How Denmark’s Heilung Create “Amplified History” with Human Bones and Throat Singing
by Ryan Reed Revolver edited by O Society April 30, 2019
“In order to connect to what was before,” says Christopher Juul,” you have to disconnect from what is now.”
This is essentially the mission statement of Heilung, the Danish producer’s hypnotic multi-media project with German vocalist Kai Uwe Faust and Norwegian singer Maria Franz.
Conjuring the primal wildness of the Viking era and Northern European Bronze Age, the trio blends the cinematic clang of human bones, reconstructed swords, and frame drums with brooding lyrics borrowed and re-contextualized from rune stones, amulets, and other ancient artifacts.
Over Juul’s percussive soundscapes, Faust bellows like a Tibetan monk raised on death metal — a darkness balanced out by Franz’s soothing coo, which draws on her years of studying traditional Norwegian techniques. The end product is “amplified history” — a genre of their own design.
“We try to give a spark of emotion: to make people feel how it is to be surrounded by nature, to slaughter their own cattle, to build their own drum, to live from the Earth,” Faust says. “Every attempt to connect it to modern stuff that makes us sad is not important.”
Heilung, which translates to “Healing” in German, is defined by disconnecting from the artificial barriers of modern life, be it religion, class or politics, and tapping into a more universal tribal spirit.
Growing up, all three musicians were magnetically drawn to their local “living history” Viking reenactments, in which participants dressed in authentic clothing, took part in period-specific pastimes, and discovered a deeper sense of community and spirituality.
“As a teenager, I believed I was the ugliest person on the planet, and it destroyed me for a long time,” Franz says. “I didn’t feel like I could connect to people around me.”
“Everything changed when I was 11 and found the Viking reenactment in my hometown. I figured out I could play a drum, I could shoot a bow and arrow, I could make clothes. I felt empowered by this.
You make friends and sit around the bonfire with people 10 years older than you, exchanging life stories. A beautiful place to grow up, and it saved me. Even today, I’ve had three wise old ladies look at my hand and say, ‘Oh, I can see something happened when you were 11.’ I don’t know how much I believe in that kind of stuff, but I do think it’s peculiar.”
But his idyllic childhood in the German countryside evolved into troubled teen years when he rebelled against organized religion. “I thought that very dominant thing in my and my parents’ life, the Christianity, was all bullshit, and I was not shy to express it,” he continues. “In school, I had to go through a lot of tests, and there was always trouble, violence — I was kicking stuff, hitting people. They made me take an intelligence test, and it turned out, ‘The boy is over-average smart but just doesn’t want to participate in school.’ I dove into Satanism, but a little more than regular teenagers went. I did blood offerings. I tattooed an upside-down cross on myself at the age of 14.”
But the “light returned” around age 17, as he delved into shamanism and Viking culture. “I made peace with my parents again and officially apologized,” he adds. “Since then, I’ve had an explosion of creativity.” One crucial turning point was discovering Tibetan throat singing. “It’s darker than heavy metal,” he says. “I heard stuff like Sepultura and Slayer, and I could tell they were onto something. They sent me on a search for the primal source of what they triggered inside me. The Tibetan throat singers go so deep — deeper than any metal singer I’ve ever heard. At the same time, they also have this whistle. That’s the sound I was looking for.”
Faust’s musical awakening also intersected with his passion for tattooing, part of a wider Neo-Nordic movement that emphasizes ornate designs featuring deer, warriors and ancient symbols. Juul, who’d operated his own recording studio, Lava, in Copenhagen since 2003, admired Faust’s visual work, so they struck a deal: The tattoo artist offered his friend some free ink in exchange for help recording some poems. Thus, Heilung was born. (“I still haven’t gotten any tattoos,” Juul admits. “It would be too many now, I think.”) Juul and Faust spent two or three months in the studio, carving out a unique sonic design that even they didn’t exactly understand at first.
Onstage, Heilung’s transformation was complete. They chanted, stomped and pounded drums painted with their own blood, as the transfixed audience periodically rose to a deafening roar. “We were all standing there,” Franz recalls with awe, “and it was like, ‘Look at us. My god, we’re a tribe!'”