Heilung @ DAR Constitution Hall – April 17th 2024
Heilung @ DAR Constitution Hall – April 17th 2024

Live Review: Heilung @ DAR Constitution Hall – April 17th 2024

“Remember that we are all brothers,
All people,
and beasts, and trees,
and stone, and wind.
We all descend from the one great being
that was always there
before people lived and named it,
before the first seed sprouted.”

So goes the call-and-response chant at the beginning of every Heilung show, as singer and group leader Kai Uwe Faust purifies the performers gathered in a circle around him with smoke in an opening ceremony that serves to separate what is about to happen on stage from the daily life surrounding it, creating a singular moment in time. (A similar but wordless ceremony closes each show, signifying a return to the world at the end.)

Part concert, part theatre, and part shamanistic ritual, Heilung’s performances are unique. Based on Germanic and Norse influences, Heilung uses the term “amplified history” to refer to what they do – the instruments, the clothing, and the lyrics are based on sources of information including historical texts and archaeological research. While it’s impossible to know the details of European life and art in the Iron Age and Viking Age, the group does their best to recreate their interpretation of these eras through the information available. It’s not necessarily trying to be historically accurate (for one thing, producer Christopher Juul does little to hide the electronics that he uses to create much of the dark ambient backing sound), but the performance does tell a narrative that resonates through the ages, one of strength and war, sacrifice and renewal, and humanity’s place in the natural world. An extensive use of tribal-sounding drums, along with Uwe’s distinctive throat singing style combined with the more melodic vocals of singer Maria Franz, create the impression of another, earlier era.

Perhaps as much of a shock to the group as to anyone, it seems to have resonated worldwide. For this, their second appearance in the Washington, DC area (and third in the larger DC-Baltimore region), they have graduated up to a venue nearly twice the size of the first one, and still filled it to capacity. The audience showed up, many wearing their own costumes (adorned with drinking horns and other paraphernalia that almost certainly caused venue security more than a little consternation), and greeted the performers with wolf howls as the lights went down.

What followed drew from across the band’s three albums, 2018’s Ofnir, 2019’s Futha, and 2022’s Drif. Performed in a variety of old Norse and Germanic dialects, along with Latin and Old English, the lyrics are a wash of sound for most listeners. But along with the displays of dancers, warriors (carrying period-authentic shields and spears), antlers and bone, and even a fire dance, the group creates a singular event that really cannot adequately be described and must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Opening the night was Faroese singer Eivør, whose upcoming fourteenth album Enn is being released by Season of Mist on June 14th. While her musical stylings have varied greatly over the years – from folk music to pop to electronica – her latest work, including the soundtracks to The Last Kingdom TV series and the God of War Ragnarök video game, has a distinctly Nordic feel which fits in with Heilung’s aesthetic particularly well. The audience listened with a level of rapt attention rarely afforded to an opening act, and saw her off with a roar of applause that even seemed to take her by surprise.

Unfortunately, Heilung has said that this current (all-too-brief) run of dates will be their last US performances “for the foreseeable future.” We can only hope that the adoring reception that they’ve gotten inspires them to return soon. When they do, they’re not to be missed.




Heilung setlist

Opening Ceremony
In Maidjan

Fylgija Ear / Futhorck
Hamrer Hippyer
Closing Ceremony

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