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Heilung at the Roseland Theater 01/013/2020 / Photos and review

Photos and story by MIKE LEWIS // It’s quite easy to get lost in what Heilung brings as performers to the stage at the Roseland. This isn’t something that is merely a concert but instead often comes across as a blend of music with performance and visual storytelling.

Over the years that I’ve been doing concert photography which is getting close to a decade, I’ve covered just about every musical genre there is. I started with metal but as I’ve expanded my portfolio this has grown to cover pop, rock, punk, industrial, country, blues, jazz, and even a choir at one point. There are always those groups on the fringe however which don’t fit into the norm.

Heilung is a collective group with its members coming from Germany, Norway and Demark. Their music has been billed as experimental folk although not in the terms that most think of folk music. They have based this music around text and runic inscriptions from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking Age and instead of simply doing modernizations of traditional or forgotten songs, they are creating their own music with historical references. While I’d heard of the band, I actually didn’t think they had quite the following that they do, evident by the fact that the Roseland show was a sold-out event.

Prior to making a decision myself on covering the show, I asked my young photographer daughter if she was interested in going as well. Originally, she jumped at the chance as she’s usually always ready to join her daddy in the photo pit, but then she stopped and though about it. She wanted to hear the music before finalizing her decision so I pulled up a concert video for her to watch. Just a few minutes into it she decided that this wasn’t for her.

“No, daddy. They are just too weird.”

Obviously Heilung isn’t for everyone. My biggest concern however was that the concert videos I had seen of the band often were very dark as far as the lighting and there was a lot of smoke used. However, after being assured that even if I had very dark photos that label wouldn’t mind, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Generally, if I walk away from a show with dark photos and its impossible to see, I’ll explain that I wasn’t really able to get anything usable but this time it appeared that it didn’t matter.

After arriving at the Roseland, I found that even the preshow approach of Heilung was very different. Instead of having music played over the PA prior to taking the stage, the room was filled with the sounds of a forest; blowing wind, chirping birds, and already a thick layer of smoke hovered on the stage to give the illusion of a misty and dark forest from some forgotten time. There were even those in the crowd who had arrived in various attire such as Viking inspired garb, headdresses, and other dress to give the illusion of times long forgotten.

Prior to starting the show, the members of Heilung came to the stage and receipted what I would describe as being a mantra which essentially stated that we are all one, we are connected as living beings to nature, and now with both smoke and incense clinging to the atmosphere, the show began. Given that Heilung is aiming for a folk inspired sound, you aren’t going to find modern instruments as a part of their show. Drums covered with deerskin, bones, a buffalo horn, rattles, whistles, and even a ravanahatha are all among the various, unique offerings that are brought to the stage. Then you have vocals which range from throat singing to chants, with both men and women being a part of the spectacle. On occasion Heilung brings out an assortment of performers who are dressed as ancient warriors, complete with shields and spears. They add in additional chanting, even stomping rhythmically at times.

It’s quite easy to get lost in what Heilung brings as performers to the stage. This isn’t something that is merely a concert but instead often comes across as a blend of music with performance and visual storytelling. The band doesn’t just want you to hear the song, they want to show you the songs and the inspirations behind them. There are many performers on stages at once during most of the songs and while typically could get confusing, everything is choreographed in such a way that it’s easy to focus on what the main, musical aspect of the song is and then drift to another performer to take in what they are brining to the song as well. Despite being what could be considered an “underground” band, Heilung seems to have a very dedicated following and their stage performance certainly is something that even those who may not enjoy this type of music could find both soothing and inspirational.

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