We know there are a lot of festivals out there, competing with each other to offer you the most impressive line-up or most original location. But what if I told you there is a hidden gem out there? A festival that held only its third edition this year, but succeeds in offering a festival experience that combines metal and folk music, authentic folklore, stunning nature and a rich Viking history. Add a small but very international crowd and a most welcoming atmosphere and you have the recipe for a weekend that will change your life. Allow me to take a trip with you to Borre, Norway, to Midgardsblot.
|Location & Philosophy||Things To Do||Metal Music||Folk Music|
While the metal bands played on the open air main stage the folk groups were programmed on the newly added Viking Stage or the intimacy of the darkened Gildehallen. What was most fascinating to me is the way almost all of these bands interacted with each other. They often played shorter sets of 20-30 minutes on several occasions throughout the festival weekend. Almost every time, members of other bands joined them on stage to add their voice or instrument to that specific line-up of the moment, bringing a unique performance that might never be repeated in the same way again. At night some of the artists joined the festival crowd around the campfire to jam and play music. This is once more a specific aspect that makes Midgardsblot so unique.
Kari Rueslåtten had the honour to perform the first musical show in the Gildehallen at this year’s edition. The hall was crowded so people had to shuffle real close to the monitors to sit in the front. Accompanied by only a guitar she brings intimate songs in Norwegian and English. With loops and effects the guitar broadens the music with a dreamy atmosphere. The great hall offers great acoustics. Unfortunately, this also means some of the chatting in the back of the hall drifts forward. The people in the front didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all as the singer who influenced bands such as The Gathering and Nightwish offered the perfect start of the festival.
Norse mythology knows Bragi as the god of poetry. It seems some artists draw inspiration from this deity as they try to express themselves with little more than an instrument and their voice. Sindri is one of those artists. Armed with just his acoustic guitar, his powerful voice gave us shivers at the Viking Stage. Every night he could be found sitting at the campfire interacting with the people. I think it’s because of that reason he decided to come a little closer during one of his other shows at the festival, where he just took the mic and his guitar and placed himself in the middle of the crowd. Seated on the cold floor instead of a chair on stage he performed his songs with the same vigor, weaving his songs together, chanting about bravery, equality and unity. I admit, it might sound a bit hippie-like, but you have to agree that these modern age Vikings with their furs and leather look a lot more intriguing then the flower power enthusiasts from the sixties. Because he was so engrossed in his performance Sindri almost forgot he planned to play a song together with Martin Seeberg of Virelai. A fun tune they wrote together the evening before at the campfire. There is always room for improvisation and spontaneity at Midgardsblot.
The Danish Virelai plays dancing melodies and ballads from both Scandinavia as well as the rest of Europe. This makes their shows cozy at one time and really playful the other. People flocked inside the tent of the Viking stage when they started playing. When they ask for interaction, they get it. Whether it is aiding singer Mia Guldhammer in making the right sounds or just clapping along with the rhythm of the drums, it seems Virelai does not want to be a band that just stand on the stage. They want to make music not only for the people, but also with the people. That’s why on a second occasion later in the festival their show was made even more lively by a spontaneous ring dance of the audience.
The local band Eldrim draws more on the unison of different voices. After two more traditional medieval songs the band wanted to present us with their own music. Hilde Midtgaard took the lead and sung about those who stayed behind at home while many others went out raiding or trading. Unlike what you might expect from the term ‘folk’ their own music is much more gloomy and darker than many others at the festival. While this introverted playing style could bore some listeners, I found it immensely intriguing music. Unfortunately, due to late soundchecks we didn’t get to hear the last song anymore as the violence of Gaahls Wyrd from the main stage outside was poured over the Gildehallen.
Based around the voices of Nash Rothanburg and Andreas Paulsen, Byrdi brings Scandinavian nature music. Performing as a quartet at Midgardsblot we are introduced to yet another alliance of traditional instruments of which I cannot tell you all the specific names, unfortunately… However, what I can tell you is what an enriching experience it is to hear all these new sounds together in constant changing formations of artists. Specifically for Byrdi, the low male bass vocals and ambient nature sounds add a certain mysticism to this performance. To make the performance even more unique Byrdi is joined by one of Norway’s most famous traditional folk dancers. Through the limited space available he graciously vaulted, landed and tumbled among artists and crowd.
If in Byrdi the male voice is dominant, in Songleikr it’s the female voice and the interaction between Ingrid Galadriel and Maria Franz that is put on the forefront. They play songs in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and even Faroese. While I don’t understand a word of it, the feelings and emotions speak through the music. The open and insightful background info in between songs teaches me that some songs are adaptations of nursery rhymes, while others deal with more adult themes of a broken heart. The band introduces them with a comical note that gets the crowd laughing every time. Or how would you react if you hear the next song is about a witch that tripped on a stick while walking in the forest and lost her virginity because of it?
The Swedish Forndom was one of the projects I looked forward to the most. Compared to the other groups playing at the festival the one man project around H.L.H. Swärd focuses less on the interaction with the crowd, but rather tries to create an immersive setting that everyone can experience in his own personal way. Unfortunately, a lot of things went wrong in this show. The performance took place late at night in the Gildehallen and the contrast of the excited crowd (especially in the back of the hall) and the serene setting in the front was felt immensely. In the beginning there seemed to be some technical difficulties for the artists as well and because of this it took a long time before the hall quieted down in order for the show to start. Suddenly, Swärd burst out in anger towards the crowd telling everyone present to “shut the fuck up”. He demanded to be taken seriously in order to be able to perform. While there are clearly several sides to this event, the performance never recovered from the negative atmosphere that lay over the Gildehallen. Especially when the outburst repeated itself halfway throughout the show and people left or started talking even louder out of protest to Swärd‘s harsh behavior. This show definitely left an impact as the next day security requested people who were talking during the shows to leave the Gildehallen and signs were posted to request for silence.
Since this was such a confusing experience for us as a crowd I feel obliged to also share the artist’s personal statement he released afterwards. This sheds new light on the issue and in my opinion proves that although Swärd did not handle the situation correctly in the moment, he definitely is not an ignorant or cold-hearted artist as some people believed after the show. Rather just a human being like all of us. I certainly still hope to experience Forndom again one day in a different atmosphere.
To those who were attending the Midgårdsblot Metalfestival and saw my performance there, I want to explain what led up…
Luckily, we had the phenomenon Folket Bortafor Nordavinden to shake off any negative feelings throughout the festival. The brain child of Benny Braaten brings not just a live show but rather an extended ritual in which he plays with the crowd. Telling them to shut up one moment, only to have them shout their hearts out the next. He teases and pleases with long narrations in between songs, but once the group starts pounding those drums and adds intense chanting, most comparable to the voice technique of yoiking, the crowd is mesmerized. This band of musicians delivers an old kind of music. If I would have to imagine old rituals led by druids or shamans, this would be it. Folket could be considered the house band of Midgardsblot as they performed maybe six times throughout the festival, every time with yet a slightly different line-up. At one night we got a tribute to Lemmy and a cover of Kiss’ God of Thunder, which seemed odd yet fitting for the festival. Braaten delved into the audience, only to be picked up and carried around on someone’s shoulders. Another day they stuck closer to the honoring of the old gods and after their playtime had already ended they obliged to the intense demands of the audience to give an encore. After contemplating if they should ignore the schedule of the main stage, they shouted a well meant “Fuck it! We do it for love!” and Braaten started slowly pounding the drums while quietly uttering ‘Freya’, the Norse goddess of love. The crowd quickly picked up the hint to join in and while storyteller Gustav and Songleikr singer Ingrid Galadriel vocally improvised around the whole thing, the intensity of the moment reached a climax. For over five minutes everyone present at the Gildehallen seemed to be shouting in unison. An ecstatic experience.
And now there is one band left for me to review. Heilung. What a challenge this is. Let me start by sharing how Heilung describes their project:
Heilung is sounds from the Northern European Iron Age and Viking period. We used everything from running water, human bones, reconstructed swords and shields up to ancient frame drums and bronze rings in the songs. The lyrics contain original texts from rune stones and preserved spear shafts, amulets and other artifacts. Furthermore poems, which either deal with historical events or are translations/ interpretations of the originals. Every attempt to link the music to modern political or religious points are pointless, since Heilung tries to connect the listener to the time before Christianity and its political offsprings raped and burned itself into the northern European mentality. Heilung means healing in German and describes the core of the sound. It is supposed to leave the listener eased and relaxed after a sometimes turbulent musical journey.
Remember, that we all are brothers
All people, beasts, trees and stone and wind
We all descend from the one great being
That was always there
Before people lived and named it
Before the first seed sprouted
Pictures by Gillian – check out the full photo report here.
Next year’s edition has already been announced! But before we could finish our review the early bird tickets were already gone! So make sure to get your ticket on time here and join us on the 16-18th of August in 2018!
You’re afraid Norway is too expensive and you think your budget won’t cut it? Apply as a volunteer! The festival is looking for helping hands every year and we saw volunteers from all over the world helping out with security, bar service, catering, camping maintenance, etc… It seems like a great way to get to know a lot of people straight away and because the festival is so small you have a big chance of still being able to see or hear many of your favorite artists.