It’s early evening in the first week of November. A pleasantly surprising fall breeze flows through the air, which has usually passed by already by this time of year. From the front of the venue, there's a line of eager attendees, wrapped all the way down the block and around the building, dressed in warpaint and furs, eagerly awaiting entry to witness one of Heilung's limited US tour dates.
I knew that the atmosphere of Midland Theater, a nearly 100 year old 3,000-seat theater nestled in the Power & Light District of Kansas City, would be the perfect environment to set the ambience for this unique and powerful performance. When you walk in, the architecture alone felt as though it transports you to a different Era.
In the 30 minutes leading up to the opening ceremony, the low rumble of conversation slowly turned to the howling of wolves, growing ever more intense, until the lights went down. The howling immediately ceased.
The crowd went silent as a single person walked out barefoot and dressed in tattered cloths, holding a single smoking bowl and a tree branch. Sounds of water and birds filled the air as he began a smudging of the entire stage and the crowd.
A procession of men and women dressed in only loincloths and body paint walked out each with antlers in hand. They formed a circle, held hands, and began a prayer:
"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"
Okay, these guys are serious.
This is more than performance art.
I had read, prior to seeing the show, that Heilung translates to "healing" and they call their performances rituals. Sometimes artists do things like this as sort of a gimmick. This was anything but…
From the minute they took the stage you could feel the intensity and authenticity of this performance. Every detail seemed carefully crafted from the chosen instruments to attire, movement, and expression.
Heilung's ritual is meant to reconnect the present people with their ancestors, the Earth and each other. Their music is usually about Germanic deities, The Jǫtnar, and valkyries.
The circle releases and each member takes their position as the stage goes dark and the ritual begins.
The first thing that was apparent were their chosen instruments and attire. There were deer bones, a buffalo horn, a human forearm bone, and even a clay rattle filled with human ashes, on stage amongst other various items.
What started as a peaceful smudging ceremony had escalated to a team of warriors wielding shields and swords screaming at the top of their lungs.
There was a huge dynamic in energy and emotion throughout the performance ranging from spoken word poetry to mongolian throat singing as well as screaming and chanting in ancient germanic and icelandic langauges.
Although, the performance was captivating musically and energetically, that wasn't the focus. There was such a sense of a storytelling narrative throughout.
I'm not versed well enough on Norse mythology to catch onto everything but there seemed to be an overarching theme of the two main vocalists, Kai Uwe Faus and Maria Franz, representing the dark and the light.
The peak of the performance was what I believe to be a telling of Odin's 2nd death, during the song "Traust" meaning "Trust" at the peak of the ritual. A woman was hung, and later bound by vocalist Kai with a spear, and thrown to the ground. Maria, the other lead vocalist, then comes and releases her symbolically casting away the shackles that bind her to her fate and she sings "insprinc haptbanub" which translates to "escape from the fetters".
Heilung left the crowd in awe. I was taken back by how many people in the midwest knew all the words and chanted along throughout the majority of the performance. Whether you know the native tongue or not, they provide a truly transformative experience that left myself and other audience members recounting chills and goosebumps throughout the evening.