Festival Report : Midgardsblot 2018

Words: Tabitha
Pictures: Joni

Midgardsblot 2018 – Welcome Home

The Midgardsblot festival in Norway always had a special place in our Metal Exposure hearts. Ever since we attended the first edition of this unique event, we were enchanted by it’s unique atmosphere and determined never to miss a single edition. This is not a festival you visit just for the line up – you visit for the whole experience. So join us on our 1000 km journey to this small village in southern Norway, where you will laugh, learn and headbang!

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After a long trip over the German autobahn, through foggy Denmark, crossing the Baltic sea and finally arriving on the Fjords of Norway, you will find a special cultural heritage site in the village of Borre. Ancient viking grave mounds and a reconstructed viking hall are visible signs that an important viking age settlement existed once on these green fields. A museum, the Midgard Historical Center, lovingly portraits the history of the area and offers a luxurious location for some of the festival activities. Walking away from the museum, you cross a beautiful field with large trees and imposing mounds, to get to an idyllic camp site next to the sea. Here, we set up camp on Wednesday, and were happy to be home again. On this day, there was no festival program yet, so we took the time to look up our Midgardsblot friends and recover from the long journey. The next day required an early start after all, because my favourite part of the festival, the lectures, started at 11!

Thursday

Because of the absolute fire ban, due to the risk of forest fires because of the recent drought, we were not able to brew our very essential cup of coffee in the morning. As there was no food stand next to the camp site yet, we decided to go to the Midgard Center and get our caffeine there.

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Happily caffeinated we were ready for the first lecture by Ragnar Orten Lie, who presented to us a very curious archaeological problem – lost objects! A lot of people at Midgardsblot and other events that take place on the site, wear historical replicas, which are sometimes very hard to differentiate from real antique artifacts. It was an interesting and amusing lecture and therefore a great start to the festival!

We could stay seated, because the next lecture would be soon after. And it would be about everyone’s favourite thing in the world: food. In this case, Daniel Serra presented to us the food the vikings would have eaten and how they would have prepared it. The lecture was fascinating and made us hungry!

But first it was time for some stretching and grunting – Metal Yoga. Read Metal Exposure-freelancer Ingrid’s experience: “In between getting up and music, there is time for METAL YOGA. The association with yoga might suggest it is relaxing, but this is not for the fainthearted. However, it is the best way to wake up, sweat out any alcohol that is (probably) still left in your body and prepare for the moshpit!

Guided by energetic guitar riffs and the continued growling of yoga-instructor Saskia Thode, we jump for our lives to warm up. The dynamic yoga positions are combined with horns up or air-guitar playing. With her enthusiasm Saskia inspires the group to growl with her. Although a bit held back at first, within minutes the whole group shouts SATAN whilst doing the warrior. Head to the sky, arms back, open up your breast and grunt till the spits comes out. No scruples, the inner beast is out!

Of course, this yoga is not (all) about love, so let’s say something hateful about it as well. For some, mainly the guys, there was so much sweat involved that cooling down in the fjord afterwards was a necessity. Virgin grunters were shocked, because they did not expect that ‘so much spit would come out of their mouths’. And for me, personally, it ruined regular yoga practice: I will never be able to stand in downward facing dog and put one leg up without hearing Saskia’s growling voice in my head ‘let the gods smell your foot!’.”

The next lecture would be a bit more theoretical and a bit less juicy, but no less interesting. Josh Rood presented the sources available to us about viking age religion and the nordic myths, uncovering quite a few misconceptions.

After this last lecture the next item on the program was the ritual opening of the festival with a blot. The organization started with this ritual the second edition of Midgardsblot, and it is a great way to get the positive vibes flowing and to have an official moment where the party is starting.

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The dynamic duo from Folket Bortafor Nordavinden (which we will read more about later on) were, like every year, the ones to perform the opening ceremony. Unfortunately, due to the previously mentioned fire ban, there was no nice bonfire to accompany the ritual. There was, however, blood. No blot without blood, right? So after the gods were hailed and alcohol was drank in honour of them and of a peaceful and enjoyable festival, people were again happily splattering themselves and the rest of the audience with the ritual bush of herbs. It was very busy and therefore hard to get a good look. The first two years the location of the blot was not a problem, and I understand the wish to keep the ceremony intimate and accessible, but one might consider creating a small stage for the event, so that everyone can actually see and hear what is happening.

After the ritual was more or less over, the audience started to dissolve as people went looking for the next thing on the program, for example the Norwegian Folk Rock band Bergtatt, which was playing on the Kaupangr Stage at the viking market. Bergtatt was there on the very first edition of Midgardsblot and a lot of people were enjoying them this year as well. Even though the strong wind blew away quite a bit of the sound, it was a very enjoyable show!

In the Viking camp, the local folk group Eldrim had to find their moments to perform – playing acoustic music without any amplifiers, it was sometimes impossible to hear them play when there was a band at the Kaupangr stage, a few meters away. But the musicians took it with a sense of humor and adapted their playing times to the half hour breaks between two bands. But it was definitely worth the wait because when the gifted musicians started to play, they really took you in with their music. Sweet, pleasant songs with beautiful singing made the listeners quiet and happy. Probably the intimate atmosphere played an important role here, because it made you feel more part of the music than just an observer of a band on a stage. It was a very nice experience!

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One of this year’s new program item was metal stand up comedy. Say what? Yes, you read that correctly – humorous entertainment by the Scotsman Gary Grant. His accent alone made the performance worth while, but his jokes about the black metal scene were quite funny and the audience was really enjoying it. A very good addition to the festival program!

Of course, Midgardsblot had a lot more to offer on the first day of the festival – darkwave in the Gildehallen, DJ’s in the beer tent – but this is a (luxury) problem we encounter every year at Midgardsblot: there’s just too much to do or see, and no way to enjoy it all!

Friday

Rise and shine! It’s time for class! After our -by now- traditional breakfast at the Midgard Center, we found ourselves a seat in the lecture room and were eager to learn more about the Odinic cults in relation to rulership in the Viking Age. Josh Rood already gave an interesting lecture the day before, and this one was a bit more academic, but fascinating nonetheless. It really got the braincells working!

After this one, it was time for another lecture by Daniel Serra on Viking food. Yes, he already did that lecture yesterday, but the room was packed anyway and having been there both times I can say that both lectures were a bit different and that it was not boring at all to attend the same lecture. It did make me hungry again though!

Up next was the remarkable person Ingrid Galadriel (yes, that’s her real name). Ingrid was presenting to us her way of living as a viking and how this influenced her outlook on life. It was a more personal lecture, but it definitely provided food for thought.

After this already well attended lecture, the room got even more crowded. The famous Einar Selvik was going to give a lecture about northern esoteric arts. One can speculate whether the main part of the audience showed up out of actual interest in the topic, or just to see Einar speak. I gave up my seat to be ready on time to watch Acyl.

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We were quite excited about the next band Acyl, because we have had the pleasure of seeing them multiple times before, also on Midgardsblot, and their music is very enjoyable and the Algerian/French band members always know how to give a good show. They play a form of folk metal, where in this case the folk-part is not made up of viking/germanic roots, but of their own Algerian Berber origin. Last year, we did an interview with these very symphatetic musicians and it made us like the music even more! Since they were playing relatively early (16.00), the space in front of the stage was not very full, but there was a decent audience present and people were dancing aand head banging to the music. Unfortunately, Acyl’s drummer couldn’t make it to the show because of health issues (we wish him all the best!) but the replacement drummer did a great job anyway. The show could’ve lasted a bit longer if it was up to us, considering they started a bit later. But it was a good show and we hope to see them play with the original drummer again soon!

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While my companions were off to the Gildehallen for the beer tasting session, I had the please of watching and listening to Kaunan, an international formation of three gifted musicians. They mastered their interesting folk instruments and produced catchy, enticing or touching folk music, mainly instrumental, from different times and different parts of Scandinavia. It was a great performance, that could only be better by experiencing them in the Gildehallen…which was to happen the very next day! This was one of my favourite new discoveries of the festival.

The next band on the Valhalla stage (main stage) was Apocalypse Orchestra, a Swedish so-called medieval metal band. Now if you were expecting some In Extremo or Subway to Sally you were to be disappointed/relieved. Because Apocalypse Orchestra has a much more heavy, almost doomy sound to it, as befits the name. Some Monty Python on the background created the only levity during the show. On the whole, the show was quite pleasant.

The next band we had been looking forward to a lot. The legendary Greek Rotting Christ was next to perform on the main stage. These Hellenes always deliver a great banging show and Midgardsblot was no exception. There was a large audience present, which was hardly surprising. Also the setlist was not very surprising, with a good mixture of songs from the latest albums, like Apage Satana and Elthe Ryrie, and Grandis Spiritus Diavolos. Hardly noticeable but very annoying nonetheless, was a sort of ‘glitch’ in de sound, like a hiccup. For me, this diminished the music experience quite a bit, and it seemed to be happening on the main stage during other bands as well. Of course we still banged our heads and moshed to Rotting Christ and thoroughly enjoyed the show!

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On the Kaupangr Stage, a black metal band from Sweden, Grift, was performing. On a dark stage, during the twilight hours, this proved to be a very atmospheric show. The impressive, melancholic black metal was hypnotizing to listen to and to watch the dark shapes on the stage (which were terrible to photograph, as our photographer complained). No wind and no rain made a considerable audience stay and enjoy the show.

To see Dimmu Borgir live in Norway and even better, on the historical grounds of Midgardsblot? That is a once in a lifetime experience I would say! Needless to mention that the festival area was packed for this show. Dimmu Borgir (was there an extra man on stage?) started the show with two songs from the latest album, Eonian. We didn’t mind, because we like this album (so much more than that abomination Abrahadabra, from which they did play two songs, unfortunately) Luckily, the Serpentine Offering and older albums were also represented, then some more from Eonian. Dimmu Borgir ended their epic show with their classic Mourning Palace…and left the audience stunned and happy. The pyro, the light, the smoke..it had made the performance as beautiful to look at as it was awesome to listen to. Two small aspects diminished my experience though: the crazy amount of mobile phones being held in the air to make bad-quality wobbly videos, all the while blocking the view for the audience behind. Seriously, the amount of phones in the air was crazy and I can’t understand why people just don’t enjoy the show with their eyes instead of with their phones… The second thing was the presence of those aforementioned ‘sound glitches’. Annoying and incomprehensible.

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Saturday

Due to oversleeping, unfortunately we missed the very first lecture of the day ‘Women in the Viking Age’ by Kim Hjardar. The lecture by Einar Selvik we skipped, because we knew how unlikely it was to get a seat and because the reviews of the lecture the day before had not been so tantalizing.

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Vicky Mikalsen, who had been introducing all of the lectures so far on this festival, was now to give her very own lecture on the roots of our current viking-loving metal culture, presenting interesting information in an amusing way. This lecture was the ‘foreplay’ for the traditional Midgardsblot panel debate. Last year, the debate was about women in the metal scene, for example. This year, the topic was “Inspired by the Vikings” and the seven panel members, all from different aspects of the metal/music scene explored questions like: “Where did your fascination for Vikings come from and why do you think it fits so well with metal?” It was a highly interesting debate with some side topics like museology and tattooing. One of my favourite program items on Midgardsblot!

We got the chance to see the charming trio of Kaunan again, this time in the intimate atmosphere of the Gildehallen. They played many of the same songs, but the different surroundings made it a new show nonetheless. Very enjoyable and the musicians received a huge and well-deserved applause from the audience.

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Saor was up next on the main stage, and a show that my companions had been looking forward to a lot. The Scottish band plays atmospheric black metal, heavily influenced by celtic history and tradition. The beautiful surroundings of the Valhalla stage fitted perfectly with the epic music and the audience seemed to appreciate the (slightly short) performance a lot.

My next stop was again the Gildehallen. There was to take place a listening session by the label Indie Recordings, namely the new album by Einherjer and the new side project of Dan Capp from Winterfylleth. The new Einherjer album Spre Vingene was quite heavy and less melodic than I am used to by them, but it sounded promising nonetheless. After this was finished I stayed to listen to the album Wolcensmen, and did not regret it. It is very captivating music and I will definitely listen to this more, as the listening session was a bit too short for my taste. A nice addition to the program for sure!

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I have this thing against metal bands performing in suits. Maybe it’s just my hatred for suits in general, maybe I just feel like the last place where you should be wearing a suit is on a stage while performing metal music. Hamferd, the Faroese doom metal band to play on the Valhalla stage, was wearing suits. I’m told it’s because they’re supposed to resemble some funeral ceremony. Well, that they were doing well. To me, the show was just as exciting as a funeral, but plenty of other people seemed to really enjoy it. For us it was a sign that it was time to get some dinner.

One of the exciting artists on this year’s billing was up next on the Kaupangr stage: Einar. He hardly needs an introduction, does he?
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The very first year of Midgardsblot, the remarkable musician enchanted us with a unique performance in the Gildehallen, an experience we have been using to make our friends green with jealousy ever since. In 2016 he performed with Skuggsjá and Wardruna in the pouring rain, this year he got the Kaupangr stage all to himself – without rain and even without wind. It was no surprise that a really large crowd had gathered to hear him play, all the while being the quietest audience that I have ever seen at a metal festival! But that’s what Einar’s music and performance does to you: it pulls you in. Einar showed himself from his most charming side with funny commentary on the nearby sound check, information about the songs he played and the intricacies of Nordic poetry. He spoke just the right amount in relation to his musical performance and made it a thoroughly enjoyable and enchanting experience, ending, of course,  with the goose-bump inducing Helvegen.

The sound check that, as Einar said, provided a jazzy background addition to his concert, was that for the next band on the main stage, the Finnish Ensiferum. We’ve always been a fan of the epic Finnish Viking metal band as they always make a party out of every concert. This show at Midgardsblot proved that point. The four gentlemen – that’s right, Netta Skog, the accordion player, left the band earlier this year – managed to transfer their energy on to a willing audience, which ended with lots of head banging, mosh and row pits, and dancing. Ensiferum played some songs from their latest album Two Paths, some from One Man Army (my favorite being Two of Spades, always so much fun live!) ending with two of their classics, Lai Lai Hei and Iron. As always, the show was over way too soon and a lot of people stayed after to dance to the Finnish polka outro, hoping for an encore (which never really happens at festivals, does it?).

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The headliner for Saturday was the Swedish black metal band Watain. They have become quite the legendary band and there was a large audience to show for it. My sources inform me that the show was intense and amazing. I personally think the singer shouldn’t be throwing blood on the photographers in the photo pit. It might have been meant for the eager audience in the front row, but then I suggest singer Erik works on his aim a bit more. Maybe I just don’t understand the whole ‘blood throwing’ thing, as I think it is a bit juvenile. The fire show was quite impressive and enjoyable to watch. Watain was supposed to do a signing session earlier that day, which they cancelled at the last moment just like the signing session at Wacken Open Air. This doesn’t quite endear the band any more to me. That being said, there were quite a lot of people who did enjoy the show.

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A very special occasion called for a party in the Gildehallen in the late hours of the night: Folket Bortafor Nordavinden were to release their very first album at Midgardsblot. The dynamic duo Benny and Gustav were backed by Runahild, Espen from Eldrim and one more percussionist. As they said themselves, their aim was to never play a song the same way twice, which includes a lot of improvising and makes for a very intuitive and almost primordial style of music. There was a lot of stamping on the small stage and after the first tentative songs, the audience was heavily participating in what looked like an ecstatic dance. I would say that their CD release party was a huge success, even though I honestly have no idea how much the CD will resemble their live performance. Overall, the party was a great ending to the festival!

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..which was not quite over yet. In part to create a neat ending to the festival, but also to get the audience off the festival grounds, there was a new item on the program: Ragnarök – The closing ceremony. A great green doll of a strung up staglike figure was hung in front of the Kaupangr stage, to which a procession of dressed up women (Norns and a Volva?) led. The green stag was cut open and then turned out to actually have bloody intestines on the inside, which were collected in bowls after which the blood was used to mark the faces of the audience, all the while being accompanied by the sound of drums. Eventually, the procession led all the way to the grave mounds where the ceremony ended.

Personally, we liked the idea of a closing ceremony, but this was a bit too theatrical for our taste. The opening ceremony by Gustav and Benny is much more down to earth and spontaneous, and they don’t take themselves too serious which prevents the ritual from becoming ridiculous. But during the closing ceremony here, it felt like the participants were taking it very seriously and it made the whole thing…forced and awkward. I think Midgardsblot can do better than that (although the intestine-filled stag was pretty awesome)!

There – that concluded this year’s Midgardsblot festival. The fourth edition of a successful formula incorporating culture, history and music to celebrate cultural diversity and all of our rich histories. The audience could learn new things during the lectures, have fun with the viking games by Lekegoden og Trollen  (love you guys!) enjoy amazing musical performance as well as all of the other program items, too numerous to even mention, let alone to attend. The high (Norwegian) price for the ticket is justified considering the amount they have to offer.

Of course there are always some suggestions for improvement or points of criticism. The program book was available quite late, after the first program items had already taken place. The security was way too strict. I have never experienced such thorough checks at a festival entrance. Maybe this is due to some traumatic experiences in Norway, but it seemed over the top to us. Also, if you’re going to do body check, make sure there is always female security present, as not every woman likes to get body checked by a man! Furthermore, the security at the festival camp was taking their jobs a bit too seriously, making people empty their carefully (fully) packed backpacks to look for knives or glass. My bread knife almost didn’t make it through the security, which, again, I have never before experienced on a festival…and I have been to A LOT of festivals! It instantly reduced the otherwise familiar and easy going atmosphere of the festival.

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This is my next point. Great festivals are successful, successful festivals grow. Growth of a festival is great for the organization, but it always influences the quality of the experience. Last year was the first year I noticed this change, this year it was even more present. The atmosphere was less intimate and less familiar, which was what attracted us to it in the first place. You can compare it to a great hidden away coffee bar that you discover – as soon as more people find out and it gets more crowded, the bar loses it’s charm. Midgardsblot has tons of charm to begin with, so even after losing some there is plenty left, but nonetheless, we see a process going on here and are sad about it. 

Do I want to end this review on a sad note? Of course not! Midgardsblot delivered all that it promised and more, and showed that there is still room for even more interesting program items, and that there are a lot of people interested in them – which is a hopeful sign for our society. History and culture flourishes on this beautiful location, people of different countries all over the world meet and interact, and go home as a better person. In the end, that’s what matters.