Curiosity got the best of me and I spent my Sunday night at L’Olympia Theatre, where the European experimental folk band Heilung played to a venue full of metalheads, Vikings, pagans, fairies, GoT-extras-lookalikes and everything in between. The concert started about 30 minutes late due to the large number of people who were still waiting to enter at the original start time of 8pm. Equally large was the lineup inside the theatre for the merchandise stand.
The wait was worth it, with no opening band the show was sure to begin with a full crowd. Slowly the lights were turned off section by section, the fog machines were pumping and the people started taking their places with beer in hand.
As the smoke took over the stage, a priestly-musician came out burning sage and spreading the smoke towards the crowd. Darkness directed our attention towards the faintly lit platform, where one by one the band members came out and formed a circle around the clergyman and continued the opening ceremony by chanting the following:
“Remember, that we all are brothers
All people, beasts, trees and stone and wind
We all descend from the one great being
That was always there
Before people lived and named it
Before the first seed sprouted”
And thus, the show, or should I say the ritual, started. Just like that, our minds were focused on what was happening, on the message that lay ahead and the profoundness of what was being transmitted.
The words above were part of the very few words in English that were uttered that night. Ancient runes and Nordic languages were the main modes of communication. Understanding was not necessary as the whole idea seemed to submerge our spirits into the movements and universalists ideals of brotherhood, care for mother nature and enjoyment of life.
I could see and feel the appeal of what I was witnessing. Modern times have gone much quicker than what our brains have evolved to. The need for a tribe, for connection with something greater and the simpler times that we grew in for thousands of years are still craving inside us, unsatiated and looking for the next fix that simulates our most primal needs.
This genre of bronze age, Viking-esque and heathen, where Heilung seems to be in along with bands such as Wardruna, Eivør, Gåte, Myrkur and Danheim, seem to fill this thirst that many in the West seem to have to deprogram themselves from Christianity, to find an identity beyond nationalism, to belong to a tribe and to go back to the old ways, whichever they may be.
Globalization, uniformity, consumerism and nationalism have all uprooted our sense of belonging, and for westerners, this has become even more accentuated. This band seems to be trying to target this need for tradition, old gods and a newfound sense of responsibility towards nature. The only risk I see is isolation and confusing traditions with race, nation and glory.
Paganism, Odinism, Asatru and Wicca have been floating around for decades now, but now they have gained more traction in the Anglo world. The closest thing people had in terms of music that represented their spiritual side was Enya. Now they have Heilung.
Review – Ricardo D. Flores
Photos – Steve Gerrard