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Ravenia – Beyond the Walls Of Death

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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