The music was scheduled to begin at 14:00 on day 3, so I took the opportunity to have a look at some of the Viking artifacts in the Midgard Center, and to have a walk around Borrepark amongst the Burial mounds, overlooking the beautiful fjord. This was all a precursor to taking part in the Viking games, where those foolish enough were invited to engage in tests of strength, balance and agility.
Still in one piece, I hotfooted it to the main festival area in time for the first band of the day, L.E.A.F. This was their first live show in Norway, and was on the back of their great debut album ‘Lys’. The live entourage consisted of six musicians (including Martine Kraft following her triumphant set the previous night in the Gildehallen), playing Nordic instruments such as the Nyckelharpa, Hardangerfele, Celtic Harp and Kraviklyra amongst others. My highlights were a rousing ‘Suurin’ with its haunting vocal melody line, and the set closer ‘Lys’, which was absolutely sublime.
Another Viking battle re-enactment followed, with more duels and full scale battles, before Norwegians Blot unleashed their variant of Viking black metal upon a small but appreciative crowd. There were initially sound problems, but once these were resolved, the band delivered a bruising set that went down really well, and judging by the number of Blot shirts being worn after the set, I would say they won themselves a few new friends.
More uncompromising music followed in the form of local underground black metallers Kirkebrann. Decked out in the obligatory corpse paint, the band certainly looked the part (and the vocalist had a resemblance to Gaahl!) as they commanded the stage. Their style of black metal was battering and exactly to my personal taste. Straight to the merch stand to pick up their CDs and shirts…..
More bloodshed in the in the pit followed, Viking style, before Faroese doom metallers Hamferð slowed the pace. Taking to the stage clad in ‘mourning suits’, their atmospheric doomy tones were accompanied by an ever darkening and foreboding sky creating an oppressive atmosphere over the site. Doom metal is not usually my cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed their set.
As it did, at this point on the previous day, the heavens opened, and this time it did not let up drenching everything and everyone in site…….It was a good job Swedish melodic death metallers Månegarm were on hand to distract from the downpour. Just past their 20th anniversary, their experience shows as they got the appreciative crowd moving with their rousing tunes. The inevitable ‘Odin Owns Ye All’ was particularly rousing and encouraged the biggest sing along of the day.
The intensity raised as Sumerian Black Metallers Melechesh unleashed their aggressive Eastern melodies, seeing a step up in pit activity, including those in full Viking gear taking part…..I have seen Melechesch several times, and have always been impressed but this was a step up and was the best I have ever seen them. Ashmedi announced that they would be closing with a ballad, before launching into the pulverizing ‘Rebirth of the Nemesis’ and then retreating to the beer tent!
The deluge continued as unholy Norwegian trio Tsjuder took to the stage with their “True Norwegian Black Metal”. As relentless and unyielding as always they proceeded to batter the crowd into submission for 75 minutes, really hitting their stride on track three, ‘Demonic Supremacy’. Even the weather gods could not detract from the magnificence of this performance and the response from the crowd showed that I was not alone in my enjoyment.
As the night became darker, a mist hovered over the crowd. Whether this was true mist, or simply steam off the crowd was hard to tell, but either way it set for an atmospheric end to the festival on this wet Norwegian evening.
And so to the final main stage act of the weekend, and the festival headliners, Wardruna who with their ambient atmospheric soundscapes were the perfect band to close this festival. The live ensemble had many overlaps with Skuggsjá from the previous day, not least Einar Selvik who is the founding composer of Warduna and is responsible for their interpretation of old Scandinavian culture and traditions, and at one point the troupe was joined by two children to great effect, adding a whole new dimension to the sound.
Set against the backdrop of low lying mist and surrounded by tall trees with the smell of the open fires evident, this really was the best possible setting in which to enjoy Wardruna and their performance was absolutely stunning. The low lighting on stage with members often appearing as nothing more than silhouettes ensured that the music remained the focus of the performance, and it was hypnotic. It felt like no time had passed before it was announced that the last track would be one about “death, crossing over and letting go”, before Helvegen was played.
This festival is unique in so many ways, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who enjoys extreme metal and has even a passing interest in Nordic culture. I’ve already bought a ticket for next year…….
Words and Pics by Andy Pountney