Heilung played Webster Hall (twice) — pics & review
They call their music Amplified History, and it is definitely not metal despite their highly recommended 2019 album Futha coming out on mostly-metal label Season of Mist and the many battle jackets seen among the crowd at Webster Hall in NYC on Wednesday night (1/29). It was the second of two NYC shows for Heilung -- a group of musicians and artists from Germany, Denmark and Norway -- and the end of a short North American tour that saw the band playing major U.S. cities for the first time in their relatively short time as a band.
We shouldn't have been too surprised given Heilung's massive YouTube stream numbers, but demand for their presence in the United States was high. Tickets for Webster Hall and other shows on the tour sold out instantly, and they added second dates at some venues, including Webster Hall. Those sold out fast too, and venues everywhere were packed. The crowd in NYC was rapturous -- screaming in excitement when the musicians and dancers appeared on stage. The ensemble wears elaborate makeup and costumes "based on the spiritual traditions of the Eurasian circumpolar peoples" and "historically correct reproductions of Nordic Bronze Age clothing." There were lots of antlers, not to mention other bones and drums and spears. Ancient stories and what appears to be pagan rituals are acted out (or maybe actually happening) on stage. The majority of the crowd was quick to chant along. A cloaked mystery person opened the show by walking along the edges of the stage, filling the air with a sage-like but unknown herb-like incense, waving the smoke towards the crowd, presumably to purify the space for the ritual that was about to begin, or at least to get us hyped.
Like Dead Can Dance and the even more similar Wardruna (whose fame has also skyrocketed in recent years), their form of folk music transports you to a different time. It is primal and spiritual and -- when you weren't distracted by the group of obnoxious bros who talked non-stop near the back left corner of the venue (why were they there???) -- transports you to another place. Like those groups, Heilung features multiple vocalists, most notably the beautiful singing voice of Norwegian singer Maria Franz and the otherworldly throat singing of Germany's Kai Uwe Faust (who is also known for his on brand traditional Norse tattooing skills).
The well choreographed show built in intensity from start to finish, with actual fire making an appearance on stage towards the end. The finale featured the entire cast of characters out on stage engaging in joyous dancing and included some of the body paint-covered soldiers entering and riding the crowd (maybe it was a metal show). Screams for an encore filled the hall as as the mystery cloaked person returned to give us more sweet smelling smoke. Heilung are a true experience -- a full package that pays attention to all details, including the music, which is to say to music fans that the stage show is not just a cheap (or expensive in this case) shtick.
Of course with this type of "white culture," unfortunately you are going to attract some fans with unfortunate ideas, though aside from an occasional canceled black metal band patch, I didn't notice any outward appearing nazi stuff at Wednesday's show. When asked about these things, the band always responds with just that "Heilung is amplified history from early medieval northern Europe and should not be mistaken for a modern political or religious statement of any kind."
Check out our photos from the NYC spectacle in the gallery above!
photos by Ryan Muir