Interview & text George Hatzigeorgiou
Photography Alexandre Dubois, taken on Heilung’s 2023 Australian Tour.
Practitioners of an archaeological musical form eons old, Europe’s Heilung have come to global attention by the most modern of technological forms. On their current Australian visit, FAINT had the chance to catch up with Kai, Christopher and Maria from the acclaimed ensemble to discuss matters of philosophy, creativity and their place as representatives of the ancients in the modern musical landscape.
Amplified by their inclusion on the soundtrack to the hit historical TV drama Vikings, on various films, along with a trio of highly regarded studio releases, the arcane ritual music that founding members Kai Uwe Faust, Christopher Juul and Maria Franz have re-animated has found a global resonance in the contemporary age.
Using an assembly of precious, hand-made ancient instruments, deep ruminations on medieval Northern Europe lore and spiritually mesmerising live performances that offer a balm to the treachery of the modern human condition, Heilung are a musical force like no other.
The band comes at a time when the world is very much in the need of healing. How can the remedies and wisdom of the ancients heal our modern maladies?
Kai: I think that is very individual from person to person. Some people find healing in ancient tunes or learning an ancient craft where they work with nature materials like wood or clay and their hands. Others find healing in traditional plant medicine. Heilung combines these elements. We build some of our instruments from scratch, are well learned in ancient tunes and I draw a lot of inspiration for the project from plant induced trance states.
For the listener, Heilung brings a sense of deep and internal focus, is there a particular mindset the members of the band must apply to be able to deliver this deep and meaningful translation of feeling?
Kai: That is also individual. We fuse of course when the three of us create together. But what brings us to that point is for each member of the core to consist of their own elements. Kai f.ex. enjoys long bike rides and an alcohol-free life. Maria tends her garden and Chris expands his knowledge in audio and visual work. But it all results in a meeting in the studio where the three of us meet relaxed and can cooperate in creating the unique Heilung sound.
What are the practicalities of travelling with ancient forms of instrumentation that one imagines would be most fragile and indeed irreplaceable? How do you insure a human forearm for example?
Kai: Well, due to the regulations we do not travel of course with human remains. For the other instruments we have good stage cases and an excellent tour management that always finds the best and safest ways to transport our darlings.
Maria: It is of course still nerve wrecking, but as you can’t go around in life being afraid, we just have to trust our well planned logistics around it. Entering Australia is definitely on our number 1 most complicated endeavours but thanks to our Solver production team and a very understanding border force, all went very smoothly.
Where does the creative process begin for Heilung when it comes to the writing of new material, do sounds come first, or are there words that suggest what the accompaniment will be?
Kai: It’s usually words or lyrics first. Coming from ancient times, the traditional poetry has strict metres and rhythms that regularly inspire the creation of melody, beats and soundscapes.
Maria: It’s a fascinating process, as your creative mind is being guided in completely new paths, it’s deeply inspiring, bordering on magic most of the time.
Do you find a kinship with fans of heavier music as well as those drawn to the more contemplative aspects of Heilung? One might consider there are parallels of influence when it comes to references to ancient lore and fable.
Kai: Our fan family consists of people from all genres and (sub)cultures which reflects also in the diverse music tastes in the core of the band. And it is true, that more meditative projects draw inspiration from the ancient texts, runes and other inscriptions, just like the roughest scandinavian metal projects.
Was there ever a contemplation that the music you began creating as Heilung would find resonance in lands as far away as Australia, and during your travels here have you had the chance to explore the ancient and traditional sounds of these lands?
Kai: I had at some point the feeling that what we were working with had the potential to be pretty big. Since then I could very well imagine traveling to Australia. Rooted in Core shamanism, the ancient sounds and spirituality of this country were to a certain degree always in the focus of my interest.
Maria: As we are writing this we just came back from an amazing day learning more about aboriginal culture and its survival, and have had the honour of hearing some traditional songs and sounds during our journey. We are very grateful for these experiences.
With absolutely no restrictions of budget or physical/logistical limitations, what would be the most perfect setting for a Heilung performance?
Kai: I can very well imagine Heilung playing in ancient sites, where the ancestors performed their big rituals. Stonehenge is one of these impossibilities, for example 😀
What do you feel the main progression of the band’s sound has been across your three full length releases and is there a destination of sound you are still striving to achieve?
Chris: We have been following a path set since our debut Ofnir. In the early days of the production of that album, the intention was not to form a musical project, but rather recording poems of Kai with added nature and foley soundscapes. But the project wanted something else, soundscapes became melodies, words became songs, and Heilung came into existence as we know it today. Sonically we are only playing with sounds that are real. You won’t find any synthetic or third party sampled sounds in Heilung. Everything you hear is made out of building blocks from various natural sites, historical objects and instruments we’ve been collecting since the beginning and continue to expand upon.
If asked by someone who is totally unaware of your music what your band sounds like, which Heilung track would you choose to play them?
Kai: In Maidjan
Maria: I often present Krigsgaldr, as it has a good combination of the dark and light which I feel represents Heilung.
If there was one lasting legacy you could choose for Heilung, what would that be?
Kai: I would love it to be remembered as the project that managed to connect people to the mindset again that everything is connected. That we perceive us again as part of something bigger and release ourselves from the suffering caused by the egocentric desire to control everything around us.
All images copyright FAINT 2023. All rights reserved.