Amplified history: A conversation with Heilung

Photo of Heilung by @sik_imagery

Heilung |11.01.23, 8:00 PM |The Factory, 17105 North Outer 40 Road, Chesterfield, MO| 18+ (under 18 OK with parent/guardian) | $60.50-$70.50

This Wednesday, November 1st, Nordic folk collective Heilung will bring their fall 2023 US tour to the Factory in Chesterfield. Formed in Copenhagen in 2014, Heilung (“healing” in German) quickly became an international phenomenon due to their painstakingly authentic interpretation of pre-Christian Scandinavian folk music. Their legendary live performances, featuring elaborate Viking-inspired costumes, are billed as an immersive and trancelike experience, more akin to an ancient pagan ritual than a typical concert. The core of the group is its three founding members—Christopher Juul, Kai Uwe Faust, and Maria Franz—although their live performances include an extended cast of over a dozen people.

We spoke with the members of Heilung in advance of next week’s show, which will be their first time performing in St. Louis.


The Arts STL: You describe your music as “amplified history.” Can you explain what this term means to you, and how it is reflected in your music and performances?

Heilung: Amplified history stands for ancient sounds, poetry, and wisdom, mediated and amplified through modern technology. We are amplifying it by bringing a ritual into a sound studio and onto a modern stage, using modern light and sound systems to enhance it.

Why are we doing it? To give the folk of our time and age a taste of being part of a wild tribe, losing yourself to the beating of the drums, screaming out your sorrow or anger, and dancing until you lose your breath. It’s violent and sometimes scary, but it will leave you in a peaceful state of mind that might heal you from some of your sorrows and pain.

It’s clear that you have a passion for world history that is not limited to early Nordic cultures. Can you describe your process for researching world history and musical traditions, and how this is integrated into your music?

Kai [Uwe Faust] has a great library of runic inscriptions and ancient texts from many ancient cultures, which he has collected his entire life. In addition, we do what the Northern European people always did: we travel around and pick up inspiration from the places we go to and the people we visit. The pieces flow and grow organically, and the decisions of choosing which ones to work with, and when, comes very naturally in the creative flow that follows working with an album.

How would you describe a typical Heilung live performance? How does the energy and atmosphere contrast with a typical rock or pop concert?

It is pure love, what we do. The first impression you get as an audience begins with the physically noticeable impact of the bass of the drums in your body. Most people remember and talk about this, because it’s such a bodily experience. Also, the atmosphere and the setting we create is different. You will experience a regular band’s concert by hearing and seeing, but with Heilung, the first sense that is touched is actually the smell, when we smudge the stage.

Furthermore, in the opening ceremony, we present our philosophy in a modern language. This is where we wake up the memory that we all are connected. Heilung is also something you can actually touch, for example, when the warriors go all crazy and leave the boundaries of the stage and dance wildly with the audience. A Heilung performance is built up purely like an ancient ritual. We don’t know any rock, metal, or pop bands who do the same, so I guess there is your answer!

The Warriors live at a Heilung show (photo by @sik_imagery)

What material should your fans expect to hear on your upcoming US tour? Is there a piece you particularly enjoy performing?

We are slowly adding a few new pieces to the setlist on this US tour. At the time we are writing this, we have already implemented “Fylgija Futhorck,” and one more surprise is in the making.

We are 16 people on stage, and everyone has their personal favourites. What we do is a full circle, though. It wouldn’t feel right to elevate one piece of the circle above another, it all fits together, and performing it all together makes the ritual complete.

Your upcoming tour will be your third US tour overall, and your first time performing in St. Louis. Do you have any thoughts on how performing for US audiences compares to European audiences?

We experience an abundance of gratitude everywhere we go, and this is humbling to us. The US audiences are extremely welcoming, and slightly louder than the European base, which we highly appreciate! They also like to dress up more, to the great joy and surprise of everyone working at the different venues. We always love to see their surprise when the doors open and our beautiful, colourful and vibrant tribe of ritual participants enters the room!

You have contributed music to a variety of film, television, and video game soundtracks. Can you describe some of your experiences contributing to these projects?

Movies and television series mostly purchase a piece that we had already written, but it’s still fascinating to see how our compositions work in a frame created by someone else than us. One of the most memorable moments was when our song “Krigsgaldr” got used in a sex scene between the god Thor and a Jotun woman in the Netflix series Ragnarok.

We also thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration with Ninja Theory for the game Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. Here, we got full creative freedom under the framework of the game, which was a new and delightful challenge.

Can you provide a brief history of how Heilung was formed, and your background as musicians prior to the project?

The three core members of Heilung [Kai, Christopher, and Maria] met in the year 2000 in the Viking reenactment environment, where people from all over the world gather in different locations and reconstruct late Iron Age crafts like weaving, smithing, building, and of course, music. In early 2014, we started innocently and playfully to record a still-nameless project. Originally, Kai just wanted to record some of his poems, and the plan was to give Christopher a tattoo for the production. Christopher still doesn’t have a single tattoo, but all the time invested in recording and mastering would equal several full body tattoos by now!

Christopher is classically trained in piano, and has been running his recording studio since 2006. Maria is a self-taught musician with a main focus on the different styles of folk music throughout the world. Kai’s first encounter with performing live was on Heilung’s debut concert in 2017, and we have enjoyed standing by his side for the journey ever since.

Prior to Heilung, Christopher and Maria had been involved in other projects with folk elements that were quite different in scope and sound from Heilung (e.g., Valravn and Euzen). How have your experiences with these projects influenced your work in Heilung?

We pretty much wipe the board clean when entering the realm of creating Heilung’s soundscapes. We placed quite a few dogmas on the project, which makes it hard to compare to anything else. For example, we don’t allow any pre-recorded sounds or samples, meaning that everything you hear is created by our own hands. We also avoid any modern instruments, which also contribute to the unique, ancient feel to the project.

Christopher and Maria have also continued to work on other side projects, such as Songleikr. How does working on these projects compare or contrast with your work with Heilung?

Songleikr is a very uncomplicated project compared to Heilung: only four to five musicians, only acoustic instruments, and we only play on very small stages with very low demands to production. Needless to say, the contrast to Heilung is huge, and we enjoy living our different sides as performers with the various projects we do.

Who are some of your influences and favorite musicians? Are there any contemporary artists or releases you would like to recommend?

This is a playlist showcasing much of the music we love listening to. Of course, there is tons more, but this is a good start!

We use ancient sounds, but they are molded into a very contemporary way, so that they are still appealing to the modern ear.

Heilung has become one of the most successful contemporary folk projects in a relatively short amount of time. Why do you think your music resonates so strongly, especially with audiences who may not have been exposed to Nordic folk music prior to listening to you?

First of all, it is plain and simply the sheer volume. Modern people are very noisy, and need to talk and share things on beeping devices all the time. It is very easy to disturb an ancient Buddhist or Christian ceremony, because absolute silence is required. A Heilung ceremony cannot be disturbed by all that, because we make amplified history, and our sounds are always the strongest in the specific timespace where we decided to invite [our audiences] to a trance journey.

Also, we use ancient sounds, but they are molded into a very contemporary way, so that they are still appealing to the modern ear. If we would play a raw recording of an actual ceremony to you, it would sound at times very weird and not “clean” enough to be enjoyable for the modern ear.

What have your experiences been like with Season of Mist? What is it like being a folk project signed to a label that is often associated with metal artists?

We love Season of Mist, and all the artists on the label. We are very happy we became part of this family. The metal scene is opening up a lot, and Heilung by now is not the only “non-metal” band on the label, so we feel at home with them. Kai has been a metalhead since his early youth, so I guess the rougher tones come from there. Maria and Christopher’s other projects [Euzen and Songleikr], for example, don’t contain them in this intensity.

Metal fans are, in general, not shy to explore music that leads down the darker path. In Heilung, you will hear us processing anger, grief, and other “negative” emotions. We embrace the full range of feelings musically. I think that is one of the reasons. The Nordic theme that we bring, by design, is also something that was part of the metal scene already from the beginning.

You have a tradition of donating a portion of your ticket sales to reforestation efforts. Why do you think it is important for musicians to be involved with ecological activism?

I think it is not just important for musicians—it should come naturally for everyone. We don’t think it is activism when it is about survival of all beings, since everything in this ecosystem is connected. Nature can easily exist without people, the other way around is very difficult.

The trees produce the oxygen we need to live on this planet. We are more than 80% water, just like the surface of our earth. We borrowed this place from our children, as much as we inherited it from our forefathers. We need to clean up after ourselves and preserve our home if we want the beings we love dearest—our children and the baby animals—to live in a place worth living.


Tickets for next week’s show are selling fast—balcony seating has already sold out, although there are still general admission tickets available—so you’ll want to grab yours soon if you’re on the fence. There is no opening act for the tour, with Heilung instead giving a roughly two-hour performance. Costumes and face paint are encouraged, making this the perfect event for anyone who decided on Leif Erikson cosplay this Halloween! | David Von Nordheim

Tickets available at, and check out tour merch at

Heilung on tour:

10.30.23:  Austin, TX @ ACL Live at The Moody Theater

11.01.23:  St. Louis, MO @ The Factory

11.03.23:  Kansas City, MO @ The Midland Theatre

11.05.23:  Denver, CO @ Mission Ballroom

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