Noble Beast: The TOH Interview
Noble Beast is a band that we have unashamedly admitted our love for in the past. The band has erupted onto the scene with their self-titled debut to high praise and widespread acclaim. Playing a larger than life style of power metal fronted by the bellowing voice of baritone Rob Jalonen, the band has swiftly carved out their own niche in the American and global heavy and power metal scenes. I was able to grab hold of Rob for a couple hours and ask him a few questions. We were able to discuss all sorts of cool things about the band, influences, and his thoughts on heavy music and their place in it.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me and answer some questions! First, let’s talk about the name. Is the Noble Beast based on Freud’s idea of man as a “noble beast,” or is it something else entirely?
It didn’t come specifically from Freud, but that’s definitely a similar idea to what I was trying to get across. I wrote the song The Noble Beast before I ever decided to call my band that. I wrote the song in highschool, where I was surrounded by a lot of conservative Christian types who believed in things like original sin. And I thought that was preposterous. I believed then, as well as now, that man has immense capacity for goodness and compassion. I believe, as Nietzsche did, that the imperative to view mankind as being sinful and evil has made mankind sinful and evil. I think that when we appeal to peoples’ more reasonable and compassionate instincts, they turn out pretty OK.
Of course, it’s all there in the song. I think highschool-me did a pretty OK job of expressing those ideas.
Speaking of lyrics, your album often focuses on wide array of topics, from more philosophical ideas such as the one you just presented, to Norse mythology and the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. What kind of media (music, books, movies, etc.) do you draw from for inspiration for your music and lyrics?
To be honest, my main motive when I write lyrics is fill the vocal melody with words that sound good over the music I’ve already written. Thematically, it’s mostly a hodgepodge of different things I was into at the time I was writing. If I’m learning about Norse mythology, I’ll end up writing a song about Ragnarok. If I’m learning about how maybe the World Bank is actually kind of shitty for a lot of countries, I’ll write Master of Depravity. One thing I didn’t want was for Noble Beast to be just another fantasy metal band that strung together random swords ‘n’ sorcery cliches a la Hammerfall (who I love, but let’s be frank, here). I wanted my lyrics to say something profound, or at a minimum, something novel.
The lone exception is On Wings of Steel, and only because I felt I had to get it out of my system
Noble Beast has received a lot of well deserved positive press for your debut album. When writing the album, did any of you guys expect it to be received so positively, so quickly?
I knew our album was good. Of course. If I didn’t think these songs were good, I wouldn’t have released them. But when people tell me that it’s in their top 5 of the year, or that it’s rekindled their interest in power metal, that kind of blows me away. The fact that we’re getting all this praise for just our first album is surreal. I hope these folks don’t waste all their good superlatives on our debut. I can say with complete confidence that album numero dos is going to be way, way better.
You have crafted an excellent sound for yourselves. What kind of gear are you guys using that grants you the epic sounds we hear coming out of our speakers?
I’m going to sound like a shill here, but since you asked, it’s probably fine. What you are hearing on the album are Dimarzio Super Distortion pickups played through a 5150 II with a cab-sim meant to emulate a Mesa 4×12. That’s pretty much the rig I use live, except that I use a 5150 original instead of a II. I wanted a nice beefy sound, and that’s what we get out of this setup.
Of course, the real credit for the guitar sound on our album all goes to Carlos Alvarez, who made everything sound huge and powerful. Live, however, I think we do a pretty good job of replicating what you hear on the album.
Yeah, if anyone out there has production needs and a limited budget, go find Dirty Viking Audio productions. Carlos will hook you the fuck up.
Tell him Rob sent you. You won’t get a discount or anything, but he might think you’re slightly cooler.
Let’s move to some more abstract questions. Power metal tends to be dominated by wailing tenors with high range, but your singing is primarily baritone. How do you think your natural vocal range makes you approach the genre differently than your peers?
My vocals are something I’ve found that reviewers tend to single out one way or the other. I’m mostly glad that we have something that makes us stand out in a genre where a lot of bands tend to sound the same.
It was never something intentional or calculated. Rather, in the early days, my range just didn’t go up that far, so I had to write my vocals around my physical limitations. It was frustrating at first that I couldn’t sing like a lot of my biggest vocal influences, but guys like Matthias from Falconer and Joakim from Sabaton were big inspirations insofar as how to write metal vocals in a baritone range.
Of course, I eventually discovered my head voice, and was thus able to write and sing the kind of soaring high-register parts that I had long coveted. But my lower-to-mid range is still something I plan on using a lot of in my songwriting. There’s a lot of guys out there who try to be Michael Kiske all the time. I want to give people something different.
Going off of that, power metal is often considered a repetitive and simple genre. What are your thoughts on this, and what kind of effort do you put into your music to make yourselves stand out?
I’d be lying if I said there was no truth to that whatsoever. And I should preface this by saying that power metal is absolutely my most favoritest thing in the whole wide world. It brings me more joy than just about anything else. But it’s absolutely true that a lot of power metal is guilty of falling back on formula and cliche. Power metal fans and musicians are a musically-conservative bunch. And I can’t really blame them. Some really ugly shit has happened to metal over the last 20-25 years. It’s perfectly natural to respond to that by going back to what made metal great in the 80s and early 90s.
But we can’t lock power metal in some musical mausoleum. It’s a living, breathing, vibrant thing, and I think there’s plenty of room for innovation without sacrificing what makes it great. The best power-metal bands are the ones like Blind Guardian, Rhapsody, Lost Horizon, and Falconer who take what’s great about the genre and make it their own.
For my part, I listen to a whole lot of stuff beyond power metal, like Emperor and Ensiferum, and I try and make Noble Beast stand out by incorporating a lot of those influences into what we do. I want to create big, epic, heroic music that will still kick you in the balls.
I feel like you’re reading my questions before I ask them! Contrary to popular trends in heavy music to be subdued and self-conscious, Noble Beast is an over-the-top, bombastic musical group. To what degree is this a conscious decision, as opposed to what simply comes naturally to the band as songwriters?
I think it comes from being comfortable in our own skin. If I may risk sounding like Joey Demaio for a second, we’re not ashamed to be metal. I think some metal musicians are hesitant to embrace the trappings of their own genre because they’re afraid of being a cliche, or of being cheesy, or of being Spinal Tap. Let’s face it: metal hasn’t been “cool” in a long time.
But personally, I love metal and all its trappings. I think long hair, leather jackets, self-indulgent guitar solos, high-pitched wails, and all the other stuff that might cause regular mainstream folks to turn up their nose are actually awesome.
And also, I don’t believe in doing anything half-assed. If I want to write an epic power metal song, I’m going to dive in head-first and make it the most epic, most powerful goddamn thing I possibly can. I’m not going to ponder whether, I dunno, maybe this chorus I’ve written is just TOO big. No, anything I do, I’m all in.
Mind you, I have nothing against bands like Agalloch who might have a more subdued take on metal. I love Agalloch. It’s just not my way.
It’s readily apparent that Noble Beast holds classic groups like Iron Maiden and Blind Guardian in high regard. Are there modern bands that deviate from the traditional “heavy metal” sound in a way that you feel to be a healthy evolution of the genre, as opposed to a crude dilution?
I’m a big proponent of black metal, old-school death metal, melodic death metal, technical death metal that isn’t stupid, doom metal, folk/viking/pagan metal, and other similarly non-shitty metal sub-genres. As far as particular bands, I’m a big fan of Ensiferum, Dissection, Emperor, Morbid Angel, old In Flames, old Children of Bodom, Amorphis, and pretty much any band to come out of Finland. Any innovation within metal that maintains the advanced musicality that I love in the genre is fine by me. It’s mostly the chug-driven, knuckle-dragging, tough-guy stuff that drives me up the wall.
Bonus question round from a couple fans! Masterlord SteelDragon wanted me to ask you: “You rule!”
Masterlord, that’s not even a question. You disappoint me. Leave the hall!
But yes, that’s very kind of you, and thank you.
From J Bergquist: Why do you only use boring/archetypal characters in Guilty Gear?
Steve, you’re just pissed because I always kicked your ass with Sol Badguy and Kai Kiske.
From me, what is your album of the year, and why?
Favorite of the year is hard to pick. A lot of the records people are raving about this year are ones I haven’t gotten around to hearing yet. But as far as what I’ve heard thusfar, I’ve got to go with the new Falconer. The riffs on this album are so goddamn tasty.
Thank you so much for your time, and for the wonderful music. Is there anything else you’d like to tell the flushers over at the Toilet Ov Hell?
Flushers, with all the tripe that the Roadrunner-Revolver-Rockstar Energy Mayhem industrial complex likes to pass off as metal these days, it’s easy to become embittered and give up on the genre. But the fact is, there will always be young, hungry bands coming up that truly get what metal is all about and are eager to show what they’re capable of. You just have to go out and find them. There might be one playing at your local dive bar right now. For our part, we hope that we can make the modern metal scene a little more tolerable one guitar harmony at a time. Thanks for having me!
If you haven’t yet checked out Noble Beast, definitely visit their Bandcamp, give them a like on Facebook, and, if you have a Metal Archives account, head over to their MA page and throw in some similar artists so that they can gain some more exposure from people using that tool.