This live recording of Denmark’s Heilung performing Lifa at Castlefest 2017 was a turning point in my life: until then, I had been aware of (and quite fond of) several traditional Scandinavian folk acts, such as Wardruna, Danheim and Skáld, but all these tended towards background music. Their cinematic scope and gentleness made them perfect soundtracks to any number of daily activities, from running D&D campaigns to illustration work to housekeeping. Heilung changed all that.
Where the other acts mentioned are undeniably gorgeous bardic compositions, their easy accessibility made them simple, everyday accompaniments – Heilung’s “amplified history” approach also blends the simple folk melodies and primitive tribal rhythms on top of choral interplays, but the sense of ritual their interpretation of the neofolk genre implies lends itself far more to the shamanic and ceremonial. Thus, replays of both Ofnir and Lifa (released in 2015 and 2017 respectively) take on a much grander significance and require far more attention than the other acts mentioned. Their latest album, Futha (stream/purchase your copy here), deserves just as much.
A softer work than its predecessor (Lifa, being a live recording, hardly counts – and two tracks from Futha, “Othan” and “Hamrer Hippyer” appear on it), Futha is described by the band as a feminine foil to Ofnir’s masculinity. Not only does it draw lyrical content from Icelandic poetry and spellbindings traditionally chanted by women, but even the word itself has etymological roots in describing the feminine. The great news this carries with it is that Maria Franz’ already unmistakable vocal talents are even further showcased.
Heilung just released a full Futha album stream on YouTube:
Franz’ other project, an electro/rock outfit with gothic overtones, Euzen, does not showcase her incredible range or vocal control quite in the way Heilung affords her; Futha is thus a very fitting platform for her in particular – although the contributions of the other members cannot be downplayed either, as the ensemble is what really makes Heilung unique. Given the massive numbers of performers involved in the live shows, it is quite surprising that the studio recordings are made by only three core members – Franz, Christopher Juul (a co-performer from Euzen, too) and the traditional tattoo artist Kai Uwe Faust. Admittedly, the involvement of the latter speaks volumes as to the historical direction taken by Heilung: his tattoo work is also an expression of historical revivalism, drawing heavily on ancient Nordic and Scythian visuals, futhark texts and also traditional non-machine techniques like tapping, handpoking or cutting.
Taking the phenomenon of genetic memory into account, Heilung’s evocative recreation of pre-medieval European cultures speaks to its audience on an even deeper subconscious level than mere music would: no encoded experience or conscious memory is needed to appreciate Heilung’s work. Its transportive, hallucinogenic nature speaks to the idea of a collective consciousness and reminds us of simpler, better times when man and nature shared a more homogenous bond. The cross-genre appeal – from folk to metal, to goth and even EDM audiences – Heilung enjoys (much like Dead Can Dance always has) may stem from this.
Futha is consequently more a gentle, comforting blessing than it is an album: an escape from contemporary concerns and a reminder that there is still magic in this world.
The second single from the album, “Traust,” amply illustrates this: slow, welcoming rhythms match the oddly oppositional chanted and muttered vocals, with textural overlays reminiscent of wind in trees, flowing water and an omnipresent sense of being a small part of something so much greater: