"We aim to alter your conscious state of mind"
February 19, 2021 10:18 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian explores "the rise of dark Nordic folk": Heilung jam with Siberian shamans and play with human bones, while Wardruna record songs submerged in rivers and on burial mounds. Now this vibrant undergound music scene is finding a wider audience... thanks in part also to the soundtrack for the TV series Vikings.

NB though as commenters point out this is not Scandinavian "folk" in the traditional sense nor "Viking music". (Neither is this, obviously...)
Also featured besides Heilung and Wardruna: one-woman, ambient black-metal project Myrkur
posted by bitteschoen (24 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
How ... do you write a long essay about any neo-folk or black metal-adjacent musical group and not directly ask the critical two questions:

1. Are they white supremacists?
2. Do they have white supremacists in their fanbase?

(FWIW, the Heilung answer seems to be "no" and "yes, but they're working on it."

For folks who are into this music, it sucks that you have to ask. But you really, really, really do.
posted by feckless at 10:47 AM on February 19 [35 favorites]

Eh, I know, that’s discussed in the comments, not in the article...
posted by bitteschoen at 10:49 AM on February 19

BTW, I love this kind of music! They seem great. But I have long since trained myself to Google first and listen second, so I don't (again) have the experience of being sad that my new favorite band are a bunch of Nazis.
posted by feckless at 10:53 AM on February 19 [8 favorites]

Myrkur is one that has had some dodgy statements re: Islam 'invading Europe' and a fairly wishy washy followup when asked directly about that.

Heilung does great work of stridently and directly opposing and condemning white supremacists and general bigotry, telling such 'fans' to GTFO of the community. Their live shows are spectacular - LIFA was the live recording that precipitated them blowing up pretty significantly over the last couple years.

Wardruna is also great live - this performance of Helvegen filmed in Kirkehelleren Cave is a delight.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:13 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]

Oooh and I forgot to mention the delightful Gjallarhorn, whose compositions definitely lean more towards the upbeat and folksy rather than GRYM FJORD MOODS, and just have a delightful jaunt bouncing all the way through.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:16 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]

But I have long since trained myself to Google first and listen second, so I don't (again) have the experience of being sad that my new favorite band are a bunch of Nazis.

Yeah sorry my bad I should have included a bit of googled due-diligence myself instead of relying simply on comments below the Guardian article saying these bands are definitely not nazi or nazi-adjacent... So here’s some more references:
Wardruna is not a re-enactment or us pretending to be Vikings, it is about celebrating our roots and culture. This project takes inspiration from our native culture but it is about creating something current and new. It is also important for me to dispel a few myths about the Runes and Norse culture that have been misinterpreted and made almost cartoonish by the media. The image of the Runes has been tarnished by some right-wing racist idiots who have no business using them and only did so for their own gain. I want to give the Runes a voice and let them speak for themselves! A lot of these songs have universal themes about man communicating with nature and the universe. I think people from all cultures can be inspired by that.
- from this interview with Einar Selvik of Wardruna (via this which is also interesting on this topic:
Wardruna is Taking Back Nordic Pagan Culture and Music from the Far-Right

As for Heilung:
A comment on politics

It has been put to the attention of the band that a woman of black color was harassed at one of our shows in New York. Apparently some people attended our ritual with the idea that Heilung is only for white people. This is not the case. Heilung is for ALL people, regardless of the color of the skin. And we are sorry that this happened at our show. We do not tolerate hate speech and racism. Anyone trying to fit the band into a political agenda of any sort has clearly not understood what Heilung is about. That includes but is certainly not limited to white supremacy. Heilung is none of it, and will have none of it. We do not tolerate display of divisiveness and hate in the audience at our rituals. Heilung is about something much older than today’s politics, which is why we do not include modern topics in our works. Heilung is about what brings us together. It’s about what we have in common, not what divides us. Heilung is about spirituality, history, nature and that one great being, that was always there, before people lived and named it.
- Heilung react to incident at show: “we do not tolerate hate speech and racism”

As for Myrkur aka Amalie Bruun, yeah the link FatherDragon posted above has those dodgy comments about Islam but at least she explicitely denounces white supremacists too at the end...

(I’m just discovering this music myself, not my usual cup of tea, the Guardian article is the first I hear about it. Sorry for not including these bits earlier in the post itself and thanks feckless and FatherDragon for prompting me to look more into it myself)
posted by bitteschoen at 11:45 AM on February 19 [7 favorites]

How ... do you write a long essay about any neo-folk or black metal-adjacent musical group and not directly ask the critical two questions:

1. Are they white supremacists?
2. Do they have white supremacists in their fanbase?

News flash: Most bands in these genres are not fascists or racists.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:54 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]

Looks like appropriating indigenous cultures to prove you’re native to someplace too to me.
posted by spitbull at 12:17 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

News flash: Most bands in these genres are not fascists or racists.

Enough are that you gotta ask the question. I mean, these days, that's probably true in a lot of areas of life. But it's been true in black metal, neo-folk, industrial, goth and all the rest for a loooong time. Like "arguing about it on r.m.i" era. (I'n old.) Pretending it's not the case, or "it's just a minority", diminishing the threat, ignoring it ... those approaches failed then, and are inexcusable now.

Happily many people are doing the right thing and confronting the issue head on! Which is good news for folks who'd like to listen to awesome music while not supporting Nazis. I'm genuinely happy to discover (from the above comment) that Wardruna is being very direct about this.
posted by feckless at 12:48 PM on February 19 [9 favorites]

There are many forms of metal and I welcome these variations of folk/metal.

To address Liquidwolf- while many metal bands are not racist, all metal from Norway, especially black adjacent work, should be considered problematic and racist unless positively demonstrated otherwise. It is up to everyone in the metal scene to first address the National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) movement, which are proper 100% real Nazis, and also everyone adjacent in their silence. NSBM is primarily based in Scandinavia, and there isn't some giant group of musicians available there so it's a widespread problem.

I am very glad to see the issue addressed here, sometimes I feel like I don't represent my fandom well, and it saved me googling the acts I wasn't familiar with.
posted by zenon at 12:50 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]

News flash: Most bands in these genres are not fascists or racists.

OK, but they share a number of shibboleths with bands that are, so the unfortunate fact is when I find a new band that's big into runes and talking about the old ways of northern Europe and such, some googling is in order to determine whether I can support them. There's innocent and legitimate use of swastikas in multiple cultures unrelated to Nazism as well, but if you use them in that way, you have to expect that people will investigate just why you're using them. The black metal scene, which they're adjacent to, has a lot of deeply problematic aspects to it. Kvitrafn's former bandmates have been convicted of assault and rape as well having been investigated for endorsing church burnings, so forgive me if I'm in camp "make sure they aren't violent fascists" even if most of them aren't.

Wardruna is also great live - this performance of Helvegen yt filmed in Kirkehelleren Cave is a delight.

I would have dearly loved to have been at that performance - it's stunning, even in the amateur recording.
posted by Candleman at 1:02 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Heilung has moved me like few other contemporary music. The combination of voices, ritual, tempo, clothing - the Gesamtkunstwerk - really does feel evocative and potent.
posted by doctornemo at 1:41 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]

God, Heilung is amazing. That stage show in the link up top is one of the best performances I've ever seen, live or otherwise.
I recommend that anyone interested in splashing around the folkier end of the folk metal pool also check out Evocation II by Eluvitie* - it's a lovely celtic folk album sung in Old Gaul(!) with a delightfully metal sensibility.
posted by Leeway at 2:12 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]

Also, for anyone wanting to know if a particular metal band* is racist or not, I recommend heading over to Metalheads Against Racism** or doing a google site search on stormfront dot org*** for the band name.

*Like, say Eluvitie (spoiler: not racist)

**Warning: Web1.0

***WARNING: ACTUAL NAZIS. Don't click the links, just read the search text. It'll tell you what you need to know.
posted by Leeway at 2:14 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

feckless' point is very important.

I have this issue a lot when trying to navigate discovering new music. Something I encounter somewhat frequently that is a huge red flag is "we're not a political band." When bands say that in response to questions about their adjacency to white supremacy it's a way for them to try to distance themselves from publicly distasteful ideas while simultaneously not pissing off their nazi fan base.
posted by deadbilly at 2:39 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]

I have a lot of Heilung on my running playlist. It makes me feel like I'm running through an old-growth forest with miles and miles to go to reach the next settlement.
posted by BrashTech at 2:51 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]

I was literally listening to Heilung's "Krigsgaldr" when I saw this thread. They were the last live music that I saw and heard before the pandemic; it was one of the peak musical and pagan experiences of my life. And this is what they say as part of the opening ceremony in their concerts, with the audience reciting it back, like an oath, which it sort of is:
Remember, that we all are brothers
All people, beasts, trees and stone and wind
We all descend from the one great being
That was always there
Before people lived and named it
Before the first seed sprouted
Also, there's A Blaze Ansuz, which promotes antifascist neofolk (check out the URL), and is where I read about Wardruna and Amanda Aalto. Here's their manifesto. I also listen to Myrkur, and am side-eyeing both the interview and the way it's been framed; it seems like she meant to be more critical of organized religion in general, especially Christianity, in the light of more orthodox variants of it being used to oppress women. This is not at all surprising in pagan circles in general, as I just witnessed a small brush fire in a pagan Facebook group that I follow in which a small but very vocal minority objected to even the slightest hint or favorable mention of Christianity in the group under any circumstances whatsoever.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:22 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]

Thanks, bitteschoen, great post! It's always great to discover new musical hybridisations.

With the caveat that I have not seen any reference to any yucky stuff among their audiences and or posts (if you ignore the usual sexist comments that women performers have to endure), you might also check out Kaelan Mykla, a synth-punk group from Iceland, whose videos evoke a strong Telluric connection to Icelandic landscapes and a shamanistic experience.

Here is one of their songs - Kalt - to get you started..... "Kalt"
posted by Bigbootay. Tay! Tay! Blam! Aargh... at 5:22 PM on February 19

Chiming in to add the mesmerising Hawthonn (also here) - avowed socialists (FB link) and practitioners of progressive magick.
posted by prismatic7 at 3:21 AM on February 20

I appreciate the music and even more appreciate the confirmations above that these don't seem to be part of the far right. Unfortunately these days I look askance any time I see the Norse symbology -- especially rune tattoos, at least with the people I meet, those seem to go with a certain political outlook a lot of the time.

Looks like appropriating indigenous cultures to prove you’re native to someplace too to me.

Modern paganism has always flirted with the line between borrowing and appropriation in its synchretic accumulation, I think, and I would agree that are elements of this that look appropriative.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:41 AM on February 20

They should have just cut to the chase and named their band Real Human Bones.
posted by Beholder at 10:12 AM on February 20

Does anyone know: does Bandcamp have a policy--an effective one--for keeping out racist content?
posted by polecat at 5:39 PM on February 21


Oh cool the new MÖRK BORG supplement is finally out! Is it as completely unreadable and unusable as the core book?
posted by turbid dahlia at 1:24 PM on February 23

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