Concert Reviews: MIDGARDSBLOT 2023 (Borre, Norway)

MIDGARDSBLOT 2023 (Horten, Norway)

August 16-19, 2023

by Jorge Patacas


When it comes to combining metal music, viking culture, spirituality, historical surroundings and beautiful nature, there’s no other festival like Midgardsblot. It’s a very special and unique concept and the energy you feel there is somewhat magical and evokes the past. There’s a Viking camp, a Viking market, Viking battles, talks on interesting topics at the Midgard Vikingsenter located next to the festival area, a tattoo convention, a Viking ship trip and people wearing traditional tunics and dresses of medieval times everywhere. Also the bonfire by the sea with lots of percussion and ritualistic dancing throughout the night is something you have to see for yourself. All this in a very family-like environment where you meet people, create bonds and can even make friends for life. That’s why every year fans from all over the world come to the sacred grounds of the Borre National Park to be part of a truly unforgettable experience. This time about 3000 people of all ages were present, including parents with small children and a 92-year-old lady!

There were some changes once again this year in regards to the stages, with Valhalla being the main one and Kaupangr the secondary one, in addition to the traditional Gildehallen, which was built in 2013 to recreate a hall from the Viking Age. They also added a new small stage under the name Brage Corner where Nordic folk acts like Friggs Døttre and Wolvenwind would perform for those who were having a drink in the seats located right in front of the stage.
Due to personal reasons we couldn’t be present on the first day, so unfortunately this time we missed the usual opening ceremony with Folket Bortafor Nordavinden, as well as performances by Sylvaine, Finntroll and Kampfar, although we only heard good comments from several “bloters” (Midgardsblot attendees) who were there.

When we arrived on the second day, Sowulo was about to hit the main stage to perform for the first time in Norway. This Dutch pagan folk outfit with lyrics in Anglo-Saxon language is fronted by Faber Horbach, who has also performed in Heilung. They have released four albums so far, “Wurdiz” being the latest one, which came out last year. They took the audience on a deep spiritual journey captivating with rhythms and melodies created with medieval and contemporary instruments. On the other hand, Nordjevel, one of the most active bands in the Norwegian metal scene these days, put on a devastating show on the Kaupangr stage. Blistering riffs, strong attitude, corpse paint, spikes, lots (lots!) of pyros and all the elements a good black metal show requires were there. Even Secthdamon (Emperor, Myrkskog, Odium) appeared on stage as a guest vocalist and a moshpit opened up. A few minutes later, the band left the stage for the first time and Norwegian flags were thrown out to the audience, so it was time for the last song of the set, “Norges Sorte Himmel”, where vocalist Doedsadmiral had the Norwegian flag draped across his shoulders. The crowd was clearly satisfied at the end of this relentless performance.
Earlier that same day, a sculpture of Heimdall (guardian of Bifrost in Norse mythology) made by Stian Antonsen was unveiled in the area near the festival entrance in the presence of Enslaved, who have just released an album called “Heimdal” after this character, so it made perfect sense to have them headlining this time around, four years after their last performance at Midgardsblot on this very stage.

They opened with the title track from their 2004 album “Isa” and the crowd immediately started singing along the chorus. Grutle Kjellson (vocals/bass) then addressed the audience for the first time speaking in English as many other Norwegian bands did this time, due to the fact that there were many foreigners. The Norse-inspired black metal continued with “Jettegryta” and “Homebound”, two tracks from “Utgard” (2020) that the crowd didn’t seem to recognize for some reason, and then it was time to introduce new material from their latest release, the aforementioned “Heimdal”. We got to hear four songs from the album during the show: “Kingdom”, “Forest Dweller” (with a great guitar solo by Arve Isdal), “Congelia” and the title track where the band was joined by Neurosis vocalist Steve Von Till. Older material was represented with “The Dead Stare” where Kjellson’s clean voice stood out, and another from the same album “Below the Lights” (1997) in the form of the classic “Havenless” which received the biggest ovation from the crowd who joined the band throwing their arms in the air. To close their show, they took us straight back to the start of their career with “Allfoðr Oðinn” from their first demo “Yggdrasil” released in 1992. This was easily one of the festival highlights this year.
After recharging our batteries, the third day for us began with Gangar, a name totally unknown to many in the audience. This is a Norwegian five-piece that released their debut EP “Tre Danser” last year. They impressed with a quite original mix of metal, rock, jazz and folk music including saxophone and fiddle, which kept people in high spirits dancing and having fun. Some of their songs were instrumental while others had lyrics sung by fiddler Mattias Thedens and they even played a metal version of a popular Norwegian children’s song, “Har du vondt i magen”. The guys announced that their first full-length album is going to be released soon, so make sure to check it out.
One of the biggest surprises at this year’s Midgardsblot was undoubtedly Katarina Barruk, a 28-year-old Swedish Sámi singer inspired by traditional yoik music, indie pop and jazz who sings in Ume Sámi, an endangered language. Accompanied by two Norwegian musicians, Arnljot Lindsjørn Nordvik on guitar and Christo Stangness on double bass, she delivered an impressive performance at Gildehallen, which is without a doubt the stage that suits her best due to its intimate nature. Barruk has a unique voice and the way she conveys her message about preserving her culture and language is simply fascinating.

Another highlight of this year’s edition of Midgardsblot was Skáld who performed on the main stage in front of a huge crowd that seemed completely immersed and mesmerized by their rhythms and melodies. This Nordic folk band from France has received rave reviews from critics and fans alike since they started in 2018 and here the reviews were confirmed to be correct. The atmosphere was unique and their shamanic percussion, Nordic instruments and captivating vocals transported us to the ancient world. Don’t forget to check out their new studio album “Huldufólk” if you’re into this kind of music.
The Norwegian viking metal ensemble Einherjer is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, so they got to perform twice during the festival. The first show was on the main stage where they performed some of the best songs from their vast catalogue, including “The Blood and the Iron”, “Mine Våpen, Mine Ord” and “Av Oss, For Oss” as well as some rare material like the title track from their very first demo “Aurora Borealis” from 1994. The crowd response was fantastic with some moshpit and even a boat rowing pit. Epic performance!

Closing out the Kaupangr stage was BlackBraid, a one-man band from the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York that was formed by multi-instrumentalist Sgah’gahsowáh last year and has already released two albums, “Blackbraid I” (2022) and “Blackbraid II” (2023). There were quite a lot of people excited to see him and his live band despite the short time the project has been active on the scene, which is not so common to see these days. They unleashed a ferocious black metal show with lyrics about the genocide of indigenous people, nature and paganism and even used a Native American flute which brings originality to the genre.
The headliners of the third day were none other than Týr, the most well-known band from the Faroe Islands with their folk metal full of catchy melodies and epic choruses. “By the Sword in My Hand”, “Hail to the Hammer” and the final song “Hold the Hammer High” were the highlights of a show where the crowd sang along to the lyrics about Norse mythology and paganism.

Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and rainy on the last day, but the show had to go on and there were many great bands and artists to see. Einherjer opened the day with a second exclusive and more intimate show as part of their 30th anniversary. This took place at Gildehallen with live painting by their visual collaborator, the talented Romanian artist Costin Chioreanu, while they performed some songs they rarely play live. The painting process was presented as a projected video backdrop during the show and the painting was sold after the performance was over. This was a really nice concept, it’s not often that you see the visual artist doing his work where the band is playing.
The Danish atmospheric black metal outfit Orm (it means “serpent”) was next on the Kaupangr stage. Founded in 2015 by former members of By the Patient, they’re now promoting their third studio album “Intet Altet” which came out last year. Epic, melodic and intense are words that can describe what they’re about.
Something completely different awaited us on the main stage with the presence of the Swedish folk rock band Garmarna. An enthusiastic crowd sang and danced to the tunes, including their cover of the traditional Swedish ballad “Herr Mannelig” which sounds great with the extraordinary voice of Emma Härdelin.

For those who don’t know, Mari Boine is a legendary Norwegian Sámi singer known for modernizing traditional yoik music by combining it with elements of jazz, rock and folk music. She’s widely recognized for her commitment to Sámi culture and the rebellion against oppression that has largely characterized her art, so there was a huge crowd waiting for this performance. Her melancholic songs about vulnerability, injustice and struggle, but also love, pride and dignity, struck a chord with the audience, who were moved to tears in many parts of the show.
Variety is something that you certainly find at a festival like Midgardsblot and that’s how, right after Mari Boine left the main stage, the Swedish melodic black metal masters Naglfar kicked off their show at Kaupangr. Raindrops began to fall as they played, but nothing stopped the crowd who couldn’t resist opening up a moshpit on songs like “The Darkest Road” and “A Swarm of Plagues”. The set came to an end with the title track from “Harvest”, the album they released back in 2007.

The Norwegian act Tsjuder shook the Valhalla stage with an uncompromising black metal assault in which they spanned their discography performing classics and tracks from their latest release, “Helvegr” (2023). Some fan favorites like “Helvete” and “Kill for Satan” were part of the set as well as a cover of Bathory (“Sacrifice”), one of the band’s main influences. In fact, they released a Bathory tribute EP in June. Tsjuder is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year (believe it or not!) and they’re still delivering as usual. Great performance!
The art of the renowned French visual artist David Thiérrée was displayed on the Kaupangr stage as the ever mysterious and intriguing figure of Mortiis emerged to take us on a journey through his dark dungeon synth music or what he calls the Era 1 of his career. One can definitely imagine the dungeon of some medieval castle when listening to the minimalist yet fantastic soundscapes he creates with the synthetizers. Unlike the show from 2019 at local pub Revolver in Oslo, where he was alone on stage for the entire concert, this time he was joined by a percussionist for the second half of the show, adding intensity to the overall atmosphere.

Some more rain started to fall just as legendary British band My Dying Bride was about to start their set as if the weather has adjusted to their melancholic sound and incredibly emotional melodies and lyrics. They opened with an old school gem, “Your River” from their second album “Turn Loose the Swans” (1993) which showcases their signature doom/death sound in all its glory, followed by “Your Broken Shore”, single from their latest release “The Ghost of Orion” (2020). The classic “The Cry of Mankind” was well received by the audience and the sound coming from the stage was simply excellent. Sadly, their hour-long set came to an end very quickly with “Turn Loose the Swans”, but the atmosphere there was very special. This is a band that connects with fans in a unique way, giving their 100% on stage and clearly getting emotionally engulfed by the music they’re playing. Fantastic way to end a four-day festival where once again the past met the present on the hallowed grounds of Borre. Well done Midgardsblot!

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