Formed in 2014, Heilung is a European band that transcends genre and definition, with their atmospheric music taking listeners on indescribable journeys through history and myth via the realms of folk and rock. When Conqueror’s Blade entered into its own Viking Age in Season VII: Wolves of Ragnarok, we knew they were the perfect fit to score our saga of wolf-worshippers, berserkers, and mighty shieldmaidens – their songs Galgaldr and Alfadhirhaiti can be heard in the game’s current opening cinematic and the map Heilung Fjord.
As part of our ongoing series of Music Week articles, we spoke to Christopher, Maria, and Kai from Heilung about their music, influences, and how to best defend Heilung Fjord from invaders. The photographs featured in the article were taken by Coen Halmans and Kees Stravers.
Thanks for talking with us! Could you introduce yourselves?
Heilung: Hello and thank you from our side, we are Christopher Juul, Maria Franz and Kai Uwe Faust, the three core members of Heilung.
What is the story of Heilung, why did you first get together and decide to make music?
Heilung: In another time and age, Kai wished to record some of his poems and asked his friend Christopher, who is a producer, and they agreed on a trade – a tattoo for the recording. Christopher instantly got inspired by what Kai brought to his studio, and creativity was let loose as they began adding all sorts of crazy soundscapes to the poems. At some point, Christopher asked Kai if he could sing something. Kai, usually shy, mumbled and rumbled a bit, which resulted in him being unleashed in the recording room. Maria came along, got hit by a bolt of excitement and inspiration and added her voice to some tracks, and there it was – the little Heilung baby, still an unnamed little beast, but it crawled in our hearts and took off from there…
(Chris, by the way, does not have a single tattoo to this very day.)
Heilung means ‘healing’ in German. Why did you choose this name for the band?
Heilung: We didn’t. The spirits told Kai to name the project like this.
How would you describe your sound to a new listener?
Heilung: Take a Norwegian Viking girl, a Danish Viking boy and son of a pagan priest, and let them meet a madman, half-animal, half-German, add a lot of drums, screams and angelic voices. Spice it up with a little dose of overtone singing and not too much psychedelic soundscapes. Let it simmer a little in the blackness of inspiration that already fed the Nordic myths…. Or, forget it and just listen to the music and make up your own mind. ☺
A lot of your music is inspired by ancient Germanic culture and the Viking Age. What drew you to these themes?
Heilung: They came naturally to all three of us already from our early childhood. Maria grew up in Borre, a little Norwegian village with a big burial field of Viking age grave mounds, and as a child she was playing on that very soil with the ancestors resting under her feet, always very aware of their presence and influence.
Christopher had the revived pagan beliefs of Scandinavia actively performed around him while he grew up, due to the position of his father as a Godi (a pagan priest with the right to perform wedding ceremonies).
Kai, growing up Christian, was nevertheless playing in Iron Age stone circles in the endless forests in the heart of Germany and started early to explore Germanic and Celtic art.
The three of them met through Viking reenactment markets, festivals that show the arts and crafts of the Viking period.
Do you feel a connection to older cultures and civilisations, such as the Vikings?
Heilung: Everything is interconnected, we still have our history on display in our modern-day culture, visible in the language, our ornaments, our religious beliefs, and so on. Also, our older cultures were dealing with the same basic questions and challenges of mankind as we still do today. It’s all love and pain. If you sit as a mother on the bed of your sick child it feels the same, whether they call your culture Viking or Indonesian. And the song you sing that night on that bed, means the same in all cultures and throughout all ages. We are all connected, through time and space, because we are all people.
Where else do you find inspiration when you’re making music?
Heilung: We all very often have the feeling that inspiration finds us, and it can be everywhere, no matter if it is in the dusty ruins of Pompeii or in the train. Nature is always a great source of inspiration though.
Each member of Heilung has a distinctive vocal style. Could you tell us about the different styles you employ when making songs?
Heilung: Whenever it comes to the etheric female singing, that will be Maria. She will employ everything from harmonies to the old Scandinavian cattle calls, from sweet whispers to heart-breaking screams of pain and anguish.
Christopher feeds the soundscapes with deep vocals and throat singing, but he also takes on whispering parts, and some tricky, rhythmic passages where Kai is out of his mind, twitching, barking and gargling. ☺
You also have a unique range of instruments, including ones made from human bones! Could you tell us about your different instruments, and the process of how you select them to create specific, unique sounds?
Heilung: That is a very complex topic, due to the fluid character of the selection process. We allow ourselves to really follow the flow of inspiration and it helps to have a sound studio with a lot of space, filled with a lot of instruments and things that makes nice sounds, and the technical equipment to capture everything. We make a lot of instruments ourselves or have them made by exceptional skilled craftsmen. It’s easy to imagine that you cannot buy the replica of a 12,000 year old flute made from a swan bone, tar and grass in the shop just around the corner. We give a lot of love to our drums, we see them as living beings, made from skin, bone, and blood.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever used as an instrument?
Heilung: Bones from a 16th century plague mass grave in Germany.
You’ve referred to your live performances as ‘rituals’. What kind of atmosphere do you try to create at concerts to achieve this?
Music is the primal language of mankind. In music we can perceive the divine harmony of cosmos, so a ritual of music in our world is meant to connect people with this spiritual state of mind. So, we open up, we invite everyone to become one. One with the sound, the beat, be a part of our circle. We welcome you to a time space of freedom, getting lost in the music, the visuals, and the scents. The Heilung ritual is our invitation to disconnect from the now and to reconnect to yourself.
The world has changed a lot in the last year, and live music is unfortunately on hold for a bit. How would you recommend fans get into this same sort of ritualistic headspace at home?
Get some good headphones, take an hour or two just for yourself with a glass of wine or whatever you need to relax and just let go. Let the sounds carry you into our parallel world, just to return from it like from a good walk in the mountains.
There is a new map in Conqueror’s Blade called Heilung Fjord, named in your honour! How would you defend it from invading armies?
Just feed the shaman some mushrooms, he’ll take care of it. If that doesn’t work, send the night warriors. If they f**k up, the snails will take over the defence slowly, and they never fail…
Your music is getting a lot of attention in the games industry at the moment! What games do you enjoy in your spare time (if any)?
Well…. this is quite personal, the games people play, you know… No, just joking. ☺ You can actually find us sitting on sheepskins and rocking chairs in front of the fire and playing a good old board game. You might not believe it, but most of the time we are really that old school.
Then there are of course the very physical and violent Viking age games, that sometimes erupt during a good party. But they are a different story for another time. ☺
Can fans expect to hear new music – like a follow-up to Futha – or see you back on the road in the near future?
We spend a lot of the cancelled tour time in the studio, as most musicians probably did. Our time there will lead to new releases, but we have a few projects before that and still some secrets up our sleeve. ;)
We are very positive to see Heilung back on the road in the last part of this year and hope to see you all out there. <3
Thanks to Christopher, Maria, and Kai for taking the time to chat with us! You can catch Heilung on tour throughout Europe and Russia in 2021 and 2022, check out their latest album Futha (available now on Spotify and Apple Music), and listen for their glorious music in Conqueror’s Blade throughout Season VII: Wolves of Ragnarok.