Interview with Maria Franz and Christopher Juul | By Caleb R Newton | Photo by Coen Halmans
Ancient history is alive and walks among us—at least when Europe’s Heilung come to town, toting music like their new album, Futha, available June 28 via Season Of Mist. The songs sprawl across intense instrumentation utilizing the implements people would have used not just hundreds but thousands of years ago across Europe, Asia, and even North America. The music has taken off, connecting people of different cultures across space and time in a primal longing for connection, based in a raw confrontation of our past that doesn’t have to be so distant after all.
“We are working on how it might feel inside one single person, right?” vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Christopher Juul explains. “For instance, how is it to mentally trip out to another dimension or whatever, right? How would that sound if you were that person experiencing this? So, on one hand, we are trying to, of course, expand and amplify history from what we know from actual accounts, but we are taking it from the viewpoint of a person and not necessarily from a third-person perspective.”
On the group’s sophomore album, Futha, that viewpoint takes a markedly feminine turn, allowing the strength of counterparts to conventional male energy to shine brightly. Maria Franz serves as the group’s female voice, offering her vocalizations of ancient Icelandic poetry throughout Futha. “When we say ‘feminine vibe,’” Franz clarifies, “in Heilung’s context, that doesn’t mean soft and normal, our modern-day society’s version of the female part. I mean, you have for instance ‘Galgaldr,’ which is about the end of the world, and it’s also about birth and lionesses hunting and the female warrior spirit, so there’s not much sugar and pink stuff on it at all,” she quips.
The band recognize that they’re presenting their personal perspectives of ancient culture and the way it’s still accessible somewhere in the back corners of our psyches, but that only ups the power. That’s how personal experiences of these cultures came to be in the first place, and in the case of the ancient history of northern Europe and elsewhere, that’s what those seeking to dive in often have to refer back to considering the lack of preserved firsthand accounts. “So, the only way that we can kind of travel back there and try to figure out, ‘What was this item? A religious artifact or was it a door handle?’—you have to put your mind into it, right?” Juul notes. “As any art is, it’s a subjective perspective you add to it.”
Besides the thematic element of their work, exemplified via the lyrics and overall compositions, Heilung utilize an inescapably unique sound to transport listeners and observers to a time and place outside of the one in which they began. After initially confronting the listener with the sound of fire on “Elddansurin,” Futha introduces a beat composed of tones isolated from the flames themselves, exemplifying the fresh rawness the album offers around every turn. “The thing is, you can’t beat nature when it comes to crazy rhythms. It’s both chaotic [and] there is also a sort of logic to how stuff happens. It’s not completely random—and that is a beat,” Juul shares, adding that he feels “these sounds and even rhythms, they combine us all, because everyone has heard it somewhere, everyone can relate to it.”
Just like the fire, Franz shares that the band also recorded and manipulated the sounds of all different kinds of ice for a song with lyrics that feature the substance. They strive to capture all of their sounds naturally. In other words, it’s not like the band “go out and buy the new Viking pack online and use it,” Juul says. “Every sound you hear on the music we do is played for real, even when it doesn’t sound like it.”
Heilung’s sound construction gives them the perfect opportunity to put a human face on these literally ancient tones. Juul even thinks of the singing that accompanies their music as reminiscent of the natural sonic, and even musical, qualities of something like wind rushing through a valley. In this context, the event just occurs on a smaller scale, and Franz and fellow vocalist Kai Uwe Faust themselves become the instruments. “We are surrounded by sound all the time,” Juul notes, “and, of course, modern society has a tendency to distort that with car noises and airplanes and stuff like that, but if you get out in places where you are free from all these modern sounds, you will actually realize that there is a lot of music, and it only takes a curious ear to discover this.”
Of course, the sounds of the natural world connecting us to deep-seated emotional drives are not all rosy. “We usually say that listening to Heilung can sometimes be a turbulent experience, because it’s sometimes rough,” Franz notes. “It’s a lot of sounds, and it’s violent, but after a violent experience, you should also feel soothed and more calm.”
Heilung bring their epic flourishes together in a stage presentation that perfectly fits their craft. Franz, Juul, and vocalist Kai Uwe Faust participate in Heilung’s sonic rituals while dressed in attire clearly pointing to more primal times. Using their own bodies to present their compositions, the group insist that nothing is contrived, offering fans a personally guided journey into humanity’s origins. “For everyone in Heilung, we’re not faking anything,” Franz says. “We’re not trying to be something we’re not. We are standing on that stage and we are performing a ritual, and we bring every single cell in our body into it. I suspect that is also why the audience also can feel so strongly toward what we’re making.”
They’ve experienced a remarkable reception of their music even to the point, they share, of tribal peoples from around the world getting in touch with them. “It’s so touching and moving that these very, very old cultures see our culture and we can communicate in these things,” Juul shares. “It’s very beautiful.”
People from around the globe continue to immerse themselves in Heilung’s music, and their profile is only increasing. In April, they delivered a captivating performance at Roadburn Festival in The Netherlands, which consistently showcases some of the most transformative music available, and Juul says the group are “actively working” on making Heilung’s first trip to North America happen. “I like to picture it as this: All of us, we are basically identical inside, right? All of us have this little gene that, once in a while, needs to be switched on that might lead your consciousness, or whatever you want to call it, in a certain direction, right?” Juul shares. “After a Heilung show—I hope that we didn’t dictate anything directly, because everyone’s path is individual, but I hope that we at least switched on a little thing that will make people think slightly different.”