DAY ONE: THURSDAY
Rock and metal like thousands of fans the world over, has given me experiences above and beyond the music itself travelling to many festivals and gigs often in unique settings as my festival exploits this year have taken me to the Netherlands Deathfest, Hammerfest (OK it’s in Wales, but it is a different country), Graspop in Belgium, Copenhell in Denmark and now Midgardsblot in Norway that Andy Pountney (our photographer) said I had to go to after he visited the festival in 2016. His review last year pretty much sold me on the spot and, like the man himself last year, I bought a ticket immediately last summer, so now I get my turn to reveal my exploits about this festival.
As with any adventure to pastures new you are very much in the lap of transport systems and for a change the trip was relatively painless. With everything running smoothly it would have been rude not to have a celebratory drink in anticipation of the upcoming festivities as Andy gave out maps, time schedules etc like it was a military operation. I still hate flying so tend to sit there like it’s a white knuckle ride most of the time as I listened to a band called Thy Raventhrone for the whole journey as we arrived on time, got the baggage, bought trains tickets to Skoppum, dashed for the train caught it with two minutes to spare then relaxed. We arrived at Skoppum and met a guy from Italy who was in a band called Darkend (I didn’t tell him I reviewed his bands first demo back in 2008 and gave it 4/10) told him he was going to freeze as he was camping, got a taxi to the hotel, dropped our gear off and caught the bus to the festival.
After getting wristbands, it was a steady walk down towards the festival area where we passed the Midgardsblot Historisk Center which is surrounded by green fields and it cannot be understated at how important this area is historically to Viking heritage, as you can see the Viking burial mounds around the site which look like small hills but more about that later. Passing through the security entry point was like walking through a time portal as various dwellings, some constructed in a sort traditional fashion that harboured merchandise, a tattoo parlour, food and various handcrafted items. Added to that many of the attendees were dressed in Viking garb making the time warp trip even more pronounced.
The centre piece for this festival was the magnificent Gildehallen, a beautiful wooden reconstruction of a hall that held various events as I arrived during the Viking Blot Ceremony. I should add that there had been various seminars taking place during the day plus tours around the Borre Park and museum which were repeated during the weekend. The Blot ceremony was performed by the Folket Bortafor Nordavinden and consisted of percussive instrumentation, dancing, various vocal endeavours and was given in tribute to the old Gods. Once completed it was a chance to wander about and the one thing that strikes you about this festival is the dizzying array of smells that assail you as you walk around, from the camp fires that some stalls had set up to the pine trees, it all created a medieval atmosphere that was completely immersive.
The festival site was small even though in effect three stages would be in operation eventually, but for the time being I settled down at the Viking stage which was in the centre of what I dubbed a makeshift Viking village where the merch stalls were located. The stage had a bar with benches and tables under a marquee and whilst it was relatively quiet I expected it to fill up as local act Eldrim was due on. My prediction proved correct as people descended on the marquee and like a lot of bands playing this festival the band were completely new to me as I sat there in anticipation expecting them to speak in Norwegian but was pleasantly surprised when the guy stage left piped up in English and said something like we’re going to play some medieval tunes, some are our own and they’re all sad, which had most people laughing. I did expect people to be really quiet but they weren’t and this was a constant niggle in some respects that caused a big problem the next night for one artist. However, people were jovial as the band played a folk laden set that had well balanced vocals though there were some tuning issues on the instruments. The female vocals were excellent, very delicately poised as people near the front joined in the singing but with the prospect of Kari Rueslåtten due to appear at the Gildehallen stage soon after it was time to vacate and get a spot and no sooner had that decision been made than the rain teemed from the blackened sky.
The right decision was made as the Gildehallen was very full on entry as many people were sat on the floor, including the photographers, as I sat towards the front almost behind the artist. The Gildehallen is an amazing building, the smell of wood was heady, with shields on the wall, the benches had carved sculptures on the benches and provided ideal setting for Kari Rueslåtten’s performance. Joining Kari on stage was Jostein Ansnes on guitar who had an array of pedals and effects so whilst not technically an acoustic show the ambience created was equivalent to one. Most will know Kari from her brief stint in The 3rd And The Mortal back in the 1990s but she has released a plethora of solo albums and did a touring stint with Anneke van Giersbergen and Liv Kristine as part of a package called The Sirens which I was lucky enough to see in 2015. As the audience settled down, Kari arrived on stage to a great cheer and the duo went into “Battle Forevermore” and what struck me the most was how sweet Kari’s voice was, yet still carried through the venue as people sat or stood utterly mesmerised. “Chasing Rivers” followed with a brief chat from Kari in Norwegian and I noted that her voice was similar to Karen Carpenter at times though not as low. Introducing her guitar player, Jostein Ansnes, to a round of applause “Spindelsinn/Spellbound” were played before bringing the mood up with “Paint The Rainbow Grey” despite the songs title. The opening notes to “Trollferd” were greeted with a cheer which had a very Blackmore’s Night style to it steeped in a medieval aura that linked neatly into “Other People’s Stories” which most people knew and I felt that Kari should have took the opportunity and involved the crowd with it. The set closed with “Nordnatt” which was a very sombre piece of music which I thought wasn’t the best tune to end on, though the audience let out a massive cheer of approval at witnessing such a special show as I too was very pleased at watching this exceptional performance.
The night was young so a quick dash through the pouring rain to the Viking stage to see solo artist Sindri, getting a beer after enduring a drought during the Kari Rueslåtten show. The marquee was packed and the audience was exuberant with gleeful chatter amplified by the magnificence of Sindri. His voice penetrated the inebriated haze of the marquee with ease as he played his guitar superbly and with confidence as the crowd decide to hold cheer and see who can hold the note for the longest and it was a long time I can assure you. Sindri’s set seemed to relax everyone like a narcotic as they stood or sat in an alcoholic daze before noting that time was pressing and that we needed to make a move to catch our shuttle bus back to the hotel and which we only just caught.
Day one may have only had three bands but more than made up for it in terms of experience not only through the travelling , but also just being around the festival, meeting new people of which there were lots whilst sat about chatting drinking beer as you do and I couldn’t wait for days two and three.
PROSE: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOGRAPHY: ANDY POUNTNEY