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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.

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The “Live & Plugged” franchise was a shortlived home video series wherein German metal conglomerate Nuclear Blast Records sought to promote upcoming new signees through concert recordings and candid interviews. The series spawned a  total of two installments, and was discontinued upon the advent of DVDs as the popular storage format. The first installment included recordings of Darkseed, In Flames and Evereve on the German club circuit, whereas the second part coupled live recordings of Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir, and Swedish death/thrash metal titans Dissection as part of the shortlived “Gods Of Darkness” festival.

Recorded during the Gods Of Darkness Festival at Live Music Hall in Köln, Germany as part of “The Rape and Ruin of Europe” tour in 1997 supporting Cradle Of Filth, and co-headliners Dissection. Dimmu Borgir was the opening band for the tour, as In Flames at that point had a more established reputation as a melodic death metal band. Promising an “in-depth” look at each of the bands the video includes a professionally filmed live set, interviews, and each of the band’s official music videos. While the package at least delivers what it says on the tin, it is riddled with errors, major and minor, from front to back. The live portion of the package is the least problematic – the interview segments don’t offer up any new information that couldn’t be found through alternative means even back when this was released. The “Live & Plugged” video opens with Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir, and is followed by Swedish death/thrash metal outfit Dissection.

Even though Dimmu Borgir was lower on the bill than its Swedish peers Dissection, the Norwegians get to open the video on the strength of its divisive third album “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”, its first for the label. The first notable error is that the highlight opening reel plays to “The Darkest Day” by composer David Arnold from the “Independence Day” movie soundtrack instead of a studio outtake of the band’s own songs. The opening segment sets the tone for the remainder of the home video. Being that Dimmu Borgir was at this point still a support act there are barely any lights during the show, and for the majority of its set the stage is underlit to say the least. Shagrath was still uncomfortable in the frontman position, and this leads to amateurish in-between song banter. The set itself is a representative cross-section of the band’s material up to that point, even though it curiously omits its earliest releases, specifically the meandering “For All Tid” and its lukewarm companion EP “Inn I Evighetens Morke”.

In the setlist only ‘Dodsferd’ and ‘Alt Lys Er Svunnet Hen’ represent the band’s pre-Nuclear Blast catalog. Understandably the set focuses heavily on the lamentable “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”. “For All Tid” is ignored altogether. Only ‘Raabjorn Speiler Draugheimers Skodde’ appears in its re-recorded form during the end credits. Each of the members is enthusiastic and energetic, although drummer Tjodalv sometimes struggles to keep up during the transitions in new songs. During the many keyboard solos, the top-hatted Stian Aarstad can be regularly seen staring blankly into space. The interview hardly justifies its inclusion as it offers up nothing novel (even this early in the band’s career), and its needlessly breaks up the flow of the live set. Stian Aarstad and Tjodalv don’t appear in the interview segments at all, and Shagrath only appears sparsely. Not a lot of care was put into this part of the video, as at one point Nagash is missspelled as ‘Naqash’ during the interview segments. Dimmu Borgir’s part of the video is concluded by the promo video for ‘Mourning Palace’ which mixes live footage of the concert the viewer just saw with stock war footage.

During the Dissection part ‘At the Fathomless Depths’ is played over the opening credits, why another David Arnold composition from the “Independence Day” soundtrack wasn’t used here is anybody’s guess. Tobias Kjellgren substituted for Ole Öhman on drums for the “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” touring campaign. The band plays a representative selection of its two albums, but also includes ‘Elisabeth Bathory’, a cover of Hungarian black/thrashers Tormentor – and ‘Son Of the Mourning’, an old demo song that never appeared on any of its official albums, as part of its set. The band deliver an energetic set with enlived performances from each of the members. bass guitarist Peter Palmdahl, and substitute drummer Tobias Kjellgren are subjects for the interview instead of Jon Nödtveidt, the actual frontman, lyricist and creative force behind Dissection. In fact Jon Nödtveidt, and Johan Norman don’t appear in the interview segments at all. The Dissection part of the home video is concluded by the promo video for ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’, which on the backsleeve of the video is misspells as ‘Where Dead Angles Lie’.

On all fronts the Dissection segment of the live recording is the superior shot of the two productions. Given the band’s bigger profile at the time (the band co-headlined with British dark metallers Cradle Of Filth, with support coming from Swedish then-melodic death metal band In Flames and Dimmu Borgir) it is not entirely unexpected that they were given a better stage sound and lightshow. Likewise does Dissection receive better filming and editing. Most members share equal screentime, only rhythm guitarist Johan Norman is often ignored in favor for lead guitarist Jon Nödtveidt. It’s apparent that Dissection on all fronts was a better-oiled machine and a tightly-knit unit compared to Dimmu Borgir’s semi-amateuristic showing on the same festival.

In all it was understandable that Nuclear Blast decided to scrap the “Live & Plugged” series at the dawn of the DVD format. Its contents and the dubious quality of the interviews did not justify the existence of the franchise. For what it attempted to accomplish “Live & Plugged” was functional at the very least. It was a budget line alternative to dedicated, single-band live recordings that offered a bit of everything for the casual fan. In light of the advent of widely-spread live recordings it was virtually inevitable that “Live & Plugged” was bound to become redundant, which it did. With the live aspect as its primary selling point the video has nothing resembling worthwhile additional footage. “Live & Plugged” was good for what it intended, but ultimately the brand didn’t proof resilient and strong enough to warrant further revisits.