"Our swords set off the airport security in Russia": an interview with Heilung's Maria Franz

(Image credit: Søren Beck)

Pagan folk sensations Heilung took the metal world by storm and are set to haul their elaborate stage show back to our shores in December, two years after we last witnessed their “amplified history” performance and onstage ancient rituals. To keep us going until then, we asked you to interview their vocalist, Maria Franz, for us. As ever, you lot left no stone unturned, from the origins of Heilung’s stage gear and the inspirations behind their sound, to tips for getting swords and bones through airport security.

Metal Hammer line break

Are those antlers real?

@TheHeretic90210 (Twitter)

“They’re real, from a Norwegian female reindeer! When we started this project and discussed how we wanted to visualise ourselves onstage, it was very clear to me from the first moment that I needed antlers on my head, so I was searching for a long time for something that was light and feminine, then I got these from a guy who wanted to sell them. After two or three shows, I got the feeling for them. Now I move very slowly but gracefully around all the obstacles backstage all over the world: there’s cables hanging, stage carpets, a lot of possible traps. They move very well with me, now I totally get how this animal can walk around with antlers that are five times as big as their head and super-heavy because if you have the right balance, you don’t feel it at all. It keeps my stamina up and it’s a very natural social distancing tool!”

What’s the biggest animal you think you could beat up in a fight?

Martin Bone (email)

“I’m a pacifist by nature so for me as Maria, I wouldn’t beat up any animal at all. If I picture my shamanistic Heilung character in some kind of epic magic battle where it was needed, she could probably take on a bear.”

You travel with a very large production and instruments that are made from animal and human remains, as well as some very old and unusual pieces. How is touring logistically, particularly getting through customs etc? Have you ever encountered problems with your unique gear?

@bpetersnyc (Twitter)

“We stopped flying with our gear now for the simple reason of walking through airport security with swords, spears and bones. The most funny situation was in Russia when they were scanning all the luggage, they scanned Christopher [Juul, Heilung’s multi- instrumentalist and producer]’s box with his sword he uses for Krigsgaldr and their machine went off. Security turned up with the police and the boss of the airport, there were 25 people around us. It was so chaotic that we ended up convincing them that we were a theatre play and it was a prop so we could bring it in – it was pretty close for us there. We got stopped in London with our spears once and met a really nice airport security officer who took one look at us and said, ‘Oh, are you going to the Jorvik Viking Festival?’ So now we fly with cargo and a company packs everything with its papers so we don’t have to stand in an airport explaining, ‘Yes, this is a drum made from reindeer skins.’”

In Maidjan was featured in the Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II reveal trailer. Can you tell us how that opportunity arose and can we expect to hear more of the band’s music within the game itself? 


“The makers of Hellblade found us quite early in the process and reached out to us in early 2018. The main sound guy and the owner Tameem Antoniades came over and stayed with us for a couple of days, which started a bit like an audition. It was very interesting to talk about what Heilung could contribute to a game. We quickly found out they were working towards the same goal as us – they have a big focus on the healing aspects of computer games and working with a mentally ill main character and how she travels through her psychosis during the game. This was really meant to be, I felt very early on that we could make this work really well together. It was hugely interesting to try to think of scenes and landscapes instead of just sitting and picking things from our own brains. That was our first meeting with the gaming industry and we’re absolutely loving it. We’re very curious to hear people’s reactions when it comes out.”

What’s your favourite videogame?

Lucey Bertenstein (email)

“Lucey, I have to disappoint you because none of us are actually gamers as such, so that’s an impossible question to answer. We’re super-old school, we play board games! We will play Hellblade though, it’s on our to-do list as soon as we have time. We’re gonna sit down and binge the first edition and the second as well.”

What bands influenced you growing up before Heilung?

@MasyarakatRadio (Twitter)

“Before Heilung, I’ve been fascinated by the folk genre for many years. There’s this Swedish group called Hedningarna, which basically means ‘The Heathens’. They were huge influences when it comes to really cool drum beats set in the more modern frame; they have some electronic elements so it’s very danceable and it’s very rock-y. Then over to the experimental genre, I’m super-fascinated by Björk: she is the female singer of our age who dares to be most experimental in her expression; she’s definitely an inspiration when I think, ‘Where can I go from here? What would Björk do? Something crazy!’”


Heilung's Maria Franz. (Image credit: Heilung)

Did you ever visit Felix Pub when you attended Lillehammer College? 

@Sjoelvesten (Twitter)

“Yes, I did! I hung out there whenever I could. Chris from Heilung also visited and we had a few beers there. I’m pretty sure they had the European championships of Rock Paper Scissors there once, it was hilarious. We studied it, what does it take to be a Rock Paper Scissors champion? I think it’s a combination of having a poker face and being able to trick your opponent.”

Would you ever consider working with Amon Amarth?

@LittleBeeLight (Twitter)

“Collaboration projects are always super-interesting and it always brings a new energy to whatever project. If time and circumstances allow it, sure!”

When Heilung started did you expect that the metal community specifically would embrace you so enthusiastically?

Dominic Edwards (email)

“The short answer is no, not with such open arms. I knew that we touched some very dark strings that would resonate within the metal crowd as well, but I feel that we’ve received such an incredibly warm welcome that it gives me a renewed awe for the metal audience. I’m from Norway so of course I will always be a part of the metal community through friends. I worked as a bartender for some years and the metal shows were always the most amazing shows to work behind the bar because the metal crowd are just epically good drinkers, they never fight and they’re just fantastic to hang out with. When we came up with Heilung and we started playing a lot of metal festivals, without having any expectations, I was just so grateful for the welcome.”

Where in the world would you love to play that you haven’t yet?

Jessie Olah (email)

“We sometimes dream about the Bahamas and a warm jungle atmosphere instead of all these cold places we normally end up in. Wouldn’t that be amazing? We could sail in on dolphins! Also there are some caves around the world that are truly epic and some natural amphitheatres, which are also very attractive, so instead of saying one specific place, playing more outside in nature would be lovely and we could do some magic with that.”

Published in Metal Hammer #350. Heilung play the 02 Brixton Academy on December 8.