or this part of a song reminds me of Burzum...", which might be a friggin' sweet thing to some people, I don't think I would be so thrilled.
Anton: Perhaps we would not take that as such a kind compliment after all.
TRUE VOCAL CHAMELEON YANNIS
Luxi: Let's move on to discuss Yannis' vocal range, OK? To me, it sounds like he's got his whole range in use on this new album. Nothing seems to be holding him back. Did his wide vocal range bring some extra challenges to the recording process of his vocals or was it relatively easy to get his vocal parts on record?
Anton: It was easier this time because I already knew what Yannis was capable of doing vocally, based on my experience on our debut album. I didn't even have to think about this when I wrote the songs for this record simply because he can sing everything. He even told me during the recording sessions of our debut album that I should not overthink too much whether he can sing this or that part. His point of view was that a pro vocalist should be able to tackle all the keys within the music. And if he cannot quite reach some notes, he felt like he should work out more with his vocals to get there, you know. I really respect and admire Yannis' working ethic. He is a very ambitious guy and has set the bar high for himself. He's not the type of a guy who wants to stay within his comfort zone vocally. Of course, we utilized all of what he can do vocally on the new album. On this new album, he is still doing his trademark high screams as he did on the debut but to more varying degrees. In a song called "True Believer", for example, he goes pretty low on the first two choruses and the same goes for "Crazy, Mad, Insane" off our first album where all the choruses were sung in his low singing style, except for the last chorus part, in which he goes one octave up.
Luxi: I assume when you were working on your debut album it was a bit different because you had to find out what this guy was capable of doing vocally, right?
Anton: You could say so. I already knew that he has a very wide vocal range. When he has a good day, he can sing in soprano C and even above, but that's the not the kind of vocal register worth writing a melody line for. It's just a climax type of scream. The area in between where the voice is coming from the chest and turning to a head voice so to speak, that particular area is the most challenging for a singer. Whenever I listen to Rob Halford trying to stay in this challenging area between chest and head, that's where the struggling starts. I am already aware of what point vocally Yannis can reach with vocals coming from his chest and the fact that the register coming from the chest area is the most stressful for the singers, not the high-pitched screaming that comes from the head. Yannis told me this is where he suffers most when pushing his vocals to extremes, which isn't even such a high key compared to the keys that can be produced in the head area.
The chest area is a relatively interesting area for vocalists in general because from that area a trained vocalist can produce a lot of power. When you are aware of this, it makes things easier for songwriting. Of course, in the beginning, I was pondering his vocal range quite a bit but tried not to overthink it too much, just like Yannis told me.
Luxi: How much of his own ideas and suggestions for his vocals did he bring to the recording?
Anton: He participated in this process a lot because we both wanted to see which way he should sing this or that part. I believe we were both on the same page 90–95% of the time. It was relatively easy to get his vocals recorded for the album. Most of the time was spent recording enough vocal takes to choose his best vocal performances. We didn't spend much time worrying about how he should sound because the experience of recording our debut album taught both of us a lot. We got to know each other better, learned a lot from our working relationship and so on. It's also good that Yannis is a perfectionist and even pretty neurotic regarding his work. Sometimes he's even more neurotic than I am, whipping himself for stronger vocal performances when I may already say to him, "that's perfect."
Luxi: Did you record everything at your own studio, Sound Quest studio?
Anton: Yes, we did.
THE FUTURE PLANS OF THE BEASTS
Luxi: With your own headlining tour about to start in February and two studio albums have you had any talks about which songs you will be playing?
Kasperi: Well, we were thinking that we will rehearse all the songs from both albums. After that, we will have a better picture which will work best in a live situation. On the other hand, our songs are not that long in general, so we will probably play a lot of stuff from our debut album as well as the new one. We should get approx. 90 minutes for this tour, so it's possible we may well perform both of our albums from start to finish unless we come up with something totally radical for our set...
Anton: Like adding a couple of Klamydia (a famous Finnish punk band—Luxi) cover songs to our setlist.
Kasperi: Besides them, let's add a couple of songs from Popeda as well. Perhaps a good number of people abroad might drop their jaws on the floor if we did...
Luxi: Haha ... you can always tell your audience, "we haven't played the next song live for a long time, or maybe never".
Kasperi: A bit more seriously, if we think of the max running time of our new album, with those two cover songs, it's about 55 minutes in length if I remember right. If we exclude the bonus tracks, the album has a pretty optimal length for a classic vinyl I think.
Nonetheless, it's nice to get both of our albums covered on this headlining tour. We like to play the old songs live as much as we like to perform the new songs. The trick is to build up a reasonable set out of all the songs that we have.
Luxi: How successful was the tour you did with Nightwish in getting the band's name out there?
Anton: Yes, the tour was helpful in every sense, I believe. Some of the existing platforms that can measure how much recognition we got are showing increasing numbers for us, which is great, of course! Also, we have been contacted by more people since the tour with Nightwish, and that's all good for us. What would be the point of doing a tour like this if no one was interested in coming to see us? It would probably mean we are not doing things right. Hopefully we are doing some things right and that is why we are getting all this positive feedback from people from all around the world.
Luxi: I also heard that people were buying a lot of Beast in Black merchandise on this tour; so much that some of your shirts, CDs, and stuff were almost sold out at some of the venues where you played...
Anton: Well, that may have happened. We were all so busy on this tour that one brave and unknown guy decided to join us at one "Meet & Greet" session, signing CDs for us.
Anton: It was one hilarious, undoubtedly alcohol-related incident when this fellow just stood next to our drummer Atte (Palokangas) and started signing some stuff for one of our female fans. I remember the whole signing session being pretty chaotic all in all...
Kasperi: Shit happens, haha!
Luxi: You will also have a bunch of summer festival appearances coming up, but what have you planned after the summer? Is the time after the summer still on some sort of "hush-hush" stage at the moment?
Anton: We do have some touring plans, but it's just that we need to check which are realistic for us to do. One thing is for sure. We will be playing a lot live after this summer, no doubt. I personally hope that we could go back to Japan again because when we visited Japan last time, it was just great for us.
Luxi: Yes, I remember you played there at the Suomi Feast, at the end of May last year. How was this tour arranged, from your point of view?
Kasperi: We played at pretty small clubs and it was organized very well. All the timetables worked well, and it was a really cool experience for us, despite all the hecticness that was around us nearly all the time. We played four shows there, and three had six bands on the bill, us included. The changeovers between bands were tightly scheduled, but they all went well, and the audience seemed to have fun at every gig.
Luxi: It's an interesting concept, all in all, to have a festival for Finnish bands in Japan. How much did you talk to the organizer of the festival while you were in Japan?
Anton: Yes, we talked to him quite a bit. He was present all the time, traveling with us from one place to another. He's a cool guy.
Kasperi: The guy has this organization named Evoken de Valhall Production, and he brings all kinds of metal bands to Japan for shows.
Luxi: Well, that was it from me. Thanks a lot for your time guys, and see ya at your gigs.
Anton & Kasperi: Thank you for having us.
|Other information about Beast in Black on this site|
|Review: From Hell with Love|
|Review: From Hell with Love|
|Interview with guitarists Anton Kabanen and Kasperi Heikkinen on March 4, 2018 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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