That Scandinavian techno-Vikings Heilung have been gleefully accepted into the mainstream music world shouldn’t come as a surprise given the hurly-burly environment we live in. The past always seems a safer, more welcoming place even at a millennium-and-a-bit in remove. Perhaps more surprising is that, given this new-found crossover appeal, they weren’t this past weekend holding centre stage at the world famous middle-class virtue signalling jamboree that is Glastonbury exhorting a suitably behorned-audience to Fuck Boris (in old Norse, natch)…
I’m all for getting in contact with the primeval ancestor, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something strangely dissonant culturally about people signing up to embrace their Thulean heritage en masse in 2019. The world of the future will be all about the negation of ancient culture – especially European culture – so maybe this sudden flash of inspiration is just a last thrashing of the old Gods before they are put firmly to bed? Thus the sombre battle noises that accompany spoken word piece Vapnatak cut a strangely forlorn figure against the relentless march of post-modern progress.
Heilung – obstinately but probably wisely – refuse to take a political stance to go with their cultural tourism; playing on period instruments such as human bones, and using ancient throat-singing techniques handed down from many of the ancient cultures of the world precludes them from participation in the modern political arena, they say. But it’s hard to see this sort of celebration of Northern European culture escaping the baleful eye of the equality police for much longer, especially as the band gather fans by the longboat load thanks to their EDM-fuelled paeans to the World Tree like Othan or the darkly alluring Galgadr. This may well be a call to embrace the common antecedent in all of us (all of us from Northern Europe, at least), but that surely won’t stop the jackboot of inclusivity grinding Heilung into the dust eventually. So best to enjoy it while we all can, right?
Elivagar, replete with a Gollum-esque spoken prequel, might well appeal to fans of the Haka, it’s strident rhythmic ardour building as massed warrior voices lay down a challenge to unseen foes; It’s here that the notion of the ‘common ancestor’ speaks loudest, as, despite the Nordic nature of the track, it’s entirely possible to imagine Polynesian or North American ancients performing the ritualistic dance in exactly the same way. Less successful is Elddansurin, a tribal chant boosted by just a little too much bass thump to sound genuinely medieval. Were the Monks of Lindisfarne scared witless by a bloody, miserable demise at the hands of the Vikings, or by the sound of their Dragon Boats approaching, blasting out a pre-renaissance version of The Shamen? I’m almost certain it was the former, but either way you can forgive their pitiful flight on the evidence of this track.
It’s hard not to chortle at all this when Heilung dip over the edge into full Enya/Clannad territory; The need to shift product is clearly as pressing as the need to document the past of our kinfolk after all. But when the sinister (and yes, very Shamanic – in the proper sense) voices take hold of the senses, there is a very definite feeling of connection to our dark, dank, shared past, whether as the victors or the conquered. A feeling that sparks interest in further research. The same for which can’t be said for the first six minutes of closer Hamrer Hippyer, which sounds like something you might hear on Circular Quay on a busy Saturday afternoon. But then – and it’s obviously that common ancestor popping up her head above the parapet again – the track stops on a dime, becoming a hypnotic mix of late medieval liturgical chant and blood curdling, magic-mushroom assisted Berserker fire. Like the Red Book of Montserrat meets early nineties Enigma but informed by a bloody great big axe rather than a bag of skunk and some baggy jeans.
So there you have it; by equal parts doomed and hopeful, alluring yet strangely repellent. Heilung are here to awaken your inner primal being, if you’ll let them. Just be careful you don’t have your eye out on one of those deer horns as you cavort around your back garden…
Futha is out now.