Adjust your mindset, Shamanic heathens HEILuNg are in town.
Shamanic heathens lay siege to the doors of perception
It’S a GatHERING of the tribes. The queue, snaking down Upper
Street, is awash with otherworldly glamour, bedecked in cowls, flashes of future-shock clan facepaint, beaded headdresses, horns and antlers – all gathered as if passing through a rainy north London high street to a midsummer night’s dream. This is a calling, and the magnet is Heilung, a band who crashlanded, fully formed, into wider consciousness with two reality-warping shows at Castlefest and Midgardsblot just 14 months ago, whose first-ever UK appearance has been sold out for months, and for whom ‘buzz’ seems too meagre a word in light of the devotion that’s grown around them, almost pre-ordained, as though by some symbiotic pact of nature.
The stately interior of the Islington Assembly Hall is already packed and resembling a post-apocalyptic conclave by the time cellist JO QUaIL appears onstage. For anyone tuned to the left side of the sonic dial, she’s become a regular presence, supporting and collaborating with the likes of Amenra, Myrkur, Winterfylleth and Anna von Hausswolff, but for all its deeply resonant physicality her music roams so far beyond any familiar frameworks that she has a habit of enriching any context she finds herself in. Surrounded by Heilung’s array of bound sticks, skulls and antlers holding up all manner of ancient percussion, her instrument – looking like its been strung on an alien pelvic bone – seems to be carved from the same elemental material. There’s a ritualistic aspect to tonight’s pieces that take hold amongst a rapt crowd, sampling chords and beats against the cello’s neck in real time as Mandrel Cantus from new album Exsolve flourishes from a matrix of pulses and plucked strings into an organically lush bloom. Abstract, angular groundwork is resolved into Adder Stone’s rich, exploratory tones that feel like they’re reverberating in your bone marrow, and the cheers and applause filling the hall at the end is more an outbreak of uncontained gratitude than mere appreciation.
There’s a primed sense of anticipation building up throughout venue that erupts into rapture the moment the house lights dim. When HEILUNG appear onstage, they’re like emissaries from another world: a scavenger cult in threaded veils, animal hides trailing strings of trinkets and Iron Age drapery. Maria Franz is a ghostly presence, the white tasselled dress, black painted spikes curving down from masked eyes and antlers already an iconic image, while Kai Uwe Faust’s ornate curlicues sprouting from his hood suggest a hulking, faerie enforcer. The opening ritual builds the anticipation back up once more, the band joining hands in a circle and chanting a blessing –
“We are all descended from the one true being” – for what’s about to follow. They disperse and take their places onstage. A lone goat horn calls out.
The hide drums begin to pound out a pulse-racing, initiation beat. And 800 souls are shot through the Stargate, transported via adrenaline rush into an atavistic age of wonders, ceremonial cacophony and a communal, soulriveting experience for which there really is no compare.
‘Amplified history’ is Heilung’s own description of their music, but In Maidjan’s throat chants rising to a massed harmony and unchanging, heartbeat-recalibrating groove feel as though they’re drilling down into the deepest, most primitive strata of your DNA, performing CPR on something long-dormant yet universal. It stirs ancestral memory until it’s brought to the boil. People are lost in a trance. Coyote howls ring out in call-andresponse (optional). The floor reverberates as feet are stamped in answer to the beat and the traditional band/audience divide is revealed as a flimsy construction, stripped away to reveal something more powerful in its stead. Alfadhirhaiti’s chants are echoed by a warrior choir appearing onstage, bodies painted black and sporting shields and spears, a swirl of energies stirred by a heady groove. What’s become Heilung’s signature song, Krigsgaldr – its Castlefest rendition now up to 9.3 million views on YouTube – layers the sound of rhythmically clashing swords and various, orbital beats on top of a drone that pulls you over its event horizon as if by traction beam. Maria’s crystal-clear, echoing vocals weave the most enchanting of spells as Kai and Christopher Juul trade a breathless warrior code incantation.
Comparisons with Wardruna – another band who have become akin to a religion in their own right – might be inviting, but not only do Heilung draw their own crowd of metalheads, goths, industrial fans and seekers of the esoteric, the intrinsically emotional nature of Wardruna is a very separate quality from the Shamanic, consciousness-raising rites echoing throughout the venue. Each member onstage comes across as a vessel for something animalistic and archetypal, the effect being a loss of self into something more binding and wild. One new song, Norupo, does take on a more epic, reflective quality, but as Hamrer Hippyer ramps up the tempo until the Islington Assembly Hall becomes host to a primordial, psychedelic rave, Heilung become not just a petition for unity, but its utterly transcendent, channel-unblocking, just-lose-yourfucking-shit effect. Heilung may be out of this world, but they’re also a journey to the very centre of it, where the wonders truly never cease.
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