If it’s good to get your palms on some human bones, Kai Uwe Faust can level you in the correct route. Again in 2015, he and his bandmates in Heilung determined their debut album, Ofnir, would profit from some distinctive percussive sounds, and figured the remnants of a skeleton would do the trick. Fortunately, Kai – as Heilung’s co-vocalist and unofficial Head Of Spirituality – had come into possession of some.
“I’m a tattoo artist,” he says, his voice the embodiment of chilly German menace. “I’ve connections. Individuals who don’t pay…”
He lets the sentence grasp. There’s an uncomfortable silence. Then he laughs and the spell breaks. “No, they got here from the college.”
It transpires that it isn’t unlawful to purchase human bones in Denmark, Kai’s adopted homeland. He bought his when the medical division removed them in favour of plastic casts. “I acquired a cranium and a few bones,” he says. “In Christian tradition, while you’re useless, it’s important to be buried and that’s it. In different cultures skulls get remade into sacred drums, or bones are carved into ornaments. That’s the way in which to cope with probably the most necessary features of life: dying.”
On one hand, it’s a disappointingly mundane reply. On the opposite… properly, what number of bands use forearm bones for drumsticks and skulls for percussion?
The proper reply is: simply the one, and that’s Heilung. But, inconceivably, these skeleton-rattling, antler-wearing pagan-folk mystics have turn into probably the most unlikely and distinctive phenomenon of current years.
Christopher Juul, Heilung’s Danish-born producer and multi-instrumentalist, likens his band’s sudden upwards trajectory to “a beast that’s getting larger and greater. And it’s important to feed it larger and greater items of meat to maintain it blissful and cease it consuming you.”
Christopher based Heilung with Kai and Norwegian co-vocalist (and Christopher’s companion) Maria Franz in 2014. Their expectations again then have been minimal. “I assumed it will be a small area of interest little factor,” says Maria. “Actually it was simply an experiment for the sake of enjoying round with this darkish materials that Kai got here up with.”
That experiment has turn into one thing else solely. Heilung have materialised in steel’s collective consciousness like a spirit, regardless of possessing few of the normal traits of a steel band. Their reside performances aren’t a lot gigs as communal rituals, full with warriors, bonfires and rune-casting. The 2 albums they’ve made to this point, 2015’s Ofnir and 2019’s Futha, pulse with mind-altering tribal rhythms and wordless exhortations to long-gone gods – “amplified historical past”, they name it. Their songs sound like transmissions from different planes (if Kai, who claims to journey between worlds, is to be believed, then they often are).
On this specific aircraft, it’s a cold December night and we’re talking by way of the distinctly twenty first century medium of Skype. Maria, Kai and Christopher are sitting in Heilung’s studio, their beanies and hoodies considerably much less forbidding than the antlers and robes they put on onstage. They’re joined sometimes by a small black canine that bounds in entrance of the digicam. That is Luna: half poodle, quarter pug, quarter chihuahua. “Our new bandmember,” says Maria.
The seeds of Heilung have been sown in a spot similar to this, their beginnings actually shrouded in smoke. “It was within the previous studio,” says Kai. “Christopher was nonetheless smoking then. You’d open the door and it was only a fog of cigarette smoke. And beer and pizza.”
Kai met Christopher and Maria by way of the Viking re-enactment scene, through which all three have been concerned. He had moved from Germany to Denmark in 2010 to pursue his profession as a tattooist specialising in Nordic designs. He grew up in a devoutly Christian family, earlier than embracing paganism in his teenagers.
Kai was a storyteller and a poet, and he wished to ship his tales and poems he was studying to buddies again residence. He struck a cope with Christopher: the latter would report Kai’s tales and poems and set them to soundscapes; in return, Kai would tattoo him (a suggestion that also hasn’t been taken up). “Nevertheless it was not satisfying,”’ says Kai. “There was a degree the place he stated, ‘Can’t you sing one thing?’”
Maria wasn’t concerned on the very starting, however she witnessed it first- hand. “This was one thing totally different,” she says. “It felt an excessive amount of: the screams have been troublesome to take heed to. It was scary, however then I let go and I used to be drawn in.”
It was solely when Maria turned the essential third spoke within the wheel that Heilung started to correctly take form. “It was by no means, ‘Let’s sit down and make Heilung’,” says Christopher. “It was, ‘Let’s make one thing. And it turned a factor of its personal. The beast.”
The primary the world knew of Heilung was once they self-released Ofnir in 2015. That album featured an array of bizarre devices, together with a Hindu ritual bell, goatskin drums and, after all, Kai’s bones. The vast majority of the sounds they created have been captured on the primary take. “There was magic to it,” says Christopher.
Ofnir made ripples inside re-enactment scene circles, in addition to amongst individuals who knew Christopher and Maria from their different bands, the normal Nordic people trio Songleikr and the extra prog-tinged Euzen. A couple of clued-in steel followers drifted in direction of it, too, led there by kindred spirits Warduna, however the indicators pointed in direction of cult-hood, and nothing extra.
All that modified on August 5, 2017. That was when Heilung performed their first gig, at medieval-themed Dutch competition Castlefest. Christopher had initially resisted the thought of a Heilung reside present, reasoning they might by no means replicate the complete ritualistic expertise they have been aiming for onstage. However there, in entrance of 10,000 folks, they carried out a present, titled Lifa (‘Life’), that was each spectacularly theatrical and profoundly primal. “What we have been making an attempt to attain was not a live performance,” says Christopher. “It was a ritual.”
He heads to the again of the studio and returns with a sheaf of A3 pages that includes crude felt-tip designs and stick figures – his very first sketches for the stage present. It took a 12 months of planning and a few intensive rehearsals to make it actuality. “One thing was put in movement,” he says. “Heilung positively had its beginning that night time.”
Castlefest was a tipping level for Kai: it was the primary time he had carried out onstage with any band. “I acquired actually pushed on the market, and one thing else took over,” he says. “I don’t keep in mind a lot of it, aside from it was over inside a second.”
It was a tipping level for Heilung, too. The Lifa present was launched as an album and a movie. Thus far, the latter has been seen 5 million occasions on Youtube; over 23 million folks have seen the clip for the track Krigsgaldr. These have been adopted by an avalanche of response movies, starting from the admiring to the baffled, posted by everybody from metalheads to hip hop followers.
“There’s one thing about tribal music and the world of historical beats,” says Maria. “It’s a heartbeat, and the heartbeat is frequent to each single human being. It speaks to folks, it doesn’t matter what their identification or their tradition.”
Within the three years since Castlefest, one thing unusual has occurred to this most retro of bands: Heilung have bled into widespread tradition. Their songs featured closely in a key episode of the beards-breasts-’n’-bloodshed TV present Vikings they usually additionally soundtracked a Game Of Thrones trailer. “They’d put all of the dying scenes to our music,” says Christopher proudly of the latter.
Different, much less apparent provides have are available. They’ve not too long ago been working with video games firm Ninja Concept, on Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, a darkish fantasy action-adventure. After which there was the time they have been contacted by a director who wished to make use of their music in a TV advert for a collaboration between Adidas and on-trend designer Alexander Wang.
“We thought, ‘What the fuck does Heilung must do with a rubber shoe?” says Maria. “However the director wrote to us and stated he had made an artwork film primarily based on the imagery he had made for the business, and he felt our music would elevate it up. That made us really feel higher about it.” (They allowed their music for use within the advert, although free high-end sneakers sadly weren’t forthcoming.)
Not everybody loves them a lot. One critic referred to as Ofnir probably the most boring factor he had ever heard. “He stated, ‘The entire album appears like an eternal black steel intro’,” says Kai, laughing. Others have criticised them for utilizing animal hides as drum skins and bones as devices. “‘They need to use plastic, because it’s higher for the animals’,” says Christopher with a roll of his eyes.
Generally real-world considerations intrude in a way more severe trend. Heilung aren’t the one ones to make use of pre-Christian photos such because the prehistoric sunwheel; these symbols have additionally been co-opted by the acute proper and neo-Nazi teams. They’re understandably eager to distance themselves from the taint of white supremacism.
“We don’t mingle with fashionable politics,” says Christopher sharply. “We cope with a time that could be a lot older. Heilung means ‘therapeutic’. We need to carry folks collectively, not drive them aside.”
In January 2020, after a black feminine fan was racially insulted at a Heilung gig in New York by white viewers members, the band’s response was unequivocal: “Apparently some folks attended our ritual with the concept Heilung is just for white folks. This isn’t the case. Heilung is for ALL folks… Anybody making an attempt to suit the band right into a political agenda of any kind has clearly not understood what Heilung is about. That features however is definitely not restricted to white supremacy. We don’t tolerate show of divisiveness and hate within the viewers at our rituals.”
There’s been one sudden knock-on impact of Heilung’s burgeoning success. They’ve gone from being a band who had no intention of enjoying reside to a band who gig commonly. On the final depend, the Heilung entourage numbered 24 folks, together with additional musicians, roadies and extra Viking warriors. The thought of making an attempt to hold their do-it-yourself devices onto aeroplanes in hand baggage is lengthy gone. Sooner or later Christopher needs them to get their very own aircraft. “With shields on the perimeters and horns popping out of the window, with our warrior snail behind.”
A part of Heilung’s success is right down to their uniqueness as a ‘steel’ band – what they do is a good distance from the style’s grand pantomime. However conversely, they’re a part of a broader internet of pagan tradition that stretches not solely outwards to absorb TV exhibits, films, books and videogames, but in addition backwards, following a thread that runs by means of centuries and millennia of music, proper again to the very first primal beat. There’s a elementary recognition of what they’re doing amongst everybody who listens to them.
“Individuals say, ‘Who started the pagan scene?’” says Kai. “It was those who lived a thousand years in the past. We’re all a part of one thing a lot larger.”
If you would like an illustration of simply how devoted Heilung are to the existential act of being Heilung, right here’s one. A social media put up confirmed them recording themselves on a wood bridge within the Danish countryside. They wished to recreate the sound of a marching military. “Particularly on this bridge,” says Christopher. “It has been reconstructed precisely like a bridge from the Viking age. It has no nails, simply pegs. We have been, like, ‘We’d like that sound.’ Spears stomping on that bridge, heavy boots strolling…”
Maria: “We counted that we would have liked to stroll throughout it a thousand occasions to get the military we wished.”
And did Heilung stroll throughout it a thousand occasions? Christopher thinks. “Properly, we stomped for fairly some time.”
There was a degree to the stomping: it may properly find yourself on Heilung’s subsequent album. It’s early days, however plans are fermenting for the follow-up to Futha, tentatively pencilled in for 2022. “It’s going to be a monster,” says Christopher. “A double album? It’s very probably. Actually the most important we’ve ever achieved.”
Pondering large isn’t confined to the studio. It’s a mark of the place Heilung are in that their autumn/winter 2021 tour features a present at London’s 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy in addition to an look on the fabled Pink Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.
They usually’re already considering past that. They need to play exhibits within the spherical in the course of venues, to extra precisely symbolize the ritual side of their gigs. They plan to arrange their very own competition, full with Viking-style encampment. They envisage enjoying outdoor on burial mounds, or in forests, or inside ‘stone ship’ monuments. “It’s my dream to play the Colosseum,” says Christopher. “It could be good to take Rome for the Vikings.”
“However the bodily place shouldn’t be necessary,” says Kai, severe for a second. “It’s the psychological place. The place we’re, and the place we carry folks, that may be wherever.”
For the second, Heilung are caught in Christopher’s studio. Issues might be worse. “On daily basis staying with these guys on this bubble on this studio is a day price waking as much as,” he says.
What 2021 will carry, solely the gods know. Heilung’s journey has taken millennia to carry them up to now. “However I believe we’re nonetheless firstly, in a manner,” says Christopher. “We’re nonetheless determining what this beast is.”