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Finland has always had a long-standing reputation in being one of the primary providers of high-quality symfo metal. Ravenia - the scion of the earlier and tragically underappreciated In Silentio Noctis – is one of the more recent Suomi exports to carry on that long-standing legacy. Its Inner Wound Recordings debut “Beyond the Walls Of Death” conclusively proves that symfo metal is an exclusive Finnish specialisation. Unlike its alma mater Ravenia puts a far greater emphasis on its symphonic element, and not without reason. For the uninitiated “Beyond the Walls Of Death” has the makings of a particularly ambitious symfo metal record with a mesmerizing vocal performance from its leading lady, for everybody else it remains a testament to the obvious: Armi Päivinen is a classically trained vocalist trapped in a genre which conventions that restrict and stifle her innate talent.

The focal point of Ravenia is, of course, frontwoman and main creative force Armi Päivinen, an enchanting raven-haired, viridescent eyed mezzo soprano with a 4 octave range and talent to spare. Päivinen is a well-worn veteran of the Suomi scene with her earliest credits dating back to Helsinki unit Bare Eternity, who were on the verge of rebranding themselves Exsecratus. Leeni-Maria Hovila preceded Päivinen with recordings in Exsecratus, whereas it was Jenni Saira that lend her vocals to the band’s second (and final) album in 2011. Ongoing conflicts with Olli Mattila forced Päivinen out of said band. Around this time Kouvola-based Kivimetsän Druidi, the symfo folk/pagan metal studio project from the brothers Joni and Antti Koskinen, tried to rope her into joining – but in an ironic twist of fate it was her erstwhile Exsecratus colleague Leeni-Maria Hovila who ended up recording with the brothers’ band. In the interim Armi formulated her own symfo metal project In Silentio Noctis, which proved resilient enough to warrant a label-sanctioned debut album and eventually another EP with a revised recording line-up. In Silentio Noctis eventually went on hiatus and heralded the rise of her current and personal studio project Ravenia.

Whereas in In Silentio Noctis Päivinen was frequently subordinate to the domination of the metallic elements, Ravenia is almost exclusively based around the angelic vocals of la Päivinen. A logical result from the greater emphasis on vocals is that the metal aspect of Ravenia is secondary at best, and completely unnecessary at worst. In fact more often than not the metal element distracts from the symphonic vistas, lush orchestrations, and keyboard tapestries. In Silentio Noctis found someting of a working equilibrium between its excursions into Danny Elfman soundscapes and more genre-typical, straightforward symfo metal. “Beyond the Walls Of Death” makes no qualms about being a symfo soundtrack first and foremost, and a metal outfit as a distant second. The album aims not to wow its audience with groundbreaking innovations as far as the metal aspect is concerned, instead it lays the groundwork for far more engaging keyboard-heavy journeys into the world of movie soundtracks and soothing ambient soundscapes.

The implementation of all-encompassing keyboards, choirs, and lush orchestration often comes at the expense of the traditional metal aspect – which is supplemental at best, and purely supportive at worst – but never to its detriment. Which doesn’t change the fact that its metal aspect is fairly obtrusive, and frequently completely unnecessary, in light of that the majority of the material for the album was written with orchestrations and keyboard in mind. As such does the metal element seldom venture beyond covering the basic requirements of the genre. The guitars will chug, the drums keep time and occassionally will blast, and the bass guitar showcases no individuality beyond doubling the guitars. In other words, it is not the writing nor the performance of the metal aspect that makes it redundant – but the sole fact that the material never calls for it in the first place. Ravenia is a symfo outfit at heart and its metal aspect only drags it down into the mires of mediocrity because the stifling conventions of symfo metal restrict its true passion: soundtrack music.

Neither adhering to the rules of its more accessible, pop-formatted peers, nor a disciple of the earlier death – and symfo metal bands that preceded it, Armi and her assembled cast of studio musicians do indeed resemble a movie score in composition more often than they do the average metal band. It is this crucial difference that defines Päivinen and her creative choices. As a classically trained singer with her range metal genre conventions will often end up restricting her and her obvious abilities. If there’s anything negative about “Beyond the Walls Of Death” is that it does have the unfortunate tendency to stay within a single pace, and often relies a bit too much on the orchestrations to carry the brunt of the dynamics. This is offset by Armi’s golden pipes and the consistent difficulty of the vocal arrangements, which tend to sound deceptively simple to the untrained ear. In actuality are meticulously structured and hard to get absolutely right.

It would be a disservice to Ravenia to solely label them as a metal band as they are, first and foremost, a symphonic band that frequently borders on soundtrack music. It comes then to the surprise of absolutely nobody that even paid the slightest of attention to Päivinen and her project that Ravenia in the interim since the release of the album has reformulated itself as a soundtrack compositions studio outfit. The inkling has always been present with Päivinen, and that exactly Ravenia underwent this stylistic transformation is only logical in retrospect. All signs pointed towards it. The metallic aspect of her bands, past and present, has always what ended up restricting her in more ways than one. Where many symfo metal bands imitate orchestration through keyboard enhancements Ravenia instead hired a modest string ensemble. The ensemble provides the compositions with a natural warmth that synthetics can’t match or replicate. “Beyond the Walls Of Death” avoids all trappings of the symfo metal genre, and its appeal lies in its far more ambitious and truly engrossing soundtrack aspect. There isn’t a whole lot of symfo metal that is worthy of such accolades, but Ravenia is not your average band.

Plot: boarding school pupil discovers the outside world. Hilarity ensues…

Honneponnetje (released internationally as Honeybun) was the third movie for director Ruud van Hemert who became famous for Schatjes! (1984) and Mama Is Boos! (1988). His two previous movies were satirical black comedies about the dysfunctionality of the typical 1980s Dutch nuclear family and saw the director dealing with his kids and with a particularly nasty divorce, respectively. Honeybun is much lighter fare as it is a rather straightforward raunchy teen comedy. Despite its naive charm and innocuous outlook on modern city life Honeybun would effectively bury van Hemert’s cinematic career for a good 17 years. Honeybun launched the career of Nada van Nie, the titular starlet – but in retrospect ended hurting her as she was typecast almost immediately after.

During the credit sequence we are introduced to Honneponnetje (Nada van Nie) in the middle of bathing. Since this aims to be a somewhat respectable movie Honneponnetje (Dutch word for Honeybun, or sweetheart) - a pupil at the strictly Catholic Anna Regina boarding school for girls, an elite institute presided over by a convent of uptight, pedantic nuns - is covered in a semi-transparent gown. Ensuring that the audience knows exactly the kind of humor Honeybun is aiming for, van Nie’s chest pops out, much to the chagrin of the nuns in congress, while reading a penny dreadful by the name of “Annet’s Liefdeszang” (“Annet’s Lovesong”) during morning mass. We learn that it’s Honeybun’s 16th birthday, and the tacky novel pushes her to discover the many wonders of the big city, in this case: Amsterdam.

Nada van Nie was a young television actress whose star had risen high enough to warrant an excursion into cinema. Van Nie was the daughter of filmmaker René van Nie, who wrote/directed 5 movies from 1974 to 1982. In the late 1980s, and mainly thanks to her work in Dutch and German sitcoms, Nada van Nie (who, like many a starlet, attempted to launch a singing career parallel to her acting) was held up as the new promise for Dutch cinema. Unfortunately her choice of roles would effectively kill her career in 1991. After the disastrous Intensive Care (1991) van Nie reinvented herself as a TV host (for RTL 4 and SBS 6), columnist (for Top Santé, Femme, and the saturday edition of VROUW Telegraaf) and as an ambassador for MYBODY. Van Nie has only acted sporadically since the early nineties. Not that her semi-retirement should be considered an irreparable loss for Lowlands cinema.

The screenplay, which isn’t exactly high art and banks almost entirely on van Nie’s considerable natural assets, is rife with running gags and stock characters. Van Nie’s Honeybun is your stereotypical good-natured but naive and not terribly bright small-city girl. Half of the movie’s gags revolve around the fact that van Nie has breasts. This is thoroughly emphasized when after having fled the boarding school Honeybun sheds her restrictive school uniform for the latest in candy colored 1980s fashion. The camera takes a good long look at van Nie’s plump chest ensuring that we’ve noticed that she’s wearing a crucifix, but not a bra. This is supposed to convey that she’s a good but naive Christian girl. Every male character, with exception of Harry (Marc Hazewinkel), almost without fault acts as a potential predator. At the end of the second act Honeybun meets an actual sexual predator, the entire thing is played for laughs for the most part. Another running gag is that every male, including Harry, will take a good long look at Honeybun’s chest, cos that is supposedly what passes for humor. Authority figures, be they law enforcement, the convent at the institute, or even parental figures, are more of a hindrance than help. Minorities are drawn in broad, often derogatory strokes.

Characterizations mostly depend on all the known stereotypes. Harry is painted initially as a denim, leather jacket wearing bad boy – but he turns out to be the nicest male character by a wide margin. When Honeybun meets Apollo Romanski (Herbert Flack), a thinly-veiled caricature of Polish-American director Roman Polanski (who in 1977 was arrested and charged with statutory rape of a 13 year-old girl), a producer of adult entertainment who very much wants to audition Honeybun, is a sleazebag of the highest order. Flack is visibly having a blast playing the part as he parlays himself into giving Honeybun an oil massage in his ornately decorated loft. Both parents appear estranged from their daughter. In a scene that serves to set up a third act running gag Honeybun is urged to call home. When she does, her father interprets her demand for “loose change” for “ransom” in the movie’s cleverest linguistic joke. The script never bothers to explain why the disappearance of a random 16 year old girl would be a concern of National Security, nor why it would warrant a citywide lockdown, complete with the police force and military working together, and aerial support.

1786180,z+Bg4oJPl3Uow68TZvwwLwUroV4SU8PL9AvPW44uu0r37f0lxjx99739iAnbLhL0RGx37Cc1sqYCy1AsbIYeeA==To its credit the screenplay does play up Honeybun’s interaction with the world and the people inhabiting it for maximum comedic effect. Most of the jokes are derived from the good Catholic girl's naiveté and sheltered upbringing. The most prominent of these are that every time another character says something racy/tacky/dirty, Honeybun will do the Sign of the Cross (as they do in prayer). In return, every time Honeybun says something unintentionally racy/tacky/dirty, Harry will spit out his drink/food. Parental - and authority figures are cursing all the time with a specific word, which roughly translates to “damn!” or “darn!" The police detective assigned to the case will always tell what time it is by looking at the arm opposite of the one his watch is on.

When walking around in a bad part of town, Honeybun is repeatedly offered drugs, or mistaken for a hooker – although not always in that order. Men and women alike lust after Honeybun. It's all charming and innocuous, if it weren't so downright insulting. The entire second act is contingent on conjecture by Mother Superior (Nora Kretz) that Honeybun must have been kidnapped following her disappearance from the institution. No one bothers so much as to canvas the perimeter, or talk to Honeybun’s friends at the Anna Regina boarding school. Then again, Anna Regina is such an elite institute that the nuns have to work construction in a wing under renovation during the off-hours. One of the second – and third act b-plots is that Anna Regina urgently needs a cash injection to finish up said renovations on some of its wings. As it turns out Honeybun’s parents (Hans Man in ’t Veld and Marijke Merckens) are, of course, the prime benefactors. An eleventh hour ecclesiastical rescue mission would be lifted almost wholesale in Sister Act (1992).

Scene-to-scene continuity is shaky in parts. In a chase scene early on the weather is alternatively either a torrential downpour or completely dry. Harry sustains a minor head lesion that curiously changes place as the movie progresses. As a lead up to one of the gravest continuity errors (one perhaps kept in to appease the censors) Honeybun sheds her figure-fitting pink top in Harry’s apartment. This leads to the iconic scene where she observes her magnificent globes in the mirror for the first time to her own general wide-eyed bewilderment. Later when Honeybun is sleeping Harry gives in to temptation and snaps a polaroid picture of his half-naked and uninhibited guest. Even though she was clearly topless when the picture was taken, the finished polaroid strategically covers her most visible assets. For some reason Honeybun’s top is back on when she wakes up the next morning. As Honeybun was aimed at a teen audience it never becomes sleazy or smutty. It would have benefitted tremendously from abstaining from its heavy-handed moralizing.

Honeybun is regarded as the second to worst Dutch movie ever, even though it attracted a respectable 300,000 viewers at the box office. Filmed in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and at the abby Bonne-Espérance in Vellereille-les-Brayeux, Belgium – it launched the brief career of starlet Nada van Nie. Open casting sessions were held at Hotel Krasnapolsky in Amsterdam, van Nie won the part without having officially auditioned. Nada van Nie was 21 at the time of the shooting. The wide-eyed, and nubile Nada van Nie isn’t much of an actress and is more famous for her considerable chest and posterior than her acting skills. Kenneth Herdigein was cast for the role of Harry, but he hurt his knee jumping off a ladder for a scene. He was replaced at the last minute by Marc Hazewinkel. The movie was distributed in North America by Cannon Films, the (now-defunct) company owned by trash moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, as Honeybun. Cannon Films specialized in action b-movies, but dabbled in a variety of other exploitation subgenres. Honeybun was released the same year as the Jean-Claude van Damme actioner Bloodsport. Nada van Nie would star in the infamous Dutch-Belgian horror co-production Intensive Care (1991) some three years later. No wonder van Nie would act only sporadically after crashing so legendary and so spectacularly...