HEA­THEN SENT

Hav­ing cre­ated one of the most trans­for­ma­tive live ex­pe­ri­ences to hit fes­ti­val go­ers last year, shamanic hea­thens Heilung are be­com­ing a spir­i­tual ral­ly­ing cry

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Subterrane­a - WORDS: JONATHAN SELZER

It be­gan as the most dis­tant of echoes. Self-re­leased in 2015, the lack of fan­fare with which Heilung’s de­but al­bum, Ofnir, greeted the world seemed ap­pro­pri­ate some­how, as if to cross its thresh­old was to un­dergo an ini­ti­a­tion. The rit­u­al­is­tic, pound­ing drums, wolf howls, in­can­ta­tions and call-and-re­sponse chants all or­bited each other in an im­mer­sive, sy­napse-rewiring echo cham­ber, welded to a time­frame in­ac­ces­si­ble by any mun­dane form of wak­ing con­scious­ness. From the rhyth­mi­cally clang­ing swords, bat­tle march stomps and puls­ing drone of Krigs­galdr, her­alded by goat horns and giv­ing rise to a whis­pered mantra ric­o­chet­ing across your con­scious­ness, to the am­bi­ence-bourne throat chants of Fyl­gija Ear – Futhorck drilling down into deep residues of psy­chic strata, here was some­thing both an­cient and im­per­vi­ous. Your first en­counter was akin to en­ter­ing a sweat lodge, let­ting the heavy an­i­mal-hide flap fall be­hind you and find­ing your­self ut­terly re­moved from the world out­side.

“When we started mak­ing Ofnir, we were ba­si­cally mak­ing it for our­selves,” ex­plains Dan­ish pro­ducer Chisto­pher Juul. Christo­pher is one third of Heilung, which is com­pleted by Ger­man vo­cal­ist Kai Uwe Faust and Nor­we­gian vo­cal­ist – and Christo­pher’s band­mate in both gothic pop ex­per­i­men­tal­ists Euzen and folk troupe Son­gleikr – Maria Franz. “We had no idea that any­one would lis­ten to any­thing like this. Why would they? It’s a com­pletely crazy pro­ject! We started re­leas­ing it our­selves, through Band­camp, and we slowly got it out onto iTunes and then we made a book ver­sion last year, but we just let it spread nat­u­rally. We didn’t have any pro­mo­tion com­pany be­hind us at the time, but I think that by its nature it was im­por­tant for this pro­ject that it be­gan to spread nat­u­rally. Peo­ple would lis­ten to the al­bum and they would tell their friends and so on, and ev­ery­one gets a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence from it that way.”

Ofnir’s her­met­i­cally sealed uni­verse had a grav­i­ta­tional pull that felt like a pri­vate ex­pe­ri­ence as much as it con­nected to a greater whole. But the word of mouth that fol­lowed in its wake be­came a mouth-agape, com­mu­nal phe­nom­e­non last year when Heilung per­formed live for the first time at Castle­fest in the Nether­lands and Borre, Nor­way’s Midgardsbl­ot, set amongst the an­cient Vik­ing burial grounds and re­con­structed great hall. If Ofnir trans­ported you into vast in­te­rior space, here was a mind­bend­ing, psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence, the trio ex­panded into an en­tourage of shamanic medi­ums, be­decked in beaded, eye-cov­er­ing head­dresses, jaw­bone and leather masks and antlers as if Guillermo del Toro was hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly vivid ayahuasca vi­sion while hang­ing out with Wes­terosi wildlings. If the elab­o­rate stage set be­decked with bound sticks hold­ing up hide drums, bells and more both marked out a fully-fledged world and in­stilled a co-or­di­nate-ban­ish­ing sense of dis­as­so­ci­a­tion, what fol­lowed for the next 75 min­utes be­came the kind of life-changing, spirit-hi­jack­ing ex­pe­ri­ences – com­plete with an ac­com­pa­ni­ment of blacksmear­ed war­riors on­stage bran­dish­ing shield and spears – that only their fel­low Pa­gan al­chemists Wardruna could pos­si­bly achieve. Ob­vi­ously, putting a show like this to­gether takes a bit more ded­i­ca­tion than or­der­ing up a bunch of pyro tanks.

“Just a lit­tle bit, heh heh heh!” laughs Kai. “In the be­gin­ning, we weren’t plan­ning to do much. The thing was that we had a cou­ple of fes­ti­vals ask­ing us to play from day one, and we were like, ‘No’, ev­ery time, be­cause for us we didn’t want to bring Heilung live as a reg­u­lar band, and go, ‘Here is the next song, it’s about Odin, please like our Face­book page and buy the CD.’ And ac­tu­ally, dur­ing the first talks dis­cussing about how a con­cert should be, we were ask­ing our­selves, should it be on a stage? Should it be on the ground with peo­ple in a cir­cle in a more rit­u­al­is­tic man­ner? But the goal was not to have a typ­i­cal ‘con­cert’, it was to have more a bind­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween the peo­ple per­form­ing on­stage and the au­di­ence.”

The band spent the best part of the year con­ceiv­ing and con­struct­ing the live ap­pa­ra­tus, gath­er­ing shamanic drum­mers from around the world, get­ting will­ing lo­cals to be­come part of the war­rior

“WE PAINTED OUR DRUMS WITH OUR OWN BLOOD”

KAI UWE FAUST LIB­ER­ATES MORE THAN THE SPIRIT

“I ’ VE BEEN DO­ING SHAMANIC RIT­U­ALS IN THE FOR­EST SINCE THE 90S”

THIS ISN’T AN ACT FOR KAI UWE FAUST – IT’S A WAY OF LIFE

choir (“One of the guys,” re­calls Maria, “said,

‘It does some­thing to your brain when you meet in the base­ment with seven other half-naked guys, it em­pow­ers you’, and I could re­late to that.”), cre­at­ing the drums by hand and putting them­selves into the process on a some­what lit­eral level.

“It was amaz­ing to see it be­com­ing real,” says Kai, “and we did ev­ery­thing from scratch. When we built the drums, we had the rawhide here, we were cut­ting it our­selves and paint­ing it with our own blood, and it comes to the point where the whole thing starts be­com­ing alive.”

“We call what we do ‘Am­pli­fied his­tory’,” adds Christo­pher, “we go out there and we per­form an Iron Age-style Euro­pean rit­ual. Hu­man blood and an­i­mal blood is part of it, and of course nowa­days there are laws, so when we were paint­ing the drums we had a nurse here who took our blood in a pro­fes­sional way. No one was forced and there were no knives, but at least to still have it there, to go through it, to have that brush filled with blood that you put in a carv­ing of Odin’s eye, that is what makes it feel real. It’s as close as we can get it. We all met for the first time at a Vik­ing mar­ket that’s held in Borre, and that’s also the ap­proach of the high-qual­ity re-en­act­ment; it’s al­ways to come as close as you can get. Of course it will never be a per­fect re­cre­ation, and that is not what it’s about. What it is about is to touch some­thing that the an­cients touched, and to have

the pos­si­bil­ity to go through that door, with ev­ery­thing that be­longs there.”

lifa, the pro­fes­sion­ally shot live video of the full Castle­fest show – and the meta­mor­pho­sis of un­sus­pect­ing hordes into a sin­gu­lar, deliri­ous pack of hea­then ravers – has, at the time of writ­ing, racked up over a mil­lion views (the ex­cerpt for Krigs­galdr has hit 3.6mil­lion), and reams of com­ments ex­press­ing awe and grat­i­tude, as if some long-dor­mant emo­tional un­der­cur­rent had just been di­vined.

“Peo­ple from all dif­fer­ent places tell us they feel con­nected to it, that it makes them feel rooted,” says Maria. “They’re try­ing to de­scribe some­thing that’s in­de­scrib­able in so many ways.”

“Some­one who was at the shows said, ‘Thank you for that hour of men­tal hy­giene’,” laughs Kai. “I liked that very much”

For the band them­selves, fi­nally per­form­ing the mu­sic as live rit­ual also be­came a con­scious­ness-al­ter­ing act. “I’ve played at Castle­fest be­fore with dif­fer­ent bands,” says Maria, “but I’ve never had that ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing on­stage and los­ing my­self so com­pletely. Ev­ery nerve of my body was so much there, and be­cause of the fringes, you see ev­ery­thing and they don’t see you, so you go into a com­pletely dif­fer­ent space.”

“We worked so hard to make those shows and when you do them it feels like only a minute has passed,” adds Christo­pher. “It’s so un­fair! When the first drum is hit, you’re trans­ported into an­other di­men­sion, and from there you re­ally can’t re­mem­ber how much time has gone.”

With Ofnir get­ting a reis­sue though Sea­son Of Mist, along­side an au­dio record­ing of Lifa – and with fur­ther live rit­u­als at Hellfest and Sum­mer Breeze al­ready an­nounced – Heilung are go­ing from be­ing a fra­ter­nally shared se­cret into one of the most talked-about bands across the wider metal land­scape, recog­nised as one of those rare emis­saries who have be­come trans­for­ma­tive, spir­i­tual guides.

“We didn’t fig­ure out all of a sud­den that we wanted to dress as Vik­ings,” says Kai, “we’ve been do­ing it for most of our lives. I’ve been in the shaman­ism scene since the 90s when we were 10, 15 peo­ple, all very se­cre­tive in the for­est mak­ing small rit­u­als, and then sud­denly at Midgardsbl­ot I saw thou­sands of peo­ple gath­er­ing in a cir­cle, yelling, be­ing all the way there. If some­one had told me in the mid-90s this is how it’s go­ing to be, I would have never be­lieved them.”

“There are many things when you look at the world that can make you neg­a­tive,” con­cludes Christo­pher. “But I also see things like this that make you pos­i­tive and be­ing on a fes­ti­val like Castle­fest or Midgardsbl­ot, it’s an awak­en­ing.”

OFNIR AND LIFA ARE OUT NOW VIA SEA­SON OF MIST

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