Set amongst the Viking burial mounds of Borre in Norway, Midgardsblot is held on one of Norway’s most important national heritage sites and a place that was clearly of great importance to the Vikings who once resided here.
The festival gives attendees the opportunity to explore some of this heritage and explore the Viking way of life, as well as to enjoy some leading extreme metal bands. There is the opportunity to visit the Midgard museum with all sorts of exhibits from the Viking era and to go on tours of the local area learning more about the burial mounds and Viking history, as well as taking part in seminars and workshops.
Furthermore, there is a Viking village to visit, and an area to test your strength and agility at traditional Viking games and sports.
The actual festival area is centered around Gildehallen, a reconstruction of a great feasting hall whose remains we found near the site. This hall is home to the beer tasting sessions, and is where the music takes place once the main stage closes.
The main stage area is dominated by the magnificent Gildehallen on one side, and is enclosed by tall trees on the other, making this a unique and exceptional setting for an intimate metal festival where black metallers rub shoulders with Vikings.
This introductory day, had only two acts scheduled to perform giving visitors the opportunity to attend tours around the local area and historic sites, as well as set up camp and become familiarized with the surroundings, before the formal activities began with a Viking Blot.
A Blot is a Norse Pagan Sacrifice to the Norse gods, and this recreated Blot consisting of drumming, chanting and dancing was conducted by local duet Folket Bortafor Nordavinden in honour of Odin, Thor and Freyja.
Once the ceremony was complete, there was a gap in the program to sample the fantastic Norwegian craft beers, and chill out with the resident DJs providing some tunes, or peruse the local Norse products on offer, until the only other formal event of the evening which took the form of Songlekr, featuring Maria Franz and Kristian, playing catchy stripped back acoustic Nordic folk tunes in front of the firepit in the Gildehallen to an enthralled crowd.
Day One had been a great introduction to this unique festival, and whet the appetite nicely for what was to follow.
The main stage area wasn’t scheduled to open until 16:00, giving the opportunity to have a walk around the Viking village, hear some Nordic music played on traditional instruments, and to have a go at age-old Viking sports such as axe throwing and archery. There was also the opportunity to join one of the tours of the burial mounds, and learn about Norse History.
When the main area opened, we were greeted again by local duo Folket Bortafor Nordavinden who gave us a couple of Nordic Folk tunes, including throat singing and percussion, as well as their unique brand of good natured banter, setting a great atmosphere amongst the gathered throng.
Trollfest were the first main stage band of the festival and they erupted onto the impressive stage looking like an explosion in a shellsuit factory. Their high energy brand of “True Norwegian Balkan Metal” was an entertaining blend of metal and folk, utilising a saxophone, accordion, violin and tambourine alongside more traditional instruments. The nine (I think – It was hard to count them as they were running around so much!) members were a vision of chaotic perpetual motion including members running into the photopit and crowd, but they sounded good, went down well with those down the front and were a good start to proceedings.
As soon as Trollfest finished, the area in front of the stage was cleared and roped off for a Viking battle re-enactment, starting with duels, and culminating in a full battle. Better than listening to the usual cheesy rubbish over the PA!
This was appropriately followed by Iceland’s Skálmöld, whose name apparently translates to “Age of Swords”. Their Viking metal was the perfect follow on to the battles, and was perfectly suited to this environment. The stand out moment for me was ‘Með drekum’ from the latest album, and after the controlled chaos of Trollfest, Skálmöld’s precision sounded all the more powerful.
After Skálmöld had finished, a deluge was unleashed from the heavens sending the less hardy folk running for cover in the beer tent before black metal duo Inquisition assaulted the stage. Arriving on the back of the latest release ‘Bloodshed across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith’ the mood of the festival became more sinister as their icy black metal ripped through the crowd. Dagon’s trademark rasping vocals were completely inaudible during the first track, but once this was sorted out, their melodic and yet brutal black metal raised the bar and got heads banging.
A brief respite followed, allowing for more sampling of the craft beers, before Enslaved took to the stage 15 minutes early, catching out many who were still in Gildehallen or the beer tent. Enslaved celebrated their 25th anniversary by playing an hour long old/mid school set, with the most recent work represented being ‘Fusion of Sense and Earth’ from 2006’s ‘Ruun’. Personal highlights were ‘Return to Yggdrasil’ from ‘Isa, ‘Convoys to Nothingness from ‘Monumension’ and ‘Fenris’ from ‘Frost’. Being set amongst tall trees and the Viking burial mounds, and next to the Gildehallen this was simply a perfect setting for Enslaved’s majestic Norwegian extreme metal. An hour was never going to be long enough, and all too soon they were closing with a stunning ‘Isa’. There was lots of banter with the crowd, but I couldn’t understand most of it with my limited Norwegian, but that somehow added to the mystique and this was a truly special set.
I retreated into the Gildehallen to warm up next to the open fire while eagerly anticipating my first live encounter with Skuggsjá. In the meantime, Folket Bortafor Nordavinden gave us a few more or their acoustic folk tunes.
Skuggsjá is a collaboration between Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna), fusing traditional Scandinavian musical styles with more modern extreme music, and if I recall correctly, it was originally a commissioned piece of work to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution in 2014.
This live incarnation of Skuggsjá consisted of 11 musicians (with representation from Enslaved and Wardruna) and when they took to the stage it was truly a sight to behold. Illuminated by subtle, moody lighting, their mesmerizing music was jaw dropping and their set went by in the blink of an eye, with the entire crowd seemingly entranced. This was more than watching a band – This was a fully immersive experience.
Once more I went back into the Gildehallen for the final act of the day, Martine Kraft, who, according to the program, is “One of Norway’s leading Hardingfele fiddlers”…. The hall was rammed and with good reason as she was exceptionally talented and brought the day to a worthy close with her powerful folk tunes. Bring on day 3…….
Words and Pics by Andy Pountney