August 20-22, 2015
By Laetitia and Tabitha
Imagine sitting in this beautiful hall, decorated with carvings lighted by candlelight, smelling furs, wood and fire, and being captivated by a performing skald. This was just one of the highlights that the Norwegian festival Midgardsblot offered their visitors. The festival featured (some of) the best bands of extreme metal – Ihshan, Solefald, Kampfar, 1349, Einherjer, Thyrfing -, the possibility of discovering new music, attend lectures and play Viking games. As if this wasn’t enough, Midgardsblot is situated at a historic and mythic site. As you may understand by now, it was a one of a kind experience.
On Thursday, we left at 3 am to go to the airport, packed and ready for a party! First impressions in Norway were great – beautiful nature, punctual trains and incredibly nice people. At Skoppum we waited for the bus with a few festival goers, but it was still very quiet, as most people were probably arriving later that day or by car. We weren’t entirely clear where to go after getting out at the recommended bus stop, but after some inquiring we found the campsite where we could put up our tiny tent. The campsite was located next to the sea – a beautiful place with plenty of trees, nice grass and a (typically Norwegian) rocky soil. So after putting up our tent we decided to have a look at the Midgardcentre and the festival area. To get there from the campsite, you had to walk a beautiful distance amongst the Viking grave mounds of Borre. The Midgardcentre, which is a museum about the grave mounds, was part of the festival – here the lectures and panel discussion were held. Also it was the place to be for a nice coffee. Next to the Midgardcentre, the so-called playground could be found. Yes, a Viking playground! You can read all about that later on – it was great fun!
From the Midgardcentre, a small walk through the forest brought you to the Gildehallen – a huge reconstruction of a Viking feast hall. A beautiful wooden building with elaborate carving, and it was part of the festival! So this is where the festival started for us, with some beer tasting. “Beer tasting”, you say, “what’s so special about that? I do that every festival!” Well – not in a beautiful Viking hall with some very special brews! Have a look at the pictures of the inside of the hall.
Sitting on benches with nice woolen skins at a long table with candles, it was the perfect setting to enjoy some of the beers that the Beer Enthusiasts had brought with them for us. It was a great opportunity to not only drink tasty beers, but also to make some new friends. Beer brings people together after all! So this was a very nice feature of the festival. Maybe next year a mead-tasting?
Getting out of the hall a little less sober than we came in, we were able to catch the last few tunes of Huldre, a Danish folk metal band with a lot of greenery on stage. Since the stage was surrounded by trees anyway, this wasn’t really necessary, and maybe even a bit too much. There was not a lot of audience yet unfortunately, but slowly it became more and more. Having the honor and the challenge to open for the festival, I think they did very well! Musically similar to Huldre, Bergtatt was next on stage. It wasn’t really to our taste, but good background music for enjoying some more beer.
Solefald was the headliner on the main stage for Thursday, and the audience had grown considerably larger. Having themselves established as a post modern band, a live show of Solefald is not something ordinary either. Aside from the musicians, a painter joined the band members on stage, probably expressing (or interpreting) whatever emotion he/she was feeling. It must have been a variety of emotions, since Solefald blends the most dissimilar musical styles – from Dutch electronic music to traditional African tunes with metal. Einar Selvik of Wardruna joined the band for a song, which was a good prequel to his amazing show a little later. Solefald managed to truly reflect the spirit of the festival: one that celebrates culture and not only that of the Vikings.
After this last outside show, we were getting ready inside the Gildehallen for Einar Selviks acoustic show. The hall was getting fuller and fuller, with an air of anticipation. As soon as Einar entered the stage, the hall went dead quiet and stayed quiet (apart from some drunken sounds here and there) for the rest of the show. Einars voice, accompanied by a single instrument – this was enough to captivate a hall full of metalheads. Amongst the songs he played were Völuspa, Jara, and Fehu, ending with Helvegen. Try to imagine sitting in this beautiful hall that smelled of wood and furs, with carvings lighted by candlelight, together with a couple of hundred people sitting on the benches and on the floor, listening to one skald perform with his beautiful voice. In such an intimate atmosphere, it felt like he was singing to you personally. An absolutely stunning experience, and we were very sad when the time was up and the spell was broken.
After this show, we walked past the ancient grave mounts to the camping area, where a cozy campfire and nice company was waiting to end the day with a few more beers.
After a good night’s sleep – the camp site was nice and quiet and the shade of the trees made it possible to sleep in – we were ready for day two of the Blot. First, a dip in the sea, then a cold shower and breakfast. After a nice walk over the grave mounds we arrived at the Midgardcenter . A cup of coffee prepared us for an interesting lecture about Blacksmiths and the afterlife. Very fascinating material ! To kill some time between this lecture and the next activity at the Centre, we walked over to the Viking game area. Here, several activities were possible, all of them including physical effort. Jonas Berlin and his Troll were there to demonstrate some of the games the Vikings used to play – but of course you also had to participate. And this was not so easy at all! Your Metal Exposure crew also had a shot at it, which was part hilarious and part embarrassing, but 100% fun!
After some exercise and a lot of laughs, we were ready for something more serious – a preview of “Blackhearts”. This documentary by film maker Christian Falch (who provided the audience with introductions and commentary) follows three black metal bands from very different countries and examines the implications politics have on the music and vice versa. One of the characters from the documentary, the Iranian musician Sina (from the black metal band From the Vastland) was there to answer some questions (later on, we met up with Sina for an interesting interview, which will be online soon). After this, there was a panel discussion with Cornelis from Solefald, Ivar from Enslaved, Christian Falch, under the guidance of Norways leading music journalist Harald Fossberg. It was an interesting discussion, in which the participants elaborated on their view of the association of black metal with politics, also covering the deeper implications of the genre. It was very interesting to listen to, and it made clear that black metal Is a genre which goes deep – covering philosophical matters as well as evoking strong emotions.
After this interesting panel we headed over to the festival area, where Sina was performing was performing music from the previously mentioned black metal band From the Vastland. It was not very crowded and very sunny, but this did not detract from the performance – Sina and the session musician delivering a very tight set of real Norwegian..err..Iranian black metal.
After this, the Algerian-French folk metal band Acyl showed us their approach to the folk metal genre with native North-African influences. The catchy percussion, Arabic verses and heavy metal proved a recipe for an excellent and groovy performance. Front man Amine knew how to get some of those stiff Norwegian hips moving, and the general resonance of the audience was pretty impressive, with a lot of clapping and shouting along. A great band with a good feeling for entertainment!
The next band for us was Norwegian Viking metal veteran formation Einherjer. After their latest release Av Oss, For Oss, we hadn’t had the opportunity to see them perform live so we were pretty excited about this show – and were not one bit disappointed. A super tight and powerful set, including some classics (Far Far North, Ironbound, Dragons of the North) and of course multiple newer songs (Nidstrong, Trelldom, Nord og Ner). There was a decent crowd present, and an intimidating moshpit of armoured Vikings took place.
The headliner of Friday was one of Norways leading extreme metal artists: Ihsahn. His music is always layered and complex and therefore it is always interesting to see how metalheads appreciate this and appreciate it just as much as the more straightforward kind of extreme metal. Todays show was not any different: the crowd of Midgardsblot shouted and head banged along to Ihsahns tunes.
As the special show of the day, Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved was performing his ambient project Bardspec in the Gildehallen. The hall was just as packed as during the Einar show the previous night, but the atmosphere was very different. During Einar you could hear a needle drop, but during Ivar’s show, the audience was conversing amongst each other a bit more, whilst enjoying the interesting and relaxing sounds of Ivar’s guitar combined with electronical music. Another unique experience!
Again, a merry campfire was waiting for us when we got back to the campsite – where we enjoyed the company of Norwegians, Germans and Americans until the small hours of the night.
Our third day started pretty much the same as the previous one – a swim in the sea, and ice-cold shower and a coffee at the Midgardcenter. And like the day before, the first item on the agenda was something intellectual – a tour of the grave mound. A tour guide in Viking dress (including sword) showed us the mounds and elaborated on their history, meaning and importance. An essential part of the Midgardsblot-experience! Immediately afterwards, we sat down for another fascinating lecture – this one called “Borre – A journey in the Underworld”, which explored Borre’s history a bit further and also provided some interesting theses on the role of the Borre mounds.
Staying near the Midgardcenter, we found a nice seat in the grass to listen to some sagas. Gustav Holberg, who claims to be descending from Loki himself, told the story of the Theft of Thor’s Hammer. Even though he told it in Norwegian and our proficiency in this language is somewhat limited (skål!), we were able to follow the well-known story. The way Gustav told it made it very amusing to watch and the audience also participated in some parts (booing and shouting). After the story, the audience remained seated to watch people partake in the previously mentioned Viking games – only this time on a larger scale. A form of tug of was (a sheepskin, 8 men and a lot of testosterone) made for a very amusing spectacle, with the onlookers cheering and encouraging their favourite. The last man holding the sheepskin won. After the men, it was the women’s turn, and of course your Metal Exposure had to represent the Netherlands! And we didn’t do bad, ending second.
After this fun, it was time to move to the festival area again for the next band – Fejd. We’ve seen the Swedes play before and it is always a pleasure. Even though the sun was scouring hot, the brethren Rimmerfors performed their set enthusiastically and even though the sweat would drip off your back when you moved, the first people started dancing already.
We discovered the Danish Myrkur when her EP got released on Relapse Records. As her music left a great impression, we were very curious to see her show. While it was good to hear some of the songs live, the show lacked a bit of smoothness due to some technical difficulties and the tuning in between the songs. Nevertheless, Myrkur did demonstrate that she is a very capable musician and performer. When she sung her clean vocal lines, Myrkur in her white dress almost seemed angelic, but when the screams came, the angelic face shifted to angry and haunting. Thus, Myrkur knew very well how to express the dichotomy of her music on stage.
It was pretty much a home game for Kampfar – and the band delivered! It was a strong show with a varied set: Are Hounds, our Legion, Ravenheart, Mylder, Hymne, Vettekult (in random order). It has to be said that Dolk is an impressive front man, not only providing excellent vocals, but also adding that little bit of extra flair to the show. We’ve never before experienced a bad show by Kampfar, and this was not going to be the first.
Personal favourite next up – Swedish Thyrfing was playing in Norway for the first time of their 20 years of existence! Unfortunately, we were not able to understand the announcements made by frontman Jens Ryden because he did those in Swedish, so we don’t know if he commented on that. It was a very diverse set with several albums represented – old stuff and newer song. Old being “Mjölner”, “… ty mörkret skall fall”, Storms of Asgard , new being for example Mot Helgrind and Veners förfall. Jens is an excellent front man with just as much show-feeling as Dolk from Kampfar, and not too sore on the eyes too.. All in all a great and enjoyable show, but we would have been very happy with some new material!
The Norwegian black metal outfit 1349 was the headliner of the festival and they ended the festival in a worthy manner. As if pitch black, black metal wasn’t good enough, the band added the element of fire to demonstrate where there music really comes from: the fiery pits of hell. As one can expect from these musicians, the show was simplistic (aside from the fire elements of course) yet therefore powerful and tight.
Our last night in the Gildehallen unfortunately – we settled in on a bench with some beer to watch Attila from Mayhem perfom his Void of Voices. It is a combination of his voice with electron music, which makes for a very interesting listening experience. It was no easy listening however, which might be the reason for some people leaving the hall after a while. We enjoyed the mysterious and raw performance however, giving us time to reflect on the black metal genre, the festival and on whether or not to get another beer (yes!).
This time we were not going to the campsite for an after party, but decided to visit our newly made friends (humans and trolls) at the Viking camp, and had a great last evening discussing Viking life, singing some out of tune songs, playing games and regretting having to leave the next day. One last walk through the woods and amongst the mounds, and it was time to retire – the festival had come to an end.
So here’s our recap of the Midgardsblot festival: An amazing festival, combining intelligent entertainment and heavy metal music , all in a beautiful setting. We’ve never experienced anything like this before: a festival that you leave smarter than when you arrived! It gave us the opportunity to enjoy amazing bands, learn more about Viking culture and meet incredible new people. We had a lot of laughs, several learning moments and did plenty of head banging in between. The festival also felt very safe – we did not worry about leaving valuables in our tent (and this is rare on festivals nowadays).
We do have some small recommendations for the organization:
Showers at the campsite would be nice – there were showers available off site, but they were very far and the opening hours were very limited. Luckily the weather was amazing, which made the ice cold garden hose shower less unpleasant, but if it is colder, warm showers a definitely necessary! Vikings keep clean after all!
Even though the festival itself was small, the area covered was pretty large. Long distances had to be walked to get from the festival to the campsite for instance, and part of the distance was through some pretty dark woods – in the night it was not possible to go through without a light. Here, some nice lanterns would have been an excellent solution. A shuttle with horse and cart would be even better, but we realize this suggestion might not be the most realistic one…
Last item would be the food – yes, you want to keep it in style and yes, it’s going to be Norwegian prices. But paying 9 Euros for a plate of dry bread, some sweaty slices of cheese and a bit of sausage with 3 olives is really not satisfying at all. I know the Vikings didn’t have potatoes, but they also didn’t have amplifiers, so this is no reason not to sell some French fries next year!
But all in all, these are minor details, and travelling to Borre all the way from the Netherlands was more than worth it! Another edition of Midgardsblot is already confirmed, and as soon a date is set, your Metal Exposure crew will be marking it in the agenda and booking flights. And so should you!