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Midgardsblot 2017 at Midgard Historisk Senter, Borre - live review

Live Review

Venue: Midgard Historisk Senter, Borre

Sólstafir, Gaahls Wyrd and Heilung fuse history and revelation

THURSDAY

Crickets. It’s not your typical festival sound, but the soft chirping sound coming from the woods bordering Midgardsblot’s opening ceremony only deepens the otherworldliness of this unique festival. Officiated next to a reconstructed Gildehallen (Great Hall) by the two core members of folk/tribal free-for-all, Folket Bortafor Nordavinden – Benny a tall, rangy beacon of benevolence and Gustave, a wiry, wild-haired storyteller who looks like he’s tumbled, Catweazle-like, from another age – the blot is an honouring of the Norse gods, offering sacrifices in return for good fortune, and more immediately, good weather (or at least, with wry pragmatism, “Whatever the gods deem appropriate!”). Encircled by period-clad torch bearers, drum-beaters and crowds of mostly attentive festival goers – a large number of whom have also come in their Thor’s Day best – chants are offered to Freya and Odin before t-shirts, pendants and other personal trinkets are offered to a fire. The guests are also invited to anoint a statue of the gods with actual blood, make pronouncements to the spirits of their own choosing, and then smear that blood on their faces. Just outside is the quiet industry of a Viking village, beyond that the burial mounds of ancient kings, overlooking the Oslofjord. Everyone who takes up the offer invests the history around them with personal meaning.

This year, the village itself has its own stage hosting various beguiling auld-school folk bands, notably Eldrim, Byrdi, Virelai and Songleikr, but Former 3rd And The Mortal singer KARI RUESLÅTTEN [5] proves a strange choice for the Gildehallen’s first musical offering. Despite the tender clarity of her voice, her far more modern take on folk feels out of place in this setting, and bland, too. That’s not something you can say about FOLKET BORTAFOR NORDAVINDEN [8], whose anarchic nature gives way to ribald celebration, thumping away on drums as a guest female vocalist lets loose a breathtaking, spirits-rousing wail and Benny gives a powerful, historically aware speech about cultural unity, adding another rallying cry as they all but blow the rafters off.

FRIDAY

With archery and axe-throwing lessons, various Viking tests of strength, site tours and historical seminars going on nearby, NAN MADOL [7] get the main stage going in gradual but expansive fashion, combining Southern-style doomy riffs with a Tool-esquemetronomic pulse, as their drummer/vocalist helps put the band’s collective back into their progression. Oslo’s SUPERLYNX [7] keep the hypnotic vibe going, their doom/psych mantras driven by vocals that sound like Courtney Love in a trance state.

Upping the mood, TENGGER CAVALRY [8] frontman Nature Ganganbaigal’s root-you-to the-spot throat singing is just one part of a constantly groovy, melodic metal arsenal, a homemade two-string Tobshuur guitar beating out an infectious twang as they’re joined by a shamanic Viking drummer in full, pelt-clad regalia for good measure. Proof that celebrating Viking heritage is synonymous with cultural exchange, WINTERFYLLETH’s [8] evocative Englishness fits perfectly in this setting with anthems so rousing that, for them, black metal seems more of a launch pad. Their signature ‘Woah-oh’s resonate across the field and down a mass of raised fists.

When it does come to black metal, though, GAAHLS WYRD [9] are as definitive and as transcendent as you can get, their level of consciousness-altering intensity akin to compressing your brain matter into diamond form. Joined briefly by Kati Ran on hurdy gurdy, and Darkend’s Animæ on guest vocals Gaahl’s otherworldly presence has a magnetism that draws something primal out of you, not least when Steg hits an electrifying motherlode and stays there, reverberating until you’re spiritually ravished and then some. UNLEASHED [8] are on majestic form this evening, feeding their love of Norse mythology into thick, coursing waves of d-beat-charged death metal that sends the field into raptures.

SÓLSTAFIR [9] are worthy headliners and the anticipation building amongst a sea of metalheads only makes their continued absence from UK outdoor metal festivals an incomprehensible anomaly that needs to be remedied before it starts getting embarrassing. Tonight, under a setting sun, they’re mesmerising, transporting, those lone, searchlight riffs cast out like a psychic liferaft. Sólstafir look like rock stars, but this is a communal experience, the likes of Ótta and Necrologue, following a moving speech about mental health and reaching out, tapping into a binding continuity that’s the very spirit of this festival.

SATURDAY

To some extent, Saturday openers SAHG [7] are also a transformative experience, hauling up classic 70s riffs and giving them a transfusion that banishes any retro trappings. Combining symphonic, operatic and gothic metal into one turgid and utterly unconvincing morass, SYNKVERVET [3] are good only for bar takings. Such is the elemental and cosmic force of ORANSSI PAZUZU’s [8] mantric black metal overload, that they not only whip up a sudden gale and a plague of probably startled insects, one of their guitars gives up under the onslaught, leaving the rest of the members to jam their last two songs, journeying to the looser end of krautrock and beyond. Switching Apollyon to drums, AURA NOIR [7] love Motörhead, Celtic Frost and riding roughshod over your senses. They offer a clenched fist in the face of all higher functions and we’re all the better, and far more drunk for it. As epic as MOONSORROW’s [6] folk-infused metal might be, their showmanship is an unnecessary, over-flamboyant gloss, and as it happens, utterly redundant in the face of what’s to come.

If Guillermo Del Toro were to come up with a medieval pagan folk band, it probably wouldn’t look, or sound, as mindboggling as HEILUNG [9]. On a stage bedecked like an elaborate, primitive initiation chamber and each member looking like an end-of-level spirit guide, the visual overload – complete with black paint-smeared, spear- and shield-wielding warriors – is matched by the ritualistic throb hammering a nail though your consciousness and down into some ancestral residue. By the end, the field has turned into a rave of the ancients, everyone lost in an hallucinatory journey past time, space and sanity.

Let it be said that Faroese headliners TYR [6] go down a storm, their epic yet efficient Viking metal offering a strident and romanticised call to arms. There is a simplistic quality to their songs, though, that takes a fast route around any genuinely emotional experience, but when a full field is pumping fists in the air, there’s an energy afoot that charges these history-steeped fields anew.

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