Overall Score: 9/10 Musicianship: 9/10 Production: 9/10 Song Writing: 9/10 Pros: Exceptionally well produced with incredible attention to detail. Epic, enthralling soundscapes. Cons: Some may find the lack of any modern language challenging to overcome.
Since their formation in 2014, HEILUNG have been taking their listeners on musical journeys into the past. Using traditional instruments and the sounds of nature itself, the Danish three piece have faithfully recreated some of the oldest music in existence. Perhaps better described as amplified history than heavy metal, their sound is utterly unique and their live performances have already become the things of myth and folklore among music fans lucky enough to have borne witness to their appearances.
The band’s previous studio albums, Ofnir (2015) and Futha (2019) have been met with almost universal acclaim too. With nominations for awards in Metal Hammer‘s Underground Band category and with the song Norupo tying first place for an IWA World Traditional Award back in 2020.
Drif is their most far reaching and immersive project yet. Composed during the global lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the band have again drawn their influences directly from the ancient civilizations of Northern Europe and beyond. Weaving a tapestry of primal sounds intended to immerse and heal the listener.
The record’s opening track, Asja demonstrates HEILUNG‘s innate ability to entrance and
absorb perfectly. A love song about prosperity and protection that draws inspiration from the
Icelandic Codex Regius, it’s a hauntingly beautiful composition. Beginning with a spoken
word piece from Kai Uwe Faust accompanied by rising tribal drums. Without realising, Asja
immediately draws you in. Rising around you in waves and fully enveloping you in Maria
Franz’s ethereal poetic chanting.
The rising tide of ancient sound continues with Anoana, which despite taking its lyrics from
Dark Age inscriptions several centuries older than Asja, blends nearly seamlessly with its
predecessor. So far only the simplest of instrumentation has been used too, but the sonic
picture painted by the skin drums, throat singing and straw brooms and little else is both
spellbinding and all consuming.
It’s in moments such as these that it becomes obvious why HEILUNG’s music has been
sought by the producers of the likes of Game Of Thrones, Vikings and most recently The
Northman. Because despite being performed almost entirely using dead languages and
forgotten dialects, their music transcends language barriers and instead capitalises upon
much more primal musical connections to our most basic instincts.
Drif‘s third track, Tenet is both a historical and musical masterwork. Spoken in four different
languages and based on the earliest datable two-dimensional palindrome known to man,
musically it serves almost as some kind of ancient ancestor to TOOL‘s Lateralus. Instead of the Fibonacci sequence that inspired its great, great grandchild however, Tenet takes both
its lyrical and rhythmic composition from a code system of Latin letters, numbers and runes.
Examples of which have been recorded as far back in time as 79 AD. Lending it a completely unique sound that feels both alien and yet somehow familiar.
This level of dedication to their craft is just as evident on the album’s next two tracks, Urbani
and Keltentrauer. As the marching feet and battle sounds that can be heard throughout
both are not simply samples or foley recordings. Instead, having been recorded live by the
band and their team. Meaning that every clashing sword, gaelic chant and footfall was captured in the field, adding some real weight to the overall sound and exponentially amplifying the effect of such simple yet ingeniously implemented musical tools.
Nesso takes things a step further still, utilising the most ancient and basic manner of
recording sound; singing directly into a copper fibre tuned to the same note, to create some
truly haunting passages. Especially once combined with the ancient bowed lyre the band
chose to accompany Franz‘s stirring and emotional vocal performance of the ancient ninth
century healing spell. Even the echoing background yells that can only vaguely be discerned during Bulsas Bann, were captured live on an Icelandic lava field to ensure that every sound heard by the listener brings them closer to the historical birthplace of the eight hundred year old curse being performed. Leaving no doubt regarding the level of dedication and respect that HEILUNG have for their craft and the very real footsteps they are retracing through time.
What is most striking as Drif comes to a close with Nikkal; one of the earliest complete
annotated pieces of music ever discovered by historians and Marduck, an ancient
Babylonian poem that dates back to nearly 1900 BC. Is that despite being sung in multiple
languages and with every track having been taken from a different era of history, the album
functions perfectly as a whole.
This is in no small part the result of HEILUNG‘s complete and total dedication to their craft, however there is also something to be said for the primal nature of the material and the universal connection it manages to achieve as a result. The languages in use may be untranslatable to all but the scholars among us in some cases. Yet, their music has deep roots that seem to transcend the spoken word with a more primitive element. Captivating the listener and transporting them back through time using tribal rhythms and ancient melodies. Much more than a musical history lesson, Drif is a challenging, beautifully produced journey into a past long since forgotten. The lack of almost any modern language may alienate some music fans and there are no real “singles” to be had. However, taken as a whole Drif is not only a captivating listening experience, but a genuinely impressive musical achievement. One that once again reinforces HEILUNG‘s position as one of metal’s most unique and
Drif is available now via Season of Mist.
For more information on HEILUNG, like their offical page on Facebook.