This tour package is one of the many that were postponed from the pandemic, originally expected in early 2020, but now two years later, Heilung finally returns. Sadly, not with the original support of Gaahls Wyrd, but bringing the equally if differently impressive Eivør, and Lili Refrain. Tonight is a night with a theme of mythic vocals and the gods of old.
Opening the night is Lili Refrain. The solo artist uses clever loopers and multiple instruments, as well as a very impressive vocal range to create her own hypnotic and relatively complex dark folky ritual drone sort of thing. It’s a little hard to catch, but if you like Heilung, she fits that vibe perfectly, from her striking makeup to her impressive vocals, and occasional shouts. While she starts out slow, it’s worth waiting for her to go for the drum and the guitar to create a more hypnotic pulsing vibe. Also impressive is also the ever-popular in this genre, but difficult to master technique of throat singing.
Next, we get treated to Eivør, whose name I have so far had to copy-paste this entire time because my keyboard does not like the Scandinavian plurality of vowels. Famed for her beautiful voice and amazing control, the Faroese singer of quite some renown drags you into an almost reverie and bliss, before her partner behind the effects and with a cello, kicks in a drone, as she herself grabs a big hand drum. Using a breathy technique I don’t know the name of, she created a contrast to her own high and clearer vocals. It’s no wonder many creators of mystical games, including God of War, have sought her out to add atmosphere to their creations. In between songs she cheerfully and professionally addresses the audience who seem quite entranced. You can definitely tell Eivør has been performing for big audiences since she was a teenager, though many choose to forgo her set, and the one by Lili Refrain, in favour of queuing for Heilung merch.
Heilung, however, are what most people clearly came for. Having seen them at Roadburn in 2019, I knew what to expect. While I can’t say the band has grown, in the sense they were already at a ridiculously high level back then, their audience sure has. Having toured the summer festival scene extensively they expanded their show with an even bigger army of warriors and more backup vocalists while writing and releasing new material. The show is breathtaking. Many in the audience are clearly swept up in it, as about half the front rows sport horns and furs of some kind. Digging deep into the roots of old Germanic and Scandinavian pagan traditions, the aim is to bring a ritual, and a celebration of religion and culture of long ago. While it is obvious the band know their stuff, for me having seen bands like Wardruna many times, and other who explore this context, Heilung will always be a little bit too much show. While I think musically they are excellent, and they are a treat to take photographs of, the reverence and that little something extra doesn’t quite come across for me. Of course, for many in the audience, this is the polar opposite, and judging by the endlessly long line for the merch booth, and a second show earlier this month in the same venue, the band is clearly much adored by its scale of fans.
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WORDS AND PHOTOS BY SUSANNE A. MAATHUIS