Midgardsblot 2017

Festival review: Midgardsblot 2017

In the world of metal festivals there is a lot to offer – festivals for every taste in metal and ambiance. There’s festivals on fields, in forests, on hills, in caves, amidst ruins…and then, there is Midgardsblot. This festival in the south of Norway has it all – a stunning location, outstanding organization, an amazing “theme” and the greatest visitors in the world..from all over the globe. What makes this metal festival unique is that at Midgardsblot, celebrating heritage and culture is the purpose of the event, with music just being part of the program. Other “ingredients” are the lectures, the Midgard Historical Centre itself, the grave mounds, the Viking village..to name just a few. As for the musical part this year: it was as promising as ever – Moonsorrow, Gaahls Wyrd, Unleashed, Winterfylleth – bands that fit excellent with the theme of the festival.

Metal Exposure big boss Laetitia (L) and review minion me (Tabitha) (T) have had the honour to be a guest at this unique event two times already..and we were not going to miss out on the third edition for the world! So we jumped in our car, drove a 1000 kilometers, got on a ferry (where we already met the first other Midgardsblotters) and finally, after a 20-hour journey, we set up camp on the beautiful camp site next to the Oslofjord. (T)

The campsite
The wonderful scenery makes for brilliant camping – the Oslofjord offers a beautiful view, the trees provide shade and make the camp site feel more intimate. The camping area had considerably increased this year. Because of this, security had to be adapted as well. Gone were the cute rope boundaries, replaced by the usual metal fences. Also the security on the site changed, from being laid back in the first year, to being quite strict. The no glass policy was obvious, but the no gas policy came as a bit of a surprise – never had I been to a festival where you were not allowed to use a small gas burner to cook some food or brew the essential morning coffee. The security had a system for this though – they kept the gas burners in the security tent and with a ticket you could pick it up and go outside of the camping area to cook your food. Nice gesture but also quite annoying (having to carry all the cooking stuff, not to mention not having any cover from the wind that was blowing from the fjord) and a bit silly (because theoretically, you could use the gas burner right next to the fence..). The organization must have had a good reason for these rules, but we did not succeed to think of any. The other facilities were adequate, although the visitors showers were still far away from the camp area and not very clearly pointed out. Luckily we had a car to go there, but if you didn’t, it would have been a 30 minute walk there and back. It would be a great improvement to add some showers at the camp site! Apart from that, the little coffee stand was brilliant, as was the huge fireplace on the beach every night. It is really hard to top that one. (T)

Thursday

After having a relaxed Wednesday night at the fireplace and going to bed early, we rose and shone on time for..college? Yes, indeed, because one of our favourite parts of the Midgardsblot festival is the opportunity to expand your knowledge during the interesting lectures. The topics are all connected to Viking history and metal music and are a great addition to the program. So after the essential coffee we walked from the camp site, past the impressive grave mounds, to the Midgard Centre. (T)

The first seminar we attended was The Viking Age in Vestfold. Archeologist Ragnar Orten Lie held a talk on excavations in the area: the rich history of the area was explained, as well as a theory that Borre might have been an important trade city back in the days, including a map of how it may have looked. The seminar gave some in depth insight in to methods of excavating and exploring and was perhaps a bit too technical sometimes for hobby historians like myself (on how to read the ground layers with frost and snow), but nevertheless was very insightful and interesting. (L)

Maybe we misread the program, but the seminar on JOMSVIKING: the Norse Universe turned out different than expected. There we were, waiting on epic stories on the Jomsviking, but author Bull-Hansen (who wrote the Norwegian best seller Jomsviking) told very little about his book and more on his vision about the ‘neo’ Viking culture and offered us his view on why he and perhaps we feel so attracted to it. The lecture came across unstructured, a tad too personal at times and ultimately because of that, one that you could have missed without regretting it. (L)

The next lecture in the Midgard Centre was “Maðr or ragr: Masculinity and the monstrous unmanliness in the Viking Age” by Bjørn Bandlien. He presented a selection of literary sources related to the notion of masculinity, also explaining the duality of the concept and also the contradictions when it comes to figures like Loki and Odin. It was a fascinating lecture and if it was up to me, it could have lasted another hour! (T)

After this food for thought, it was time to walk to the actual festival site. So from the Midgard Centre, past the fields, through the forest, to the Gildehallen – the reconstructed Viking mead hall. Next to this beautiful building, the opening ceremony was about to take place.

Midgardsblot 2017

At the second edition of Midgardsblot, the Blot was successfully introduced to the program as the opening ceremony for the festival. This year, this practice was continued. After the gates of the festival area opened, the artists from Folket Bortavor Nordavinden honoured the gods with music, dance and blood, surrounded by enthusiastic visitors. Personally, I think it is an excellent way to kick off the festival. Everyone who wanted to, could offer his or her own offering to the gods, may it be beer, mead, blood or a Burzum shirt (yeah, that one was weird).. But we had to leave before we had the chance to douse the god-figure with some booze, because we had another important place to be after the Blot…

This year, like the two previous editions of Midgardsblot, there would be the possibility to taste some beer..and not just by ordering it from the well-stocked bar, but in the actual Gildehallen itself, under the guidance of a real beer connoisseur – the Beer Tasting. We have fond memories of this event, for example getting solid tipsy at the end of every one of them, as well as making new Norwegian friends, and that’s why we will never miss one again. This year, some very attractive beers were presented, mainly blond beers. Unfortunately, the alcohol percentage of the beers was much less than the previous editions, and that’s why we came out of the tasting surprisingly sober. Booh. (T)

The most interesting performances of Midgardsblot are often inside of the Gildehallen. The intimate atmosphere with the wooden benches, the throne, furs, and shields on the walls, combined with low lighting and the low mumble of the people inside of the hall, always made for a very special listening experience. We had some magic moments in this hall, especially Einar’s performance in the first year comes to mind. Therefore we were looking forward to similar evenings in the hall this year, but were slightly disappointed. The layout of the hall had changed; the stage was no longer in the middle, but in front of the rear entrance. Therefore you could only enter in one side. Also, although the benches were still there, there were no more furs and the throne was also missing. This was all probably done to accommodate the larger number of visitors, understandably but..it did not feel the same anymore. We tried to get a peek of the show by Kari Rueslåtten, but although we could hear her, we could not see much, as it was too crowded in the hall. Had it been like the years before, we would have sat down on a nice soft fur, sipped our beers and maybe talked quietly to each other whilst listening to Kari’s beautiful voice paired with the nice guitar sounds..but now we chose to leave quite fast.

So instead, we chose to visit our Norwegian friends at the Viking camp (yep, the ones from the very first beer tasting!). There, there were benches with furs, a nice fire, lots of mead and some drunk Norwegians – which was enough to entertain us into the small hours of the night.. (T)

Friday

Rise and shine, time for class again! This time, we were in for a real treat. “Northern Mythology and Rune Mysticism in Enslaved” by Ivar Bjornson. After last year’s debate panel with Ivar, we knew that this was going to be both interesting and funny. And it was! Ivar presented us with a short history of Enslaved, of the band’s themes and of Ivar’s vision on the subject of northern mythology. There was even a tiny preview of the upcoming album “E” – lucky us! The lecture was at times pretty philosophical and the audience took part in the lecture rather a lot with questions and remarks. There was a lot of laughing and it was definitely worth getting up ‘early’ for. (T)

Coming out of the auditorium, we saw that the weather was nice and that our friends of Lekegoden og Trollet were about wreaking havoc again, so we decided to join them for some good old Viking games. After hours of intellectual activity, there’s nothing like shutting off your mind and taking part in Walking the stick, Birth of a Bear Cub, Pulling the Skin, Wrestling – so much fun to do, even more enjoyable to watch! The qualification rounds for the Strong Viking finals (which were to take place the next day in front of the stage) were taking place, and as well-behaved judges we sat and watched who would win and who would lose. We consider the Viking games to be an essential part of the festival and we can only recommend everyone to join in! (T)

Now it was time for some music! And to be honest, we did not know much about Mongolian metal before we went to Midgardsblot 2017. But we were about to be introduced, by means of Tengger Cavalry. This American/Mongolian ensemble was next to please the crowd with their throat singing and fast paced music (when I say fast paced, think riding a small sized horse across the Mongolian steppe). Singer Nature G was dressed up in his traditional Mongolian outfit, which looked great on stage. The eye is listening as well, right? But there was one musician missing in particular: the drummer. Later we found out the reason for the missing drummer, which were visa issues, apparently. There is something to say for letting the show go on even when there are musicians missing, so respect for that. However, it did feel a bit off. Nevertheless, the audience did not seem to care so much and was enjoying the show tremendously. If you want to know more about this interesting band, check out our interview with Nature here! (T)

From the Mongolian plains to the forested hills of Britannia – it seems quite a long stretch. But this is exactly what Midgardsblot is about: Celebrating heritage and cultural diversity. Keeping this is mind, the step to Winterfylleth is not so large after all. Their atmospheric black metal fit so well with the locations, even though it might have still been a bit too bright outside. There was a large audience present and there was plenty of singing coming from the crowd. The artists performed solidly and it was a beautiful show! (T)

One of the bands I was looking forward to the most was GAAHLS WYRD. Being a fan of Trelldom and having seen Wyrd perform at Thronefest in Belgium in June, I knew we would get black metal of the highest level. Even if the daylight show dampened the atmosphere slightly, the harsh, relentless (and flawlessly executed) music of these Norwegians was still enough to make you headbang uncontrollably. As expected from a veteran like Gaahl and the other musicians no less, the empty stares and disciplined stage performance added an extra cold vibe to the show. Definitely one of the better shows of Midgardsblot! (L)

Hammer battalion.. UNLEASHED! Yes, these Swedes know how to turn death metal into a party. It has been some years since I last saw them, but in truth, once you have experienced an Unleashed show a couple of times, you know it is the right formula for uncomplicated, Odin-loving death metal. With straightforward riffs, sing along choruses (Death metal, no compromise!), Unleashed made sure that there was fun to be had. (L)

Today’s headliner were the atmospheric, Icelandic rockers of Sólstafir. The band just released a new record called Berdreyminn , so I expected a lot of new material. However, we were treated with a set of a variety of songs, including (of course) Fjara and Goddess of the Ages. Sólstafir is known as an excellent live band, but today’s show was not a testimony of that. The band seemed to be playing a typical festival show and the vocals sounded slightly off key. I would hardly ever walk away from a set of a group I really like, but today I was tempted. Oddly enough, speaking to others they had either experienced the concert as I did: or as the complete opposite. (L)

Saturday

New day, new lectures! Today, we would be treated to two interesting lectures and the traditional panel debate. The first lecture was by Nanna Løkka about Women in the Viking Age – myths and sources. This proud feminist had been doing research about this topic for a long time and could therefore tell us a lot about the appearance of Viking women in the ancient sources, presenting her theory that the representation of “the Viking woman” in modern literature and museums is not accurate and should therefore be adapted. Again, the hour long lecture proved to be far too short for such an interesting topic, but we had to move on to the next speaker. Up next was Midgardsblot-veteran Harald Fossberg, who we had already gotten acquainted with during the previous two editions of Midgardsblot, because he had been the debate panel chair man. Now he was getting his own moment, during his lecture “From satan to Odin – the many roots of metal’. It turned out to be mostly a presentation of his idea of the history of the black metal genre, with some very interesting bands from the seventies showing up. Although it was interesting and there was plenty of good music being played, we failed to discover what was new about Harald’s presentation of black metal history.

After these two lectures, it was time for the yearly panel debate. Midgardsblot boss Runa was joined by speakers Ivar, Nanna and Harald, to debate the gender roles in Viking and metal. The debate was fascinating, although of course the tension is missing a little when everyone is more or less agreeing about the topic. However, there were some interesting thoughts voiced and I think we all left the room a little wiser. I love this part of the Midgardsblot program and I hope that they keep it, although a tad more controversy might spice things up. (T)

Strolling to the festival area after the intellectual part of the program, we decided to have a look at Synkvervet, a female fronted local Norwegian band. As a reviewer, personally I always try to say nice things about the bands I watch, but apart from their obvious enthusiasm, there is not much to say about this band. They need to practice a bit more before going on stage again – it would be only fair to their fans (which they obviously had, because there were still quite a few people watching). The music was not to my taste at all and the presentation was..well..lacking. (T)

While your ever-busy reporters were off interviewing Tengger Cavalry (read it here), I was privileged to finally watch Oranssi Pazuzu. Having heard positively of them, as they also played at Roadburn, I was initially full of expectations: Finnish Psychedelic Black Metal, what could be better? But boy, this was something else…an intense, seemingly endless display of intertwining guitar riffing and keyboard latticework, trying to create another dimension of sounds and space. No beginning, no end, no head nor tail…. Personally, Oranssi Pazuzu was stretching it a bit too (way too even?) far. But more importantly: it felt out of place, in the middle of the day surrounded by (would-be) Vikings and extreme metal maniacs. I don’t mind experiments, but here the outcome did not satisfy any of my expectations. (W)

Having expected much from the Norwegian thrash/black metal formation AURA NOIR, the band’s show at Midgardsblot seemed to lack a bit of inspiration. While the talented threesome fired away riff after riff and good song after another, it felt a bit like watching a machine. A shame, because after the many good stories I’ve heard, it felt like a misser. (L)

Ever since the first year we had been wishing for Moonsorrow to play at Midgardsblot – this band would be perfect for the festival. This year, our wish was finally granted! The Finnish folk metal ensemble took the stage and we were ready do some serious head banging and “ahhaahaa”-ing., especially during the amazing song Sankaritarina and the final song Ihmisen Aika. The band’s stage performance was excellent as always, tight and with a lot of energy: it was a pleasure to watch and we were sad when the show was over. (T)

A piercing scream is heard all over the festival area – what is this? I almost spill my 10 euro whisky cola..but don’t worry, no one got killed, it was just Heilung that started playing. Did I say “just” Heilung? Because, believe me, there is nothing ordinary about this performance. At first, we didn’t know what to make of this stage full of primitively clad artists, who were not just holding instruments, but also shields and spears. Not in a Viking style – no no! This was from before the Vikings..and probably even before that. Think drums around a fire and eerie singing, stamping of feet and a bag of liquid that probably has some hallucinating properties. Then you get the idea of Heilung. It is a Danish-German project around the tattoo artist Kai Uwe Faust, and actually, the concept of the music is not primitive at all. As it is described on the Bandcamp site of Heilung: “(…) Heilung tries to connect the listener to the time before Christianity and its political offsprings raped and burned itself into the northern European mentality. Heilung means healing in German and describes the core of the sound. It is supposed to leave the listener eased and relaxed after a sometimes turbulent musical journey.” And weirdly enough, after about 20 minutes of not understanding what is going on, I started to like it. I even got into the flow. There was something in the music and the performance that was triggering something inside of me. At some point, I even started to move along with the music – and even after Heilung stopped playing, the rhythm and the feeling was still inside of me for quite a while. Wow! (T)

Now it actually would have been nice to end the festival with this amazing experience, but there was another band coming on stage. Though I really like Tyr myself, it was not really clear to me why they were headliner. But hey, there they were and they were enthusiastically received by a large audience, so who cares! I had not seen them perform for quite a while so I was interested to see how they would fare, and the Faroese fared just fine. Although I did not recognize several of the songs on the set list because they were from the “newer” albums, it was a nice show altogether and the large crowd loved it. (T)

So after three days in Midgard, it is time for a recap of the festival. We enjoyed this year as much as the previous editions, although it was really noticeable that the festival had grown larger. There was a bit of that intimate atmosphere that appealed to us so much during the first two years that was lost in this edition. The different set up of the Gildehallen played a role, as well as the different lay out of the festival area. The camp site security felt less familiar and the general feel of the festival changed from that of a large family gathering to an actual event. That being said, of course there were improvements as well – there was a lot more food to choose from, more toilets and an extra stage in the Viking village.

So, are we forgetting to mention something in our review? No, we are not forgetting, but even two reviewers cannot possibly attend all the items on the Midgardsblot 2017 program – so we did not mention the artists on the Viking stage, the metal yoga and the morning meditation, the saga storytelling, the Viking battle, the tour of the grave mounds, the tattoo con, the museum itself, the dueling show.. There is just so much to do on this festival – if we were to write about it all, this would become a book and not a review. So if you feel this review is incomplete, there is nothing else you can do but visit the festival yourself next year. You’ll have to be fast, because the early bird tickets are already sold out, and the organization announced that they will not make more tickets available for the next edition. We are happy to hear that, since, in our opinion, Midgardsblot should try to maintain the intimate atmosphere as much as possible. Because what draws us to this tiny village in the south of Norway every year? What are we and so many other people willing to travel thousands of kilometers for? It is.. the magic of Midgardsblot.

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