On Sunday night I headed along to Roundhouse in Camden for an evening of experimental folk music with Heilung. I saw the extraordinary band for the first time in November last year when they played Islington Assembly Hall and was blown away – it was more of a ritual than a concert.
Prior to doors opening at 7pm, there was a huge snake of people queuing to get into the venue, eager to get out of the cold and into the 1,700-capacity Grade II* listed former railway engine shed for an evening of magical music. Support came from Wardruna vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella, who performed tracks from her debut solo album, Seafarer which was released last month. Wearing a black dress and lit only by spotlights above her, Lindy-Fay was joined on stage by musicians including a guitarist, two drummers and other vocalists who really brought richness to the sound, whilst still leaving her as the main focus. If you like the music of Myrkur and Chelsea Wolfe (as well as, of course, Wardruna) I recommend that you check out her solo material.
At 9pm Heilung took to the stage to perform “Opening Ceremony” from their 2018 album Lifa, the band members stood in a circle holding hands as smoke was wafted ritualistically from a cup as they chanted “remember that we all are brothers; all people, and beasts and trees, and storm and wind. We all descent from the one great being that was always there; before people lived and named it, before the first seed sprouted”. It felt like the venue and everyone in it was being cleansed from the modern-day world before being taken back to another time / into another world.
The band uses everything from human bones and reconstructed swords and shields, to ancient frame drums and bronze rings in their music. These sounds, together with the ethereal vocals of Maria Franz and the throat-singing of Kai Uwe Faust, create something that I think is truly unique and very moving. Heilung means “healing” in German, and their sound aims to leave the listener eased and relaxed – it certainly worked for me!
The band played a mesmerising set featuring tracks from their debut album Ofnir (2015) and their most recent album Futha (released June 2019), ending the evening with “Hammrer Hippyer” from their 2018 album Lifa. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that Heilung are one of the most interesting live bands I have seen in years, and would love to see them play somewhere in nature (like Midgardsblot) rather than in a modern music venue.
Photos by Katie Frost Photography