Have you ever attended a concert, and had a life-changing experience? I have had a few of those. I have been lucky in my so far to see a myriad of third-eye opening events like Miles Davis at Lincoln Center, Gorilla Biscuits at CBGBs (RIP), Rush at the height of their superpowers at Madison Square Garden, Joan Baez at a county fair, Overkill at Coney Island High (RIP), Tool before they were superstars, Frank Sinatra and Slayer in the same week, and the list goes on and on. Now I have one more experience to add to the list, not really a concert, but the first time I saw Heilung (Season of Mist).
Filling into the recently renovated Webster Hall, a place where I have had many other landmark shows in my life was brimming with excitement. People filed into the venue fully ready for anything with a style and creativity matching the group we were all there to see. Not cosplay but really honing in on the spirit with ceremonial garb, pelts, horns, and tribal markings to help celebrate the ritual. The brothers and sisters were as much a part of the show as Heilung, which is a really saying something, and unique to almost anything I have seen before. Metal fans seem attracted to the old-world primal ethos of Heliung, but this is really something for everyone to enjoy, as evidence to their music used in a trailer for Game of Thrones for their final season. People of all stripes, all walks of life, diverse and beautiful were all in the room with the same purpose. I had a lot of feels coming back to the venue, hanging with some friends and industry peers and making mental notes of the changes in the club, right down to the old Ritz logo, the venue’s former name, and my mind went back to 1988 and my first time there.
As we took our places for the show there was a palpable energy in the building you could almost taste in your mouth. Soon all our senses would come alive as sage burning filled the venue, filling our noses, eyes, and souls. As the group came on stage for the start of the ritual, you could feel a sense of togetherness and oneness I can’t really put into words. I am neither religious nor spiritual in my personal life, but I accept others that are. Every soul in the room was reverberating, together in time. It was surreal.
Performing material from all of their albums such as Futha and Lifa, it would be short-sighted to call out one particular performance over another as they were all immaculate. With just voices, percussion, nature sounds, and psychical movements, we were transported to the deepest reaches of our psyche. Beats, throat singing, enchanting vocalises called out to our primal roots, calling back to a simpler time without the drama of modern life. Looking out in the crowd all the people were whipped into a frenzy I can only describe as possessed. Possessed by what, I am not sure but being there in the moment, all of us as one, it was a majestic feeling.
As much as Heliung is a sonic force to behold, they are also the best and most interesting theatrical production I have ever seen. Handmade garments, historic and ancient instruments imbued with the actual blood, sweat, and tears of the artists performing made it all the more heartfelt and real. Setting the atmosphere to deliver their ritual made this almost another performer along with the group, a character with a role to play as well.
A week later I was back in this venue for a more traditional metal show. It was incredible, but I noted that it just didn’t compare to Heliung and what they made me feel. Is everything else ruined for me as a concert goer? Where do I go from here? I’m not sure but definitely do not miss Heliung the next time they perform near you.
WORDS BY KEITH CHACHKES
PHOTOS BY OMAR CORDY OF OJC PHOTOGRAPHY