Heilung - Futha - (9/10)
Published on July 15, 2019
After the near-instant success of their debut, Heilung have returned with Futha. The band’s music tries to pull the listener into the spirit of Iron Age Northern Europe to a time before the spread of Christianity and Western political ideology. They reflect this by using unconventional song structure, unsettling execution, and maintaining an ancient pagan atmosphere. However, Futha differs from its predecessor in one core way; where the masculine Ofnir took a lot of musical and lyrical inspiration from inscriptions on armor and weapons, the feminine Futha takes from ancient Icelandic poetry and healing spells.
Before we dig into the album, let me begin by saying that, if you have neither the time nor patience to listen to this album in its entirety in one sitting, wait until you do. Darker trance music like this is really meant to be listened to all at once, so if you decided to break it into numerous sittings, you’d only be robbing yourself of a phenomenally unique experience. Oh, and it’s even better if you listen to it in the dark.
Even among other neofolk bands, Heilung are in a league of their own. Their sound is far more haunting and experimental than bands like Wardruna or Danheim but, as far as melody and droniness go, they sit somewhere between these and the ambient Draugurinn. Furthermore, in Futha, the emotions are amplified to such extremes that you can expect to feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow or despair in a few spots, as well as goosebumps during its intense climaxes.
And it’s for this reason that it’s far more difficult for me to review a piece of music like this than it is to review a metal album. This music is about feeling and emotion rather than entertainment, so it almost feels wrong to score it anything other than “Yes, it made me feel,” or “No, it made me bored,”. But, as you can already see, I’m giving it my best shot, so fuck it.
Now, let’s look at Futha‘s actual contents. On the low end of things, there are a few purely spoken passages, which unfortunately took me out of the zone a couple times (namely, the demonic speaking in ‘Elivagar’, which brought me out of it twice). They aren’t all bad and they usually do a good job at constructing an atmosphere, but it’s a bit excessive at times. However, this is all more than made up for with the cascade of chanting, passive percussion, and numerous vocal styles such as horrifying growls, throat singing, female vocals, and disorienting shrieks. Every song begins with a low ambiance and then builds upon it with new layers of these different elements like the crescendo of a midnight wind through a primordial forest. (And there it is, ladies and gentlement: the most pretentious simile I’ve ever written.)
The key to Futha‘s success lies in its repetition. Its songs don’t often contain more than one or two parts, but the occasional addition (or jarring introduction) of a new part will keep you stimulated while you’re entranced by whatever recurring chant has the stage.
All in all, this album made me feel all sorts of weird shit, so I’d say it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to. Not only that, but it does so without me understanding a single fucking word that’s spoken in it, which I would consider a trait of true music. With only two albums to their name so far, Heilung have proven that they are masters at weaving a mesmerizing tapestry and that they aren’t just another tryhard ambient band. Futha is an absolute gift and you owe it to yourself to shut off for a while to listen to it.