April 30, 2019

In the lead up to the release of their upcoming album, Futha, HEILUNG have been gracing a select number of stages in celebration. Among them, of course, was the main stage at Roadburn Festival just a few short weeks ago. The spectacle has left a mark on us, and quite possibly you too if you were fortunate enough to bear witness to the magic of their amplified history unfolding.

HEILUNG’s ripples have turned into almighty waves over the past couple of years, with devotees to their tribal, soul-wrenching rhythms being swept along by the tide. Here at Roadburn HQ, we count ourselves proudly in that number, firmly along for the ride wherever it may take us. On the strength of their soundcheck alone, Roadburn’s Walter Hoeijmakers was declaring it one of the best sounding shows in Roadburn’s history; the full production show more than lived up to the hype.

Whilst the dust is still settling, and our minds are still adjusting to the digital glare of the modern day we inexplicable find ourselves in, we’re thrilled to take a step back into the HEILUNG hinterland with the premiere of a new track. Othan is taken from the album Futha which will be released on June 28 via Season of Mist (pre-order here). A few lucky souls have already heard the full thing during the listening session at Roadburn, but the rest of us will have to wait another couple of months before it is set loose on us.

You may have caught Othan live during their set at Roadburn, but at the time, we were in the dark about the context behind the track. HEILUNG’s Maria Franz explains all:

Othan is one of the compositions that, in a Heilung context, might appear as a relaxed song. Nevertheless, it contains ancient combat protection spells and Odin, the highest northern god, appears as the lord of war.

The first part is a combination of spells from bracteates (see also: Futha explained) which is very hard to grasp or translate. These pendants or coins were produced mostly during the migration period up until the 7th century AD in northern Europe. They were mostly made from Roman gold, which the Germanic tribes received as peace money. The inscriptions are still discussed controversially amongst rune researchers. Some clues that hint towards the words leek, ale or a cuckoo can be traced, but most of the time it seems to be very difficult to grasp a meaningful sense in the inscriptions.

Although the High One enjoys war, he also indulges in poetry. Othan therefore has a second part where the white mistress of incantations recites the words that the High One gave to man: A spell sung under the shields to bless them and protect the warriors. (Hávámal, stanza 156)

In the third part the mood gets darker and we have now reached the point of an active combat spell. The power to stop an arrow in its flight is invoked. (Hávamál stanza 150)

After that the name of the highest Nordic god is repeated in a wolfish, barking mantra, partly to transport the feeling, that the ancient Nordic warrior groups often perceived themselves as animal packs. This is for example described by Ibrahim Ibn Yaqub, a 10th century traveller and merchant, who writes that the people of Hedeby were singing in a barking manner.”

Imagine for a moment that you’re not reading these words on a modern device, hit play below and transport to somewhere otherworldly, courtesy of HEILUNG.

Becky Laverty

Cover image: Heilung & Walter, courtesy of Niels Vinck