Day 1 Thursday
If you’re a regular reader of the site then you’ll know that this prestigious festival set within the Viking burial mounds of Borre National Park is as eclectic as it is addictive. This was the fifth anniversary of the festival and my second time attending, but my shooters fourth as once again the hospitality of Midgardsblot opened its gates to a few thousand fervent fans and Vikings set against the beautiful backdrop of the forest area within the park. Additionally the whole event is a cultural experience, with various tours, seminars and presentations held from mid-morning until the afternoon, though I didn’t attend any this time, but I did visit the Midgard Vikingsenter and perused through the information and exhibits, but more on that later.
Last year my shooter had an horrendous trip to the festival with a cancelled flight and arriving in the middle of the night, but being the lucky mascot that I am, but a weather gremlin according to my so called friends, the travel arrangements couldn’t have gone better as the pre-flight pint in Manchester Airport was the traditional obligatory aperitif to kick the festival off and was by far the cheapest drink we had in the entire weekend. A short wait for the train from Oslo as luckily a bus was waiting at the train station in Skoppum (this is where you get your train to from Oslo Airport), which we dashed for and got into Horten about 20 to 30 minutes later. Whilst my shooter and companion were in the festival hotel in Horten I had a 15 minute trek to my accommodation which was a self-contained apartment that had a local supermarket within 10 minutes, though following the navigation in my phone I thought I was going to end up in the fjord at one point. With a 20-30 minute turnaround before heading off to the festival, it was waterproofs, money and ticket at the ready for a cab to the festival by what can only be described as the cab driver on speed such was his impatience at the van in front doing 15kmh. An image of the scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles where they John Candy and Steve Martin were driving down the wrong side of the carriageway and John Candy turns into the laughing demon at the steering wheel came to mind. However I arrived safely, but not sanely.
It was clear that National advertising campaign (that my shooter had found out about) throughout Norway had a huge effect on the number of attendees, which was apparent by the packed car park, compared to a virtually empty one the last time I visited the festival. With wristbands sorted and my shooters accreditation cleared and after the thorough search by security I was finally breathing the crisp Norwegian forestry air, as the immediate task was to get a festival shirt until I saw the length of the queue, so instead had a wander about the site. Every minutiae of detail was thought through, from the fencing posters, to the ornate sculpting of the Midgard logo in runes on what looked like wall insulation foam complete with small skulls to the positioning of the lights on the site and runic designed signs pointing to everything, including Valhalla; everything was pristine. As you arrive at the festival there are number of stalls purveying various merchandise from the usual music stuff to arts and crafts with each offering something different to the next stall you visited some at very high prices; this is Norway remember.
After sauntering around the site and getting a feel for things I had missed the opening Blot Ceremony plus Gaahls Wyrd due to travel arrangements, so partook in the first beer which was expensive at about £8.50 per 400ml cup, yes only 400ml and that was the cheapest on offer, there were many others over £10 a pop. However it didn’t stop me drinking I just took a bit longer as my shooter pointed out that the outdoor second stage that was present in 2018 was no longer and had reverted to a marquee style within a bar as the crowd sat or stood outside to watch. I wasn’t sure how that would work until later, so more on that to come. With only a few bands to see that night a quick look around the Valhalla stage (main stage) area showed that little had changed since 2017 except that the main stage height was much higher which meant photographers had to practically face upwards like a cliff face to get shots. The Gildehallen Stage (second stage) had changed orientation, this time being along the longer side of the hall, though it was the same as last year according to my shooter, as the stage seemed to take up more space than the audience could stand around to watch in. With that in mind a mental note of getting in there early was going to be key for bands playing that stage and turned out to be correct. Some newer sculpting works were present plus a huge ornately carved wooden cart was present in one doorway, I was hoping I might get pushed back home in it at end of the night, and as time marched forward for Hungarian black metallers Tormentor it was time take position at the Valhalla Stage.
This cult black metal outfit has garnered worldwide attention since the early demos in the late 1980s but have arguably obtained infamy for having Attila Csihar on vocals who as we know fronts the current incarnation of Mayhem. That infamy was undoubtable as the audience numbers swelled in the early evening sunshine, as each band member was garbed and painted up to create a ghoulish sight that let rip a warring assault that was probably unmatched during the weekend, except for Deicide maybe. The onslaught of riffs and barbaric vocals was balanced by the obliterating drum work and for some I suspect the sonic annihilation bordered noise at times.
The integration of punk like riffs coupled to the detonating speed was wholly transfixing as songs like “Damned Grave” completely saturated the arena in aural perversity, that I found strangely alluring due to the constant barrage, as frontman Attila worked the stage brilliantly, cavorting around sporting the largest inverted crucifix pendant I’ve ever seen. However I took leave to scout the site some more and imbibe some ale and grab a seat.
After the monstrous anarchy of Tormentor, the switch in pace from outright blackened malevolence to the more sedate folk tones of Folket Bortafor Nordavinden who had the dubious honour of being my 5000th live band I’ve ever watched. They had a stuttered start to their proceedings but remained upbeat and humorous having plenty of banter with gathered crowd who at the Kaupangr stage, (this was the stage that had previously had an outdoor one last year) were mostly sat down around a camp fire keeping warm as the brisk night air drew in.
Band introductions took place before playing as they eventually started out vocally with what I would call similar to throat singing as female vocals were added amidst a percussive backdrop. As their set continued the first signs of Norway’s notorious weather changes was materialising as people started to dive for cover once the deluge occurred, and a biblical deluge it was as the ritualistic music continued. Thankfully the rain eased up allowing me to vacate the marquee and seek a spot for the headliner.
I’ve got to admit that the headliner of Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik who performed material from their Hugsja and Skuggjsa releases but also chucked in an Enslaved song and some Wardruna material too, I was a tad sceptical as to what to expect. However from the moment they started there was a mesmeric quality that you just could not take your eyes off for a second as the beautiful, ambient and acoustic opening saturated in red light started their set. Indeed for about half of their set they utilised only monochrome lighting in each song and rarely varied the hue or brightness. What that did was make you focus on the band as the emotive vocal tones seeped with passion and texture where the dynamics of every song fluctuated majestically. The use of various instruments from string to wind by Einar Selvik was coupled to his sublime vocal display where each note was gracefully honoured by the respectful crowd. As the light phased into a green shade and the forest behind and to the sides was lit in turquoise the ambience was exhilarating as a horn sounded whilst blanketed in white light for “Skuggsjá”.
Those more tranquil sequences shrouded the audience in a despairing melancholy as the song’s intensification was gradual and purposeful. Wardruna tune “Fehu” was opened with some chat about it being a rune song and the idea that wealth creates happiness and misery equally as the folkloric tune was explained in more detail that I didn’t quite catch. The song was opulent yet simplistically absorbing, wholly captivating the crowd with every note, as I stood in wonder at the performance before they announced they were going to play the Enslaved track “Return To Yggdrasil” which was greeted with a big cheer and performed acoustically with enigma and dynamism. “Um Heilage Fjell” followed as Einar talked about the song being about death and what happens to family after they pass on which he did expand further about as the songs acoustic opening was accompanied by the rest of instrumentation cohesively as my shooters favourite track was aired next called “Helvegen”, another Wardruna track. More chat about death as the song dosed the audience with beautifying melodies cloaked in a return to the red light that started their show. The songs sombreness was magnificent as I noted that this was one of the best performances I’ve seen this year so far out of the 200 plus bands I’ve seen this year as I headed for the exit bypassing the merch area to buy a fest shirt as the queue was now significantly smaller thankfully.
WORDS: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOS: ANDY POUNTNEY