DAY TWO: FRIDAY
As I mentioned in the day one review this festival isn’t purely about music as arriving early I decided to do the guided tour of the burial grave mounds within Borre Park. After which it was time to partake in some Viking games in which my skinny frame had a go at some archery which I haven’t played since childhood using rubber sucker arrows. I learned fast apparently by the guy teaching before moving onto axe throwing which was more difficult than it looked and didn’t injure myself for a change which is a feat in itself I can assure you. A tug of war with Andy was pitiful even with a helper before it was time for music and heading down to the festival site to catch Norwegian act Nan Madol on the main stage, though quite why the security kept people waiting at the entry point right up to the point of the band playing was baffling. Arriving as the band walked on stage meant they were playing to about 20 people initially as the dazzling sun was gorgeous as their post blackened melodies were beautifully relaxing with a delightful mood after which a Viking battle re-enactment took place in front of the main stage that I watched from the back sat at a bench with beer in hand.
Staying with the main stage Norwegian act Superlynx were next and produced a droning stoner doom sound that had a slight hypnotic effect due to the wailing vocal delivery that was extremely effective even though the music was oppressively melancholic. The mixing of female groans and thrusting male vocals had a resonating power, as the pyroclastic bass thunder was embedded with dirge like guitar riffing. I was very impressed with the vocal arrangements as the female vocals occasionally increased in pitch adding an extra dimension especially when the songs shifted pace slightly and the guitar riffing added slight ethnic twists sporadically. I didn’t think an avalanche of crushing doom would be successful in this setting but it certainly was.
Deciding to hang about to await Tengger Cavalry I had a chat with a couple of Norwegians who had decided to join the table for a beer. As the band’s stage time approached more beer arrived and I readied myself for some throat singing and a very different set from a band that originated in China but now resides in the USA. I must admit I didn’t know what to expect and the first thing I noticed was the lack of a drummer as the guys arrived on stage but only one in traditional costume which was disappointing. The crowd numbers had surged for the band as a backing track started up and the set got off to a bouncing start, with the crowd completely enthralled. Remaining at the back initially I was impressed with the vocal range, his tone was dense, richly focused and penetrating as he announced that this show was the last one of the tour. The throat singing was great as I decided to move to the front to see if the sound was better as I felt it was missing something and indeed it was definitely better, much heavier as a couple of guys were brought on stage to do some percussion but were completely out of time and didn’t really seem to know what to do. The two string instrument was better defined and listening to the beat of the music it had an industrial feel to it, sort of Die Krupps like, as my shooter pointed out. The energy was excellent and the crowd loved it, personally I felt that too much of the sound was done by backing track but in the scheme of seeing Tengger Cavalry I was grateful for the opportunity to see this unique band.
Vacating my seated area I decided to see Sindri again at the Viking stage which I had developed a particular liking for due to its intimate setting and arriving he had already started his set. Sat down with a beer at his side he looked a little more intense today but boy did I like his guitar playing, his ability to bathe the audience in emotion was unparalleled at times. Taking a swig of his beer he said “it’s not raining today, I’m not religious, this song is about inner peace, and is called an inner peace”. His morphing from power to tranquillity on the acoustic guitar was mesmeric as he suddenly stopped playing and just sang which was utterly brave and spine tingling. Returning to his guitar it had suddenly gone out tune but tuned it in one smooth action whilst singing, professionalism to a fault.
Having seen Winterfylleth pull off a successful show at Bloodstock this was a whole new setting for the band here as the number of people watching initially were the diehard fans, which was rectified as the bands set progressed. The sound was great as their epic black metal within the pine tree shrouded main stage was perfect for their music which had some technical issues initially causing a pause after the first track. Sorting things out “The Swart Raven” followed with the sun blazing down the band executed the harmony vocals flawlessly which must have acted as a calling as people started to descend on the stage to watch. Retaining momentum that went into “Whisper Of The Elements” as more people gathered reacting to their epic compositions the band beamed in appreciation. Announcing that “time is short and our songs are long” they played “A Valley Thick With Oaks” and left the stage knowing they had captured the hearts of Midgardsblot faithful.
Another scoot across to the Viking stage this time to see Byrdi, a four piece band that played a beat heavy folk music with three guys singing. Starting with a very cool intro piece the percussive beat was struck out by a girl who hit the skin of the drum she held hard, very hard but also used it delicately to exquisite effect balanced with the vocals as the guys played other instruments such as mouth harp and stringed instruments played with great subtlety but there was no time to rest before quickly shuffling back to the main stage for Gaahl’s Wyrd and me having a major brain melt down.
When the line-up for this festival was announced and I saw that a band called Wyrd was listed I thought that the band in question was the Finnish blackened folk metal outfit and had prepped myself based on that fact not giving the prefix Gaahl much thought. Indeed awaiting the band to appear it still didn’t click that the band in question wasn’t the band I was thinking about and even when Gaahl appeared on stage, I thought he looks familiar. Ok, so Gaahl’s Wyrd is indeed Gaahl, he of God Seed, Gorgoroth and Trelldom and the set was comprised of songs from those bands and as my brain melt down continued during the set thinking I know quite a lot of these songs the band opened with Gorgoroth track “Sign Of An Open Eye” as Gaahl stalked about the stage nonchalantly grimacing. The crowd was huge for the band as you’d expect as he let out a banshee wail when the double kick flooded into the song. Croaking in true black metal menace “Aldrande Tre” was aired from the God Seed era as the abrupt tempo shifts worked in unison with the blasting assaults before switching to Trelldom and “Til Minne” with its distinctive riff. A guest musician from L.E.A.F. appeared as she joined in for a rendition of “Steg” that followed but suffered from her instrument being suffocated in the mix which was a pity as I stood near the front to see if that made a difference which it did but only marginally. Returning to heavier realms the doublet of “Carving A Giant” and “From The Running Of Blood” battered the audience as the guitarists pulled every conceivable pose possible which was a little clichéd as Gaahl scowled at the crowd providing his best evil looks which in some respects looked a little comic book. “Incipit Satan” was instantly recognised by everyone, even by brain mushed me, and was followed by set closer “Prosperity And Beauty” as I headed off to get a seat for Virelai on the Viking Stage and to solidify my pulped grey matter.
The three piece of Virelai were very inauspicious, two guys, one on violin and one with a drum and a lady holding finger bells and doing vocals initially. The violin guy also had ankle bells and the moment they started the energy that exuded was infectious, replete with superb vocals as much of the percussion was done with clicks, feet stomps as the lady also did some yodel like vocals. Every song was catchy and the audience loved it, as did I, you couldn’t help but be swept along as she acted every lyric and even though I didn’t understand the lyrics her gesticulations were enough to get the gist, as she crouched on the floor for moody sections but overall the bands set was utter fun from start to finish and completely enthralling.
Penultimate main stage band of the day was Unleashed, the only death metal band of the festival as this veteran act has been around for over 2 decades fronted by the amiable Johnny Hedlund the band played a no nonsense set that whilst lacking the variety of other bands was steadfast and assured. Headbanging like spin dryers the band’s guttural and feral death metal on “This Is Our World Now” and “Don’t Want To Be Born” was an antithesis to most of what we had heard during the day. A brief chat about religion was followed by “Where Is Your God Now” as the pit started to move as I was surprised that the crowd numbers seemed to have depleted for the band as they crushed through “If They Have Eyes” and “Avenger”. Johnny rarely spoke, which I thought was unusual as he usually has plenty to say instead preferring to flay the audience with punishing death metal tunes such as “Fimbulwinter” and “Defenders Of Midgard”. Everyone recognised, or at least they should have recognised, “To Asgaard We Fly” before getting the audience involved in some sing back on the title of “Hammer Battalion Unleashed”. They may not have been the most complex musically but Unleashed did what they do best and played a thunderous set of death metal that closed with “Death Metal Victory” as Johnny made the audience chant victory back to him repeatedly.
As the night was now drawing in I ventured back to Viking stage for the last band playing there Songleikr who had a lot to live up to after the fantastic acts I had already seen there during the day. With two female singers and two guys on stage one playing a mandolin, I think, and another tapping beats on a box the two girls were tonally very different to each other but married up superbly. The power they produced was immense as they announced that a song they were going to sing was a children’s song as one of the girls now had a percussion piece. The guys sung too and the arrangement was terrific and had a complexity that was ingrained into the song as the band got the audience to join in with claps. Even with the crowd being at higher level of inebriation they were surprisingly respectful though the band made sure they were fully engaged with the songs as I took my leave to get a spot for the headliners Sólstafir.
Having seen Sólstafir play a fantastic headline show in Leeds in June earlier this year I sort of knew what to expect but here at Midgardsblot with this setting the experience was totally different. The main stage, as I said earlier, was shrouded with pine trees and now that it was night the trees to the right were lit up in soft blue and pink light and amazingly it was not raining which made the background even better as the night air was chilly but not cold. With the intro music starting it was good to be there at that moment in time as the set started with “Silfur-Refur” from the band’s latest album “Berdreyminn”. In Aðalbjörn Tryggvason the band has a guy whose charisma stretches beyond the confines of his ability to play guitar, his strangely off kilter vocal style echoed through festival sublimely with the rest of the band silhouetted on stage which I looked very effective. Chat was minimised due to only a 60 minute set which meant only a handful of songs such as “Ótta” and “Náttmál” which carried an abundance of passion though the pick of the set was the striking “Necrologue”, a track written about a friend the band lost through depression as Aðalbjörn spoke candidly about the subject saying I’m sure we can all relate to someone we know dealing with or has been through the illness. The song was beautifully played and despite its sadness it was strangely uplifting and cathartic as the Svavar Austma (bassist) was sat on a stool for the songs duration. Bringing things back to festival mood and asking the audience to scream like Iron fucking Maiden Aðalbjörn approached the audience whilst singing the closing song “Goddess Of The Ages” which I felt he didn’t need to do but obviously the crowd loved it. Sólstafir were truly magnificent here and I only wished they could have played for another 60 minutes.
The only band I saw on Friday in the Gildehallen was Forndom who were extremely popular as my shooter decided to get into the building to get a spot for photos as I hung about outside, which was a mistake as the security was operating a one out one in policy when I got there. As I queued up I spent five or ten minutes talking to a guy from Germany and a girl from Australia. Luckily I managed to get in and squeezed my way into the venue down the left, as the place was rammed and usually I don’t like to be so confined but I stuck it out. Previously Andy had told me that Forndom’s music was very serene and tranquil and this consequently caused problems that I hinted at in my day one review of the festival. The crowd were boisterous, talking loudly and happily awaiting the artist but unbeknownst to us Forndom had had a difficult day (a statement about which was released some days after), however one thing not to do is berate your audience before even starting. Arriving on stage dressed in cloaks, they looked the part and settled down to their instruments but instead of speaking calmly to the crowd to be quiet and be ready to listen main man Swärd aggressively confronted the audience and shouted have you come to listen to music, then shut the fuck up, or words to that effect. The audience did settle down a bit but he lost most after the outburst. As the intro faded the music was indeed very tranquil, with gentle percussive elements blended with strings and vocals creating a ritualistic aura that had a droning effect. I did like the female vocal additions, they added texture to the sound but it was clear the crowd wasn’t going to play ball. In fairness to the band it must have been a nightmare with the background noise as another tantrum was meted on the audience asking those who want to talk to leave or again shut the fuck up. This whole show could have been completely different if an alternative approach had been adopted; take it from me shouting at an audience is not going to win, as a teacher for 20 years I should know. I too decided to leave as writing anything else wouldn’t do the band any justice but hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to see the band again because what I did hear was very interesting indeed.
PROSE: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOGRAPHY: ANDY POUNTNEY