Experimental Archaeology is an actual scientific branch that strives to reenact technologies, ways of life and techniques of long-gone times. Very much by trial and error and fueled by whatever fragments the remnants of the past cough up. It is an exciting way to conduct practically oriented archaeology and to understand things by doing, as opposed to digging endlessly around dusty sites, and live to theorize about your findings later.
The same is true with music from long-vanished times. Old melodies abound that nobody really knows where they may originate from. Fragments of texts, spells, and whatnot galore that positively scream to be bound into a song.
Fact is that science does not know a hell of a lot about the time after 376 AD for a few hundred years until the High Middle Ages. That was when the collapse of Roman power really took on steam, which finally led to the demise of the empire. And that let the European tribes fend for themselves. A truly dark age.
So, you have those bands that depart from the beaten paths in search of musical endeavors that nobody covered yet. They often move down the timeline into an era where little is known and the sparse history sparkles with artifacts, fragments of texts and godly lores. And a lot of empty space that scientists don’t quite know what to do with (yet). So, we have a fertile ground, where the holes can lustily be filled by sounds, inventions and whatever the study of what could be there and – lastly – fantasy cooks up for ye.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
You have the medieval folks, like Faun or Die Irrlichter that give their trade a try through melody and some reasonable experimentation. And the outcome is often outstanding, not always though. Pagan Metal bands like Eluveitie put a lot of study into their offerings too. And – in turn – deliver a sturdy brand that somehow sounds truer than what others deliver.
Bands like Heilung try to put a tent around that particular elusive circus by going full-out pagan on ye. And they call that Amplified History.
And why the heck not.
They like to imagine themselves way back in time, sometimes farther than their enactments actually depict. And in truth, the band does their field study first, before they just go ahead and imagine a soundscape around it. Their first album Ofnir was already an eye-opener, albeit – in their words – a very masculine production. Only that their live performance Lifa really took the cake AND the crown a bit later.
Now the question is, will Futha be able to top this performance with some reasonable sea room to navigate?
Heilung do have that knack to knock together primeval sound structures into a tasty mix of naturally occurring sounds, primeval screams and a lot of stomping about the stage. Which – I admit – does lend a certain credibility to the soundscape they create.
Yet, Futha – truly – is no different from the two previous records. If anything and starting with Galgadr right away, they injected a tad too much heavy breathing and extremist throat singing into the fray. Together with a welcome and more sustained involvement of Maria Franz.
It appears that Heilung wished to give this new album a more female connotation. Which makes sense, as many archaeological markers point towards matriarchal structures in the distant past. And – from a more practical standpoint – to push the female front more prominently does again pay in overall quality.
I was a tad concerned when I saw Othan and Hamrer Hippyer again appear on Futha. Those enjoyed pretty hefty success on Lifa. But fear not. The studio versions of both tracks do deliver a brand that stands on its own. Even if the latter insanely reminds me of silent parties at 2 am with the disc jockey gone wild.
Yet, after a while, you feel like you are attending a pow-wow of the Sioux of old. A lot of the sounds we hear seem to be borrowed from the North American continent. Where a lot of them interpreters – probably falsely – assume that somehow the lores of the Native Americans sync with the Viking age. Even if some landing sites of Vikings in North America have been archaeologically proven. But I guess that the skraelings took swift care of the first white men on the continent.
Then, I would have wished for much more melodic substance. Not just endless repetitions through corny percussion, studio effects, and mantra-like chanting to get to the time limit. Elivagar – for instance – is such a miscarriage, a filler if there ever was one. And this frankly takes away a lot of the unique excitement surrounding Futha.
And that is a pity, as the new flagships Norupo and Traust actually boast a pretty cool neo-pagan look and feel. The latter interpreting a text of the Merseburg Charms. The one talking about the Idisi, those elusive female goddesses of many facets. The use of those texts is by the way nothing new. The German Ougenweide famously did a version in 2006. The aforementioned Die Irrlichter offered a pretty tasty and pleasingly melodious one as well. Between many others before them or since.
So, same as Experimental Archaeology tries to reconstruct the past with artifacts found all over their digs, Heilung and its drive towards Amplified History strive to reconstruct arcane soundscapes believed to be from epochs beyond known history.
It is a pity that Futha weighs itself down with endless repetitions and monologues where there should be none. This leads to a cartload of more of the same, like some crazed, out-of-control yoga session. Which in turn lets the record to ying-yang from a stellar and inventive production to lesser quality throughout. And this truly cost them a few points in the rating.
On the other hand, we really appreciated the more female-oriented approach the band took this time. And – truly – the ethereal chanting of Maria Franz lends a lot of substance and added power to all that stomping about the fireplace.
Futha really continues in the mighty footsteps of Ofnir and Lifa. Yet, this new magic brew increased in maturity. And the band achieved this fate by a more thoughtful application of their trade, as opposed to the brutal, somewhat bloodthirsty assault that was before. Complete with natural sounds, human bones, deer antlers and what have you.
Lastly, this is a record clearly made with live performances in mind. The ones that fit the former lush and strangely opulent shows this band is able to produce. So, do go see them on stage, same as yours truly surely will, should the occasion present itself.
[And congratulations – the record successfully made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome IX!]
Get dat tune: