Report by Tabitha (T) and Laetitia (L)
Pictures by Laetitia, Gerrit Bars and Wouter Balk
“… 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!”
These are the final words of our report of the Norwegian metal festival Midgardsblot of 2015 (read here). We were dead serious when we wrote that, and so, as soon as the date was set, we did indeed book flights and started looking forward to the second edition of this amazing festival.
If you’ve read the 2015 report, you’ll know what Midgardsblot is about; if you haven’t, here’s a short recap: A pagan/black/folk metal festival in Norway, located at ancient Viking (grave) mounds and partially inside of a reconstructed long hall, which not only offers musical shows, but also tours, lectures, a tattoo con, storytelling and games. Sounds interesting? We thought so, and apparently lots of other people from all over the world thought so too, because this year there was a significant increase in ticket sales (maybe due to our report as well, who knows?). We were afraid that the intimate feel of the festival might be diminished by a larger number of (international) visitors – but this fear turned out to be unsubstantiated, thank the gods!
So there we were on Thursday, in the small town of Horten, an hour below Oslo. Here we had booked a nice hotel this year instead of camping at the festival site (something to do with age..). Plenty of people did the same and it is no wonder that the hotels in Horten were fully booked the whole weekend. There were shuttle buses provided for the short trip to the festival site, but we preferred to bike there with rental bikes, giving us more flexibility as well as some interesting adventures on our way back at night (jee, it gets really dark!)..
So after a slightly fatiguing ride along the beautiful Norwegian coast, we collected our wristbands, chatted to some of our friends from last year, and entered the now familiar festival area. For Thursday, a special opening ceremony was planned – a real blot. In this ancient ritual, offerings would be made to the gods, for which favors were asked – a peaceful festival, nice weather, etc. The musical duo from Folket Bortafor Nordavind presented the blot in a wonderful, respectful way. It was a great ceremony to start off the festival, with a lot of the visitors present and even participating, creating a feeling of togetherness – a feeling that would last throughout the weekend. Of course we also offered our share to the gods!
After the opening of the festival there wasn’t much on the program, so we had ample opportunity to chat with old and new friends and drink some beers. The Gildehallen provided a great backdrop for this. At midnight there was a musical performance inside by Songleikr. With historical instruments this duo provided an enthusiastic audience with catchy folk tunes, with even some dancing as a result. We retired to our hotel after this, but at the campsite there was still a lot of partying going on, as rumor has it.. (T)
On the next day we got up early to enjoy our breakfast in the hotel, after which we hopped on our bikes and headed to the Midgardsenter. We didn’t want to be late for class! On our schedule was an interesting seminar by Imke von Helden on “The Construction of Cultural Identity in Norwegian Metal Music”. It was a stimulating lecture on Norwegian history and culture and its influences on the Norwegian metal scene, providing insights into a genre we know so well, but understand not nearly as much as we think. After the lecture, a debate panel took place under the guidance of journalist Harald Fossberg. Panel members were, amongst others, festival organizer Runa and Ivar from Enslaved. Though lots of questions were answered, even more questions arose, and it was a fascinating discussion to observe and even participate in. One of the comforting conclusions of the panel was that it’s okay to be a metalhead even when you get older! (Short note: The discussion also touched upon the subject of gender in the metal scene. I would really applaud the idea to make this an item for next year’s lectures..!) (T)
After the seminar and the debate panel we decided to hang around to watch the short film Trace, made by Markus Dahslett as a university project for his Masters Degree. The movie tells the story of the man Baldr, who acquires knowledge (symbolized by a wooden box with manuscripts) which can help his people to better the future. However, a different band of vikings seeks to destroy this knowledge as they perceive it as a threat. The film was made with limited funds, but this was not reflected in the quality of the work. The camera angles were well chosen, as well as the costumes (provided by viking re-enactment groups) and the fact the actors spoke Old Norse was a big plus for the authenticity of the film. It was interesting to watch, so if you ever come across the film, you should do so. (L)
After this, we headed over to the main festival area to get a glimpse of Trollfest before our beer tasting session started. Now Trollfest is a bit of an ‘odd band out’ at Midgardsblot – more a fun party band – but they are from Norway and they do make metal, so they got that going for them, which is nice. The audience seemed to be looking forward to this band quite a lot, as they were present in large numbers. I also caught myself tapping and humming along with the familiar songs..but then it was time for our beer tasting, and you’ve got to have your priorities straight, right? I think Trollfest of all bands would understand.
Now the beer tasting had been a great success last year as we made some great friends there – and for this reason we just had to do it again. We chose the session which presented beer from the Danish brewery Amager, and under the guidance of a very charismatic beer connoisseur (not so sore on the eyes either!) we got familiar with beers carrying names like ‘Todd the Axeman’ and ‘Brown Boobies Falling’. Now try drinking 5 or 6 different beers within the span of 45 minutes – this will make even the biggest man tipsy. So after the enjoyable session in the Gildehallen, we went outside slightly less sober (ahem) than we came in. In other words: Great success, again!
We staggered outside just in time to see the beginning of the Icelandic battle metal warriors Skálmöld. These great musicians master their instruments really well and gave an impeccable performance with a mixture of songs from both albums. Some of the songs were of course Gleipnir and Kvaðning. I would have liked to hear a bit more from them, because it felt like they played a short set. Around me I heard more complaints that the show should have been much longer, but what can you do, right?
After this show it was time for some black metal by Inquisition – the duo set the tone within seconds and gave the festival the raw edge that it was waiting for, with the typical interesting sounding vocals by Dagon. These kinds of bands are essential for metal festivals to remember the roots, and Inquisition did just that! (T)
The Norwegian metallers of Enslaved are celebrating their 25th anniversary, which means that the band has been diversifying their set list quite a bit during the shows this year. The gig today at Midgardsblot was dominated by older work (Fenris, Allfǫðr Oðinn ) and what I’d call it mid-period work (Isa, Fusion of Sense and Earth). With a history of 25 years, it’s not surprising that the group has attained a high level of professionality when it comes to their stage presence and performance, but what actually strikes me most is that they also still emit the vibe of gratefulness and especially exhilaration whilst being on the stage. (L)
The headliner of today was Ivar Bjornson and Einar Selvik’s Skuggsjá. It’s always impressive to see a large group of musicians play such layered pieces, even if today’s concert lacked a bit of precision and in front of the stage, the sound came across a bit chaotic at first. Despite these minor things, many Midgardsblot attendees described the concert as magical and it turned a few skeptical minds into fans. Personal highlight was the performance of the song ‘Kvervandi‘ and seeing the crowd around me raise their arms, sing along and move around transcendentally. (L)
Of course the party wasn’t over after this great show: there was another late show in the Gildehallen and presumably some more feasting at the campsite, but we preferred to hang out with our friends from Lekegoden Og Trollet and partied and drank into the small hours of the night. (T)
After a heavy night of drinking games with trolls and vikings, the hammer of Thor was pounding on some of our heads the next day. With less of a hangover myself, I undertook the ever perilous journey through the streets and forests of Horten, in time to hear the seminar of Einar Selvik on runes (amongst other things). It’s difficult to sum up this seminar of an hour, but it is safe to say that Einar gave some insights on (his use of) runes, historic sources, his perspective on the Viking age – he might have crushed some dreams by saying that the Viking age was not as interesting to him as the era’s before (and in hindsight, I think this must have been a hint to the use of the bronze age lure in Wardruna’s show) – and that he speaks as pleasant as he sings: for my part, this seminar could have lasted hours longer. (L)
After the seminar, it was time to participate in the Viking Games of our friends from Lekegoden og Trollet. I finally managed to master the trick with the stick (trust me, it’s harder than it looks) and since I would be a cute bear cub according to Troll, we played a game wherein I was the bear cub, I had to place myself in between two friends lying down and be born (not awkward at all).. if you are planning on attending Midgardsblot next year, take a moment to visit the Viking playground. Aside from axe throwing and archery, Lekegoden og Trollet can show you and your friends some very competitive, hilarious and fun games! (L)
Having missed out on our fellow countrymen LEAF because of the seminar and the games, the first band I saw was Blot from Kristiansand, Norway. For one of the earlier performing bands of the day, the musicians bring quite a lot of energy and enthusiasm with them. For those unfamiliar with their music (like myself before today), expect a straightforward pagan/black metal. A good way to start the actual festival day with..and with an overpriced Norwegian beer in the hand, of course. (L)
Ah yes,corpse paint in the burning sun: it seems so contradictory, but it happens so often during the festival season. Nevertheless the show of the Norwegian black metallers Kirkebrann wasn’t any less malicious because of it. The raw music, the blasphemously fast riffing and the convincing hateful glances from the musicians to the audience caused a ghastly atmosphere during the gig of Kirkebrann. (L)
The doom metal band Hamferð from the Faroe Islands are masters at their game. Performance-wise, it might remind you of My Dying Bride (although slightly less theatrical) and especially vocalist Jon Aldara expresses the ominous message of the group very well in his stage presence. That being said, it’s not the band for me. The occasional moments when I listen to doom metal, it’s dark, winter and my mood is gloomy. None of these criteria applied today. Furthermore, the slow and forceful tones and the charged movements of the musicians just didn’t seem to fit the spirit on a sunny afternoon on a predominantly pagan festival in Norway. (L)
The weather gods had been relatively benign so far, but unfortunately, shortly before Månegarm, it started to rain and didn’t stop for quite a bit. But as the Norwegian saying goes: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’ So the audience, unimpressed by the rain, enjoyed the Swedish Viking metal without restraint. The setlist contained old and new songs, some from the recent album Månegarm (2015). They started the set off with Blodörn (from the latest album), played of course their ‘hit’ Odin owns ye all and ended very fitting with Hemfärd (Vredens Tid). It was a great show and the band was very suitable for the festival, which was reflected in the audience and the atmosphere.
Time for some Sumerian black metal! Last year we had the French-Algerian band Acyl (great band btw!) as an exotic example of folk metal, but this year, all the way from Israel (well, and Amsterdam..) Melechesh was going to provide some hip-moving and head banging music. There was a Viking mosh pit and lots of head banging to songs like Return of the Nemesis and Ladders to Sumeria. Drummer Lord Curse played a tight set as well as his band mates and of course front man Ashmedi, who did a good job rousing the audience. We thoroughly enjoyed the show!
Time for some true Norwegian black metal with the guys from Tsjuder. Nag, Draugluin and Anti-Christian perform raw black metal music which is full of emotion – the show was a great way to release some of the anger and aggression that everyone feels sometimes. The music even tends to have some black & roll elements in it, which makes it great for head banging, fist shaking and fruit plucking. After this energetic and ruthless show, it was time for something completely different: the long anticipated show by Wardruna! (T)
To explain my enthusiasm for Wardruna‘s performance, some background might be needed. I’ve spent a summer of two in Tanum, Sweden as a kid, while my family was documenting rock carvings. This was the first time I came in contact with the bronze age instrument, the lure, as one of the Swedes there played a replica of it during on a summer night. Never had I expected to encounter this instrument on a metal festival (or again in general, aside from in the museum), so imagine my surprise and excitement when I saw Einar Selvik and Eilif Gundersen enter the stage with the two glorious horns.
As if this didn’t already make the concert next to perfect for me (– although nothing can top last year’s acoustic performance on Einar Selvik in the Gildehallen), Wardruna’s show was flawless and mesmerizing. On top of that, we were spoiled with the live premiere of the song Odal, from the upcoming record Ragnarok. The song features the vocals Selvik’s two young children and to the surprise of many, they came on stage and sang the song with their father. It had started pouring from the skies when Wardruna started playing, but hardly anyone was willing to leave the festival ground and break the spell that the musicians of Wardruna had casted. Rain or not, it was a perfect ending to Midgardsblot 2016. (L)
So it was raining a lot at this point, but did this stop anyone from partying the last night of the festival? Of course not! So we joined our friends again and joked, laughed and drank together. It was time to reflect on the festival experience of this year’s Midgardsblot. Since we’d been here last year we knew what to expect, and had had our worries about whether this year could equal or even top the previous one. We’ve come to the conclusion that this edition was just as great as last year’s – and just as then, we didn’t even have time to see and do all that was possible at the festival. The lectures, guides, games, musical performances – it makes for a full and complete festival experience. We didn’t camp this year, and though the hotel was very comfortable (hot showers!) we will definitely be camping next year. The campsite was larger and more occupied which gave it more of a festival feeling as we know it. I guess we’re not too old after all!
Of course there are some complaints about the food. Yes, we’re in Norway and yes we’re on a festival, but some variety in food would be nice. The Viking food was interesting, but not everyone necessarily liked it and for that price you could expect to get a little bit more. So that aspect needs a bit of attention. But this is just nit-picking.
For the rest, no complaints! Great opening ceremony, superb organisation, a wonderfully filled program with excellent bands..and the best audience a festival can wish for. There is an atmosphere at Midgardsblot which is truly unique and for which we will definitely be coming back next year. There is a large Midgardsblot community on Facebook with countless of positive recollections of the festival, pictures are being shared, and there even is a countdown to next year! The dates are already set: 17th to 19th August 2017 – and we want to see you all there! (T)