Beast In Black – I knew even from the previous record that the next one will be more in the vein of sci-fi, cyberpunk music

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We go a long way back with Anton Kabanen…we’ve met him in Helsinki before the release of Beast in Black’s debut album and since then we kept in touch and always promote his work. After all, this is a guy who has remained true and loyal to his goal which is none other than releasing great albums and “Dark Connection” is yet another proof as the third album by the Finnish outfit is nothing less than stellar! We get in touch with Anton via Skype to learn all the details and much more… Interview: Sakis Nikas

Rockpages.gr: Anton, I know that it’s probably business as usual for you but I want you to tell me as the sole songwriter of the band, which are they main differences this time around, if there are any…

Anton Kabanen: I think that the main difference is that the trademark Beast in Black style is a bit expanded; slightly heavier but with more keyboards at the same time. There are more metallic guitar riffs on this album compared to the two previous ones. Apart from this, I think that all the cyberpunk elements are strongly present on “Dark Connection”…lots of sci-fi elements in here.

Rockpages.gr: Actually, I wanted to underline the fact that there is a clear sci-fi theme floating around all over the album…from the cover sleeve, to the video and the lyrics.

Anton Kabanen: You are right. I knew even from the previous record “From Hell With Love” that the next one will be more in the vein of sci-fi, cyberpunk music. I didn’t know of course how the songs would turn out or how the stories would be but I had decided even back then that there will be a clear cyberpunk atmosphere. It felt like a return to my roots even though with Beast in Black we haven’t done that type of thing in the two previous albums. But I wrote three albums with Battle Beast and the first couple of records with them were heavily influenced by cyberpunk. For me, it’s a familiar comfort zone…you see, I am really interested in such topics. I focused a lot on the relationship between humans and humanoids/robots instead of writing about cyberspace or all these technological achievements.

Rockpages.gr: You dedicated the whole album to the late Kentaro Miura who was a huge influence on you. Would you like to tell us a few things about him?

Anton Kabanen: Sure…it all started back in 2006 when I watched the original Anime series from the 90s and then I read the Mangas. As you said, Kentaro was a huge influence in every aspect of my career. Naturally, not a single album of mine is all about Berserk, the creation of Kentaro Miura, but I would say that on every album there are at least 3-5 songs dedicated to that concept regardless of the general theme of the album. For instance, “Dark Connection” is definitely a sci-fi/cyberpunk record but it also has 3 songs based on Berserk. It’s a story that will never stop influencing me as the story and the art of Berserk it works on so many and multiple levels that you always find stuff on it. It’s a whole universe that you get to discover new things although you’ve been there many times. That’s the genius of Kentaro Miura! You know…people know better “The Lord of the Rings” but to me “Berserk” is as important as that book. For me personally, it means more than “The Lord of the Rings” but that’s purely a personal opinion.

Rockpages.gr: Did you ever have the chance to meet Kentaro?

Anton Kabanen: Unfortunately, no.

Rockpages.gr: If you had met him, what you would have said to him?

Anton Kabanen: First of all, I would thank him for all the inspiration and I am sure that my last words to him would be: “keep up the good work” (laughs)!

Rockpages.gr: Speaking of the sci-fi theme and the cyberpunk style of “Dark Connection”, Roman Ismailov has designed a fabulous, fitting cover sleeve. Was it completely his idea or did you work closely with him?

Anton Kabanen: We actually worked together in the beginning and we made many drafts and sketchesuntil we decided to stick with the idea of the female robot. You notice the reflection of the beast on her sunglasses and then there are cables coming from her spine as she’s connected to a device we don’t actually see. The influence is again from some anime series.

Rockpages.gr: You said that Kentaro is a huge influence on you and his stories/artwork can be seen on many Beast in Black and Battle Beast songs. Do you see yourself ever drifting away from that lyrical theme?

Anton Kabanen: I know what you mean but I gotta tell you, also, that in every album I explore personal emotions and things despite the overall cyberpunk concept…there’s always room for more personal songs but the beauty of writing lyrics is that you have the freedom to use many metaphors in a way that people can interpret them however they like. For example, they can read lyrics on “Dark Connection” and think that they are about Berserk but in reality those lyrics could be about my personal life.

Rockpages.gr: “Dark Connection” has hit the #1 spot in Finland…I am sure that all the Ed Sheeran fans would not be pleased about it…

Anton Kabanen: (laughs) yeah…well, Ed Sheeran enjoys the fact that he’s #1 in 14 countries but not in Finland.

Rockpages.gr: Being from Greece, you know of course how proud we are of Yiannis’ (Papadopoulos) work on the album. Once again he delivered a brilliant vocal performance. Was he all that you expected when you asked him to join your band almost five years ago?

Anton Kabanen: Oh yes! I think he has developed a lot since those early Beast in Black days even though I knew right from the beginning that he would be a good match as he was so versatile with his voice…he can reach even the highest note with a masculine, powerful voice but at the same time deliver a gentle, almost feminine vocal performance. We already did that on the first album. The difference from that time is that we have learned to work together in the studio in a way that we have reached a point where we don’t have to explain to each other what we try to capture. For example, when we go into the vocal production and then listen to the takes, 99% we agree on what we like from each take. That’s very important and that’s a very smooth collaboration which I really enjoy. We are both perfectionists and we care a lot about even the slightest details. I don’t know if that’s a good thing for our mental health (laughs) but I guess that the end result speaks for itself.

Rockpages.gr: (laughs) Absolutely! When you write a song, do you have Yiannis’ voice on your mind or you just go ahead and write regardless the fact of who sings the song?

Anton Kabanen: In the beginning, I didn’t have it in my mind because I had already written quite a few songs before Yiannis joined the band. Some of the songs were running through my mind before the formation of Beast in Black. There are a few of those early songs on the next two records but the difference now is that I understand Yiannis’ voice and it helps when you compose a brand new song to know to whom you bring that song to.

Rockpages.gr: When we first met 4 years ago, you expressed to me your love about the new retro-wave style of music. In fact, you had written many songs in that style which to this day remain unreleased. Do you see yourself ever releasing that stuff on a solo album maybe…?

Anton Kabanen: Yeah, of course. My biggest passion is to compose and write songs. Beast in Black is of course my main priority but when the time comes and I won’t have any urgent duties with the band, I will release some of that stuff…I don’t know what it would be…an EP, a single song, a whole album…I don’t know but one day some of that stuff, it will come out. Let’s see…it’s been on my mind for many years. Beast in Black is my top priority and as they say, you can’t ride two horses at the same time.

Rockpages.gr: How about touring plans although there will be restrictions due to the whole pandemic situation…?

Anton Kabanen: It’s not gonna be easy…that’s for sure but we are planning on touring heavily for the promotion of the album. Maybe, two or even three years. We have set a bigger plan for “Dark Connection”…we are gonna visit countries we’ve never been before…

Rockpages.gr…including Greece, hopefully.

Anton Kabanen: Of course…I am sure we will get there. We have also many fans in Australia waiting for us. Let’s see how that goes because every day you hear different news on TV with Covid-19. I believe that the world will adapt to this with better solutions.

Rockpages.gr: I know that you hear that all the time but I gotta ask you if you keep up with Battle Beast and what they are doing after your departure…

Anton Kabanen: It’s there…you know…when you go online, on YouTube or whatever, it’s right up there in the “suggestion list”. Whenever someone searches for Beast in Black, up next will be Battle Beast. So, yeah…it’s inevitable. I don’t check their social pages but I still have friends and people always write me like: “do you know what Battle Beast did…?”…well, no I didn’t know that but now that you told me… (laughs). So, I don’t need to follow them…I learn about them via other communication channels, shall we say.

Rockpages.gr: Last but certainly not least, I wanna ask you about the two excellent cover versions of “Battle Hymn” (Manowar) and “They Don’t Care About Us” (Michael Jackson). Who had that idea?

Anton Kabanen: I think it was Yiannis who said first that we should do a cover of “Battle Hymn”…it was during a European Tour that we did in 2019. I think it came out of my “ritual” before the show, where I practice with my guitar for an hour or show playing mostly Manowar songs. Probably, Yiannis came up with that idea after hearing me playing a Manowar riff or something. This song has the same qualities and style as any Beast in Black song…same chord progression, memorable melodies, catchy chorus, great drum pattern etc. Then we added some keyboards to add that Beast in Black touch on the song. Same thing with Michael Jackson…exactly the same explanation, catchy melody and chorus. Both songs have strong yet different lyrics. As a listener, I see “Battle Hymn” in the realm of escapism and “They Don’t Care About Us” is about reality, about contemporary, universal truth. People are stepped on and pushed down all the time, everywhere. But we did those songs in a pure Beast in Black way.