Day 3 Saturday
I already knew that the weather forecast was going to be dodgy as a storm had passed over the region during the night (I slept through it I might add) and left its raging remnants for me to wake up to. The relentless rain I saw when I peered out of my window was demoralising and with the prediction for it not to relent until late afternoon I kitted myself out head to foot in water proofs only to find out my boots had started to leak. Meeting my travelling companions at the festival site I was lucky enough to be able to get a bus directly outside my accommodation as I headed up to Midgard Vikingsenter where I perused the artefacts after being windswept and drenched after getting off the bus. You could see there were going to problems and indeed there were which I’ll elaborate on later.
Reading through the exhibits in the order they’re supposed to be was enlightening and if you visit this festival a trip to this centre is essential as they continually change things. With many original artefacts, and some reconstructed ones on display, each explained in Norwegian and English you get a real feel for how life existed millennia ago. As the centre filled with people escaping the downpour my companions arrived also garbed head to toe in waterproofs, we hung about for a while, had a waffle or cake which was delicious and a tea in my case. I could have had beer but thought I’d take it easy today, if you believe me.
Venturing down the hill towards the entry point it was clear things were not right and indeed the site was not open because the main entry point that lead into the market area was waterlogged. A new entrance was being sorted out which turned out to be from the camp site as we were told there was a one hour delay before getting in at 3pm, which was only given on facebook from what I can tell meaning some of us missed out on the information. However at 3pm they did open but stated that opening act Whip would only be playing to the volunteers and site staff as opposed to paying customers which I felt was unnecessary given the amount of stage time available during the day.
Hence the first act for me was Runahild in the Gildehallen. This solo female folk artist had a captive audience due to the rain which had begun to ease as she played an array of instruments whilst cavorting vocally through various tones and shades of tranquillity and vehemence. The use of an electric bass was a surprise as whilst singing chant like she unleashed a very cool bass hook that was really catchy as I headed out for refreshment and to see if the Viking battle was going to take place again which unfortunately it did not due to the risk to the participating warriors and shield maidens, which was understandable, so instead the warriors talked to people, had photos taken with anyone who wanted, pretending to kill them Viking style and doing charges at the gathered photographers to pass time.
Sweden’s Ereb Altor was highly anticipated for me after seeing them play at Hammerfest in 2017 as they opened with a vocal chant that captured the audience’s attention easily with their epic Viking metal which admittedly sounds more epic on album than live but no less vitriolic. Adorning the front of the stage in front of the vocalist was some sort of blackened skull that looked weird.
With a new album titled “Järtecken”, due out in September, they took the opportunity to play a song from it called “Queen Of All Seas” as all the front guys partook in vocal duties to excellent effect with clean tones melding with growls equally creating a textured set as they aired a couple of older tunes, “Nattram” and “Midsommarblot” where the aggression and barbarity was amplified vastly. With the rain seemingly holding people away they played to a smaller audience than similar opening acts on the Valhalla stage but suffice to say they produced a textbook Viking metal display that we all enjoyed as that mental note was ringing again for the next act in the Gildehallen.
Once again I was going into Norwegian act Tempel sonically blind not knowing what to expect but like any festival there is always a band that is new to you and really hits a chord and this was mine. Playing high octane hardcore laced blackness the band was a fiery assault of flailing guitar work, blistering drum work and savage vocal exhortations on songs like “Vendetta” and “Fortress”, their opening doublet barrelled blasts. Musically they were similar to Kvelertak only more abrasive, with every song loaded with an infestation of riffs and hooks as the band mauled the audience assembled on “Forest Cemetery” and “Farewell”, which for some were a bit much and they vacated. With the vocalist drinking beer between songs, there was very little let up each track piercing us with needle sharp riffing and an explosion of energy as I made another mental note to get their shirt at the merch desk.
What the link to Nordic Mythology, however tenuous, was for UK death metallers Memoriam except for the concepts of war and death, was an enigma the band quashed with their thundering assault on the Valhalla stage, as steadily increasing audience numbers gathered due to the rain relenting substantially by now. Initially the sound was a little off, it didn’t sound balanced right with the bass lacking as they fired their song, “Shellshock”, at the audience. As we all know Memoriam was formed from former members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction and indeed the influences of both those acts impacts on Memoriam’s sound as they fired volleys via “Dronestrike” and “Defeated” onto the eager crowd. There was some chat about the band being from Birmingham, stealing a line from compatriots Napalm Death as an introduction, as Karl (vocals) talked about the birthplace of heavy metal before stabbing the audience with “Austerity Kills” and “As Bridges Burn” but if truth be told I have found both times I’ve seen Memoriam play not the most exciting, sure the death metal is excellently played and sure it is suitably dense and punishing but it lacked something for me as they plunged into “Requiem For Mankind” before which Karl talked about having a celebration of life through death metal to which he raised his drink up and we copied. With the next act beckoning on the Gildehallen, you know what that mental note was saying by now.
Again the Gildehallen was full of people sat on the floor as the decision to leave Memoriam early to catch Byrdi was the right one. My shooter was having to crouch down at the front to take photos and as the place stilled to an eerie stillness as a lone voice penetrated the murky umbra of the venue, followed by a mouth harp fluttering in the background. As the vocals intensified to a chant the vibrancy and energy of the venue was elevating as a ritualistic spirit was felt. Acoustic sections were prevalent as an opening acoustic intro followed into an elongated sequence that was transfixing as the whole audience was deeply courteous to the tranquillity of the music and mood. The duo had a false start on one song without any comment from the crowd as they rectified the situation professionally and smoothly. They introduced a new song which had pinpoint technical dexterity as their sound was embellished with subtle effects that added depth and charisma, mesmerising the whole gathering completely.
It was back to raging Viking metal on the Valhalla stage as Norwegian epic exponents Einherjer casually walked on stage holding drinks aloft. Now that the weather had improved everyone had come crawling from their shelters to imbibe the brutal finesse of the band as the vocalist said we bring you the sun and mauled the damp crowd with opener “The Spirit Of A Thousand Years”. They got an instant pit as well with some of the earlier suited up Vikings now inside it, head butting each other from what I could see. “Dreamstorm” was awesome, a catchy riff and speed insertion envious of any melodic death metal band as their momentum and drive was endless. As my shooter returned from his duties he promptly showed me a few beer vouchers he’d obtained saving us a few quid as the band stood in glorious heavy metal pose, aka Judas Priest, all in a line legs astride before murdering us with “Kill The Flame”, though quite what the woman was listening to in front of me waving her arms around was baffling. Some chat about heavy metal and that’s what it’s all about was clichéd but welcomed and appreciated by all as they thrust into “Mine Våpen Mine Ord” with its slower but denser opening phase just as the rain tormented us again. The decision whether to leave to try and see Attan was made with the queue already outside, so I stayed for them to pour the molten “Ironbound” onto the dampening masses with its dynamic vibrancy and potency as those Vikings were still head butting each other in pit.
With a pause now available to rest and partake in some relaxation there was some debate as to what Enslaved were going to play in their set given that they were due to have interpretative dancers on stage with them. I can see the attraction of trying something new but not when said attraction is a distraction to the sonic artistry that we all know Enslaved deliver. As I awaited their show the said dancers arrived onstage clad completely in glistening black suits that looked like they were coated in obsidian such was the sheen, and promptly laid on the stage floor. As expected Enslaved catapulted into their set and those dancers started their show writhing around provocatively, as the harsh and clean vocals were dominant in the mix whilst the guys pulverised us with their auditory affront. I must admit that those dancers really did distract the audience from the songs being played as each track had various choreography and even when the songs were blasting the dancing just seemed strange with them stood in a line at one doing head swirls and at times the cavorting looked like a bunch of drunks walking home. However the band played a mix of old and new material even airing “Return To Yggdrasil” that Ivar and Einar had played on the opening night. As their set progressed and I ran out of things to say and couldn’t take things seriously as said dancers stripped off, covered in glitter as I felt this was artistry for artistry’s sake and added nothing to their actual musical delivery.
With Enslaved finished and people obviously talking about their show my shooter pointed out a girl wearing the same hoodie as me, which was unexpected seeing as it was an Allegaeon one to which the girl couldn’t believe it and wanted a photo to document the event. With the evening pressing for the final headliner, the night was brisk but not cold, as an array of stage props started to be appear on stage.
The crowd had increased massively by now in anticipation of Heilung’s set. It was clear that everyone was here to see them and since I saw them in 2017 at the festival and was unimpressed they had a chance to change my opinion on that. The air of anticipation was huge as like the previous show there were multiple instruments to be used and as the opening ceremony to their set initiated, smoke was wafted about as the band arrived onstage whilst a bird call could be heard. With darkness blanketing audience the sight on stage was a sight to behold as some unamplified vocals were shouted and I guess the equating of their show to ceremonial sacrifice or celebration was patently obvious. The main female figure with her face half covered by a sort of veil, a sculpting of her head of which was available at the Midgard Vikingsenter, she looked surreal, unearthly, intriguing and striking. As the beat of drums reverberated across the site the crowd seemed to become entranced at the offerings by the band, indeed at some points they howled with the band in unison. There were no gaps in the set I could decipher, preferring to maintain a continuous beat as that tribal drumming arrived in waves of loudness and power as the Vikings appeared on stage.
Admittedly I was still a bit mystified as to why there is such reverence for the band but the sight of a few thousand people going mental meant I was in a minority of one, or maybe two as the other companion, not my shooter, was also not enamoured. The main band members held up various props from antlers to bones in token to old mythological eras, as the ritualised choreography was sublimely executed even though it looked like chaos on stage. The introduction of fire via inflamed sticks was used on a drum as somebody arrived onstage wearing antlers that were shooting fire out of the ends.
If a theatrical show is what you crave then Heliung have it all, from pyros, theatrical choreography including more cavorting dancers who apparently were semi naked linked into their unique musical display then Heilung are for you, plus I believe the band is playing the UK next year as part of the Jorvik celebrations, but don’t quote me on that, as I took my leave to stand at the back for a brief time before revisiting the merch area to buy a Tempel shirt after that mental note jolted me and a white festival shirt along with a festival shirt for my two year old grandson. My shooter seemed to buy everything in the shop as he loaded himself up with various bits and pieces. With the shuttle awaiting it was time to leave and close the door, but not lock it, on my second visit to Midgardsblot as I hope to return next year.
WORDS: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOS: ANDY POUNTNEY