It’s Friday night and it’s high time for some live music. I’ve had a few thoughts on which way I’d go. There’s many choices, most of which will eventually see the light of day. But I figure, with concerts returning (and in some cases, already returned), I’d pick my last remaining show from 2020 that I haven’t yet published … or authored, for that matter.
So here we go …
Back at the start of what ultimately proved to be the shittiest year of our time, when the pandemic was still just an outbreak in the Wuhan province, and I still believed life would stick to the status quo, I had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing one of the most impressively original performances I’d seen in years.
The band, which feels more like a mythic Viking collective, is Heilung, a European outfit comprised of members from Denmark, Norway, Germany, and probably a few other adjacent territories. To say there’s really no one quite like them would be a dramatic understatement. Sure, that sounds surface-level pretentious, and somewhat unlikely. But it’s all quite true. You just don’t see, hear, or experience anything like Heilung … ever.
Heilung, which translates as “healing” in the German language, seems to be a literal core philosophy behind the band’s music and live presence, offering an intensely spiritual journey, at times turbulent, bewildering, unsettling, shocking, and ultimately, relaxing … an experience deeply felt and hard earned.
To give you an idea of how different this show was going to be, rather than fluff the audience with an opening act, or have a DJ seal the gap with some filler music, Heilung played audio surround sound recordings of an unspecified yet serene forest/jungle, while shamanistic figures sage’d the stage, cleansing the auras of the bone-adorned decor draped across ancient and modern instruments.
Amidst forested wildlife sounds, two shamanistic artists cleanse the stage with sage before Heilung perform.
Once they’d done their sweep, Heilung’s core members came out and formed a prayer circle, offering kind and respectful words to Mother Earth, as well as the forces/deities residing within her. Unfortunately, I don’t have the spoken parts recorded. But the raising of antlers offers enough context for what’s to come.
In ritualistic fashion, Heilung gather in a circle for the “Opening Ceremony,” shown here in part.
Obviously, Heilung are very theatrical, gifting a transformative aural/visual experience steeped in traditional Northern European history, specifically the Iron Age and the Viking period. Let your imagination run wild from here on out.
Adorned in elaborate headdresses of imposing antlers and masking fringe, Heilung’s main vocalists, Kai Uwe Faust and Maria Franz offer a duality of extremes, the former a Tibetan-styled guttural throat singer, the latter an etheric voice of beauty and serenity. Third core member Christopher Juul contributes chirping whispers, completing a trio inspired by rune inscriptions, ancient poetry, and magical spells.
Their instruments are also worth noting … drums made of deer and goat skin, one from horse skin painted with human blood; bones, including deer and human ; a Hindu ritual bell; rattles, whistles and a silver cup from the Viking age; an ancient Indian instrument known as a ravanahatha; and an array of synths and sequencers.
Honestly, when I saw them, I didn’t know the full eccentricity of their stage complement, nor would’ve I have guessed. I just knew it was of another time and place, which I confirmed through doing some research for this post. There’s a pretty good interview from ’18 that I ran across, which broadened my knowledge a bit, including their instrumentation.
To date, Heilung have two original albums, their ’18 debut “Ofnir,” and their ’19 follow-up “Futha,” as well as the live album, “Lifa,” which chronicles one of their first on-stage performances at the renown Netherlands-based medieval/fantasy festival, Castlefest. There’s also a great concert film from that show, also titled “Lifa,” that’s readily available on YouTube. Back in my earliest days of this blog, I actually featured it, based on a friend’s spot-on recommendation. You can check out that very old post here.
My recordings aren’t of the same professional caliber as the “Lifa” performance. But they’re mine … and as such, far more personal and heartfelt as a live experience that I actually did experience. Plus, it’s a perfect snapshot of who Heilung are now … or at least who they were at the outset of ’20 in the very different world of pre-pandemic DTLA.
I’ll let the videos speak for themselves … and they really do.
Heilung perform “In Maidjan” at the Novo on 01.09.20.
Heilung perform “Alfadhirhaiti” at the Novo on 01.09.20.
Heilung perform “Krigsgaldr” at the Novo on 01.09.20.
Heilung perform “Norupo” at the Novo on 01.09.20.
Heilung perform “Traust” at the Novo on 01.09.20.
Heilung perform “Galgaldr” at the Novo on 01.09.20.
Heilung perform “Elddansurin” at the Novo on 01.09.20.
Here’s the setlist for Heilung’s first Los Angeles appearance at the Novo on 01.09.20.