Meeting Anton Kabanen was surprising in many ways. He has changed since leaving Battle Beast and as far as I can say for the better. I met a considerate yet confident musician full of plans and apparently not only I do regard him very capable of achieving those goals he set for himself and his new band: Beast in Black.
This Beast in Black comprises a list of well-known names in the scene. There is Anton Kabanen, of course, whom we know from his time with Battle Beast and as the recent guitarist of the Hungarian band Wisdom. Speaking of Wisdom, there is Máté Molnár, the bassist of both bands. Yannis Papadopoulos is not only the lead vocalist of Beast in Black but also of Wardrum. About the drummer Sami Hänninen we will learn later a little more and then, there is, last but not least Kasperi Heikkinen, who was guitarist in Dirkschneider’s U.D.O. and in Amberian Dawn, to name only two of many!
During the interview a fully relaxed and humorous young man replied to my questions, telling me a lot of stories long before and after the actual interview, being curious on the world and open-minded. The worst student, as he claims, the ‘Ogel’ (Pop & Jazz conservatory in Oulunkylä/Helskinki) has ever had, has become an experienced and internationally renowned musician, saying, he is exchanging the former mistakes by new ones. And this is actually a very important topic to him.
During my preparations for the interview I had somewhere picked up that Anton was in the beginning only a stand-in at Wisdom. But he corrects me: “No, actually I was never.” But as Wisdom descents from Hungary and Anton is Finnish, I am curious to learn, how it all came to be with him playing in Wisdom and in the end Máté (Molnár) in Beast in Black. “In 2015 I was out of the Battle Beast and at the same time, Máté Bodor got out of Wisdom. And me and the bass player of Wisdom, Maté – same name as the guitarist – we were talking, and kind of ended up doing an exchange. He comes to my band to play bass, and I come to his band, Wisdom, to play guitar. It was a quite natural process.”
“You mentioned, you’ve been friends before, you were meeting, exchanging ideas and so on?” – “Yeah, exactly. I met Máté in 2013 when Wisdom and Battle Beast were supporting Powerwolf in Europe. And we got along very well. We talked a lot. The chemistry was like there as a human being and as a musician. We got along very well. I remember that I liked spending time with that guy. And then, two years later, when the situation like changed in his band and in my band, we talked, and it was kind of.” Anton never takes long breaks to think and only few. “It happened quite natural, very easily. We both needed like some kind of help. I needed help to put up a new band. He needed help with a guitarist in his band. And as we liked each other… So, that’s about it. It was really fast and easy.”
“So how did you find the other members for Beast in Black?” – “The singer, Yannis, I found him through Youtube. It was already a couple of years before my departure from Battles Beast, or something like that, that I came across his Youtube videos. I didn’t think like ‘hei, this is a great singer, let’s put a band’ because I was already in Battle Beast, and things were going great then. Later, when things with Battle Beast started to go into a worse direction, I knew like I can put a new band, and I have to find the singer, and the other members as well. And I started talking with the guy because I remembered him from a few years back. And I met with him in Greece in 2015. And during the last tour of Battle Beast, as long as I was in the band, we met with Yannis then. And I explained to him, that I gotta put up a new band, and if he was interested. And he said ‘Yeah’. We started to contact ever since and few months later it was already clear, what the line up was going to be like because Yannis was interested in the band, and so was the bass player. And the drummer, Sami, was an old friend of mine from the times of Battle Beast, because he was a technician for Battle Beast on a German tour in 2011. And he contacted me actually and said ‘hei, if you need a drummer for your new project, than I am interested.’ Then I said: ‘Sure, let’s meet and talk.’ And we met and we talked and he joined the band. It was kind of an easy thing to do. I didn’t have to search for a drummer too long. And the other guitarist, Kasperi, I met him already in 2010, and we didn’t really hit off from the beginning. I mean, we just met and that’s it. For three years, we were not in contact. We just knew each other but it wasn’t until 2013 that we supported U.D.O. in Sweden and Norway, when I really got to talk with Kasperi after a show in Sweden, I think. Or in Norway – it doesn’t matter. And we realized, we had lot of in-common things as human beings like things we share, like opinions about life and stuff and especially music-wise. We love the old-school stuff. We love the 80s stuff. We love that. We started to talk more and more and slowly we kind of kept in touch. And like two years later I had to put up a new band, and I was right away thinking like, ‘Kasperi, he is the first guy I have to ask to join this band.’ Because, we really have like so many similar things. And luckily he is now in the band. So, did I forget anybody? Hm? No!”
“No”, I agree. “I think. So the chemistry among the members has become a very important point now? And as you were touring with Sami before that might have been some kind of advantage for a tour is always a very intense time.” — “Exactly. You’re very right and Sami proved to be the right one, responsible, talented, and on top of all, he is also a great drummer.” –
“And fitting the style as well?” – “Fitting the style as well, yeah! Sami can play many styles in my opinion. He is technically very talented even though he is focused more on metal, and previously he played this death-metal-like blast stuff. And I know that he loves the Bon Jovi style. And this stuff that is Beast in Black is 80s heavy metal – in a way.” – “Very catchy.” – “Yeah, very catchy. So he fits very well into this.”
“So do the members also listen to the same style of music privately, it seems? Is there a difference in what you listen to privately and what you like to play with Beast in Black?” – “Let’s put it that way. I listen to similar stuff as what I write, like Manowar, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Accept, Wasp. On top of that I like to listen to soundtrack music, acoustic music. I love Blackmore’s Night. That is one of my favourites, actually. Richie Blackmore’s band”, he adds, but: “I know, of course.” – “I have all the albums, except for one or two, I think. And I love that stuff. But if you are a songwriter, you have to choose your style, like what are you gonna focus on the most. And in heavy metal you have the most freedom to do whatever you want, basically. Because, if you do soundtrack music or pop music, or acoustic music, you cannot put too aggressive stuff in there.” – “Of course”, I support. “It will alienate the fans. But in heavy metal you can go from a whisper into deafening roar and that stuff. And that is freedom for me. And I guess, that’s why I choose heavy metal. And I listen to that music. But I still love the other stuff as well. And I wouldn’t do a Beast in Black-album that is 50 % heavy metal and 50 % like techno and soundtrack stuff.”
I imagine the result and think: “Or maybe one day you’re gonna join that or you come up with something totally different and new in a project that is off Battle Beast.” – “Yeah, yeah.“ Then I notice my mistake: “Oh sorry. Beast in Black, of course. So many beasts.” But Anton remains totally relaxed, “I know, I know. Even the band members confuse the names at times, to be honest”, he admits laughing.
“As long as the band members themselves to not mix up the bands (not the names) somehow… “ – “True”, he says laughing. “But that happens all the time. And in a way I think it is even a good thing because people always get the connection to Battle Beast. And somehow remember the past in a way.” – “And maybe even remember the style of the music.” – “Yeah. And actually I was thinking a lot” and repeats even louder and more emphasizing: “A LOT about the name of the I would choose for the new project. It was not an easy choice. But than I thought, ‘hei, it’s perfect!’ Because that name, Beast in Black, it’s actually related. The main inspiration came from the ‘Berserk’ manga, from the Japanese manga that I love. And there is this character, the black sword’s man, Guts. And he has this spiritual animal, called Beast of Darkness. And I was thinking: ‘The black sword’s man and the Beast of Darkness and Beast in fucking Black.’ And when I released on Facebook that Beast in Black is the band name, I remember like immediately some comments like asked ‘Is this about Guts from the ‘Berserk’ comics?’ And I was like ‘YESSS!’” His passion and adoration of the manga are striking and gripping. “Because I love to write songs about that Japanese manga”, he points out.
The Berserk and the Beast’s Evolution
“If this is about a sword’s man, are you in for show sword fighting in some kind or something like that?” He thinks a second or two: “I like medieval stuff a lot. I also like cyber punk, futuristic stuff. Musically I write very different stuff. And lyrically I write very different themes. But this just seemed right, you know. You just have to make a choice. You can’t have a name that is related to every topic. But to me this Japanese ‘Berserk’ manga is very important. And it has the Beast. And I have never thought of abandoning that name. I mean, there is a reason why I named the Battle Beast, Battle Beast. It’s very personal. You gotta have that something. There is something in that from me.”
“This sounds to me that starting something new always was meant to continue something that you really liked.” – “Yeah.” – “Like not making a total start over but cutting off those things that have not worked out but continuing with the good.” – “Yeah, it’s like a rebirth, you know. Evolution of this thing called Battle Beast. You know Battles Beast’s evolution into Beast in Black. Like to me it was the first three albums like ok. That’s it. If it ends there, it ends there. But I still have the same kind of passion to explore these themes and topics that I used to explore in Battle Beast. I’m doing it the same way, and that’s it. And there is actually nothing so complicated to that. Some people think if they are out of the band, they have to make something totally new. I didn’t feel it that way because what I did with Battle Beast I can stand 100 % behind ever song that I wrote.”
“And you did write the new songs all as well?” – “Yeah, I wrote the songs, the lyrics and the arrangement stuff, and the production, and in the end finish the mixing. Like song writing-wise, it doesn’t feel so different to Battle Beast, to be honest. It’s been always quite the same for me.”
I am a bit surprised by this. But then why would he change what has worked out well to him? So I think the new part in Beast in Black has to be something on the interactive level of the band: “But the cooperation within the band is more what you want it to be like?” – “For sure! Because, I really like the professionalism of all the members. When it comes to recordings, I can trust everybody. They have enough knowledge, and technical abilities, and like passion to finish the stuff like when it is not 100 % they will not stop until it is perfect. And that’s what I like. And they understand this thing in my opinion.”
“So perfection is really important to you?” – “Yeah, of course.” – “To go forward for it? Maybe not achieving it because … ” – “Yeah, perfection is a just a word. It means just that like push yourself to the limit. You know, it is very simple. That’s it. And of course, you gotta have some kind of guidelines. There’s gotta be a leader who says which way to go. And in this band, I gotta to be this person who tells what we need, and we will not stop until we reach this or this level.”
“So did you challenge the limits of any of the members during the recording?” – “Well, I think it is better to ask them this question. But I think with the singer especially, who told me himself, that, you know, even when we were recording the first demos he said … well, I don’t know if I remember it correctly, I don’t wanna lie, but if I remember correctly, he said something like he had never done so hard stuff in the studio like. It was in 2015 actually, when we recorded some backing tracks for our first show. We did some other like demo recordings at the same time, and I remember that already back then he was like feeling ‘Wow, this is hard’. Well, the actual lead vocal recording for this album’s songs were kind of a test for him and me as well how our cooperation works. And I am really demanding. And I knew the talent of the guy, his potential. And I decided to push it to the limit. And he did it. Like, when we were both listening to his vocal tracks he sometimes saying himself like ‘Woooow’, like ‘What is this?’ So I think that he is pretty satisfied with what he could do. And I have heard Yannis’s other recordings with other band, Wardrum, and his vocal covers on Youtube. And honestly, it is not because Beast in Black is like our thing but honestly and objectively, I can say that there is nothing like so great, performances like vocal-wise, he has done in his other projects and bands he has done like what he has done with Beast in Black. We really have the softest and most delicate stuff, we have strongest stuff in this album. In any way we try to use as much colours of his voice as we could. And not just because to show what he can do, but it’s always carefully thought through and then there are certain colours of his voice and it’s made sure that it fits the song. Music-wise.
“And that’s what I was thinking perhaps in his other bands the songs are not meant to explore the limits of his vocal capacities?“ – “Yeah, exactly.” – “Maybe these songs are more focused on his vocal core capacities?” – “Yeah. I think, maybe Yannis or the others will correct me, but I think in his other bands, they didn’t use his full potential. They were more in the comfort zone. Even though he used his full range in Beast in Black, I was demanding many times like ‘More power!’ ‘More power!’ ‘More power!’ Like louder. Harder. More aggressively. You can sing a note in so many different ways. And I have been like a power freak since the beginning. Like I told you, you can hear the whisper and when you roar, you have to fucking roar!” Each letter was emphasized in this last sentence. And Anton smiles, however, it is not just any smile. It reveals all his passion and pride with what he achieved and what Yannis, in his perspective, was able to deliver, meeting the standards of this most demanding man sitting opposite of me. His eyes shine like the sun.
“Is it important to you to make use of all the resources you have in the band?” – “Yeah.” – “Like if there is someone being able to play another very exotic instrument….” And passionately he takes over: “For example, yeah! I am always excited about stuff like that, if someone shows that he can do something extra. And I go ‘Hmmmm, what can I do with that?’” Perhaps it is because we were speaking too much of mangas and comics earlier, but honestly: Anton sat in this rattan armchair, leaned back apparently feeling very comfy, his fingers rubbing his lips to gesture this thinking process he just described. His eyes are still shining. But this time … it is a bit more like this little Viking comic boy coming up with a new idea saving yet again the ass of his father’s. “The music is like a play ground. You know it’s like, music is to me like a toy. Also in a way. It is a serious thing but I like to play with it as well.” – “That’s the creative part of it? I mean, one of them. You can always rethink and reshape, make it different. Not better or worse – necessarily. But different. And thereby come up with something new even though perhaps only a trace of new.” Anton agrees with several “yeah” half loud.
Now that the atmosphere is just as relaxed and open as can be, I come with the question that is more burning than any other: “How on earth did you manage to get the slot on Tuska last year and the support gigs for Nightwish and Sabaton? Without a single song released?” – “Hm? We were lucky enough. They called me. Or more precise, I received emails like ‘would you like to play the support gigs for Nightwish and Sabbaton and a gig at Tuska?’ And I was like ‘Hell, yes! Of course.’ And I think it shows that people trust that there is something good going on. And they trust that what we are working on is gonna be something good. In a way, of course, it puts pressure, I mean, pressure like when the album comes out, it has to be good because otherwise it would be embarrassing in a way as many people trusted in us and gave these opportunities and then we just suck. And the album: no one likes it. But at least, I am very confident about the album. All the members in the band they like the songs and everyone who heard the album was pretty excited about it. So I don’t think there’s gonna be like a problem or I hope there is not gonna be a problem to continue with doing more gigs and tours. Because we will like soon show that the Beast is alive. You know, we are ready to continue on this path of war or, however, you wanna put it.” His eyes shine again. This sentence, I am confident, he prepared it before, to be prepared; to make sure his enthusiasm and that of the other band member is noticed. – Understood! “Whatever metaphor you wanna use. But go on and become stronger and to stay hungry for this stuff. You know, that’s important. We are hungry. We really live for music. And surely every member in this band just loves music, and has passion. And I talked to every one of them. You know, they couldn’t live without music. So I am happy about this. And it is all about taking this next step. The album is ready. It’s good. Great, I hope.” [And here I think I meet this old kind of friend of mine: the understatement … the Finnish plague.]
“Ok, the release gig: If you could choose freely, the venue for the release gig. Where would it be, if it could be in any place around the world? What would suit the Beast most?” – He takes a moment to think. “Hm, it’s very natural to play the gig here in Helsinki. Obvious choice. I like things to be done what seems like initially the best way. I don’t wanna make a sensation and go play this gig in Eiffel tower in Paris.” – “Not heading for Machu Pichu or Tokyo? More classical?” – “No, in the capital city of Finland. I think this is most logical choice. Hometown is hometown, so to say. “ – “But it is your hometown. Not the hometown of all the members of the band“, I insist. “Our other guitarist, he is also here from Helsinki and it still is a Finnish-based band or let’s say its headquarters are here in Helsinki.”
“Are the logistics a bigger problem than in a band that is not spread over half a continent? Is or will it be it complicating rehearsals?” – “So far it has been quite ok. Every time we had a gig I booked the flight for the guys like one week or few days prior to the gig. So we played the set lists through a few times, 10 times or so. And so far it has worked pretty fine. Because all the guys, they are very musical and then when I sent them the songs, I sent them Guitar Pro Files – I use GuitarPro 4 to compose – and I sent them files and then their homework is like to learn the songs from that file. And when they come to Helsinki, they know what to sing and what to play. So we just go through the set list in a professional way and just work on the tightness of the band and try to make it sound tight. So it’s not really that complicated but to be honest we haven’t played like a two-hours set or one-hour set. We have our set so far. We only played like 45 minutes gig at maximum. And if you play your own show, not a support show, you got to have a full show. And for that you need more rehearsals and building up the show. And you know not just music-wise, but in a theatrical way, and visual way and everything. We haven’t done that yet so of course it is a challenge. With Battle Beast it was easy. We always practised in Helsinki. Almost everybody was in Helsinki. And we had our own rehearsal place but with Beast in Black we don’t have our own rehearsal place. We always have to rent a room.“
“Will you have some show elements that need to be prepared in advance?” – “We discussed about some small things but so far it is mostly being quite free. But I think if you want to be like professional and go to tour you have to make like this plan for the show. What will you do between the songs? And if there are some synchronised choreographies? Small things, but they are important, in my opinion. I just love Judas Priest. And I watched one bootleg gig from them on Youtube, and it was from the year ’88. And I was looking at the gig and I was ‘Wow’. That was the best Judas Priest gig ever I have seen. And I am all sad, because we’re not gonna see that gig. I still love Judas Priest. But I think they like don’t do shows that awesome. Anymore or for a long time. I looked at this show and it was performed great, and it always has these small things during the show. The freedom of improvisation and the planned part. And that’s what we’re gonna do. Gotta learn from the best, so to speak.”
“Sounds great”, I admit frankly. “So would you have enough material for a headlining show?” – “Yeah, especially as we’re gonna play like some older Battle Beast stuff. Of course, it was like three albums. So it’s not a problem.”
“So do you have any ideas on the schedule already?” – “ We hope we can do some tour at the end of this year. If that’s not possible, then at least early next year. That’s what we hope for.” “Touring Finland only or also all over Europe?” – “Both, hopefully.” –
“Do you have any wishes what kind of a band you’d like to have with you on such a tour? Concerning the style or a fitting chemistry?” – “Of course, the style cannot be too different. But let’s just see. Well, let’s put it this way: Let’s see who is interested in playing shows with us. If it is a band coming with us or coming as a co-headliner or … I don’t really mind. I am open to all the suggestions. The most important is to get a tour that is organized very well. And promoted in a very strong way. Because the first tour, it has to be great. You know I don’t wanna go on tour, and none of the members wanna go on a tour that is like anything less. I mean it sounds kind of harsh. It’s not meaningless if little people come to the shows. You have to make a strong impact from the beginning on, and we try to hold to that idea.”
“I think it should not be too hard for which ever label to come up with it to manage a good tour. Because I think there are quite some names in the band that will draw some attention.” – “Yeah, I hope so and thanks to the previous years with Battle Beast, I also know people who I can contact and talk with them, and you know, we will see. Because in the moment we are in the middle of finding the right deal, working on that. And I am waiting for some answers. Let’s put it like this. And hopefully I will get some answers like during this week or next week. And if the answers are positive on the record deal and bla bla bla, then we can start thinking on the tours.”
“As you have given me the reply on my superhero question already earlier when we were speaking of the band’s name, I would like to ask you another more odd question.” – “Sure.” I introduce the elephant question, asking Anton to imagine that he was about to play a gig in no more than an hour’s time. Being followed by an elephant in such a situation is a situation. Literally. But of course, no elephant can stop Anton, but only support: “I will ride the elephant!” he says, simply and fully relaxed. I wonder if he is a proficient elephant rider: “I guess so!” Of course! I thank for the interview and we sit another half an hour talking. It is impossible to repeat here all the stories we were speaking of. Because in the end, we sat there for two full hours talking. Two full hours he had taken to meet me. I am honoured. Really.
My impression is: The Beast will rise soon. And I am quite sure it will be even better than before. Anton Kabanen is devoted to music and there is nothing going to stop him. It might have been his passion and determination – I speculate here, of course – that made those people call him to get the Beast in Black on stage before they had actually recorded their album.
Asking Anton for an interview I had a clear mission. I did not intend to stir up old stuff. I did not want to ask about dirty laundry. Actually I wanted to learn everything there is about Beast in Black. Now only thinking of the band names being so similar this intension appears a bit naïve. How could I have thought the past in Battle Beast had no affects on the new band when the mastermind of both is the same? One reason for me not to go back to Battle Beast questions was not to come up with questions that might result in painful or at least unpleasant memories. It is important to me, my interviewees feel relaxed and comfy. The other common approach to deal with failure and mistakes of the past is to speak of them, think them over and in particular not hide them in the depths of your memories. And Anton obviously chose this second path, very consciously speaking of what happened and coming up with ideas how to avoid redoing these mistakes.