"Welcome home" declare the entrance banners to Midgardsblot Metal Festival, and they couldn't be more apt.
Whether you want to connect with your ancestors on a spiritual level or simply listen to a fucking epic line-up of extreme and underground metal and folk – there couldn't be a friendlier and more unique festival.
Situated in Borre, about an hour south from Oslo, Norway, the festival takes place on what was a Viking settlement and where Midgard vikingsenter museum currently resides amongst the burial mounds.
Where else, other than in Norway, would you find such a museum playing host to an extreme metal festival? It really is a match made in... hel.
1. It's a deeply spiritual experience
As soon as the "gates to Valhalla" (a.k.a. main festival arena) open festival-goers are encouraged to immerse themselves in Viking culture and participate in an opening ceremony – a ritual whereby participants dip their fingers (or a branch) into animal blood and pray to their gods (it is encouraged to call upon whatever gods you believe in, they needn't be Norse) while tribal drumming, singing and dancing create an authentic and spiritual experience.
The drumming is said to mimic a beating heart, therefore scientifically evoking feelings of excitement and joy.
It might not be suitable for vegetarians, but whether or not you are spiritual the opening ceremony offers a unique and meaningful start to the festivities, allowing you to feel initiated into Midgardsblot community and the world in which you will be living for the next few days.
The subsequent closing ceremony on the festival's final night takes you on a journey to the burial mounds, situated within the museum park, through the eerie woods adorned with sigils and finally to the blazing campfire at the beach – situated right next to the festival's campsite.
...And what a site to behold! A giant campfire right on the coast full of dancing, drinking, laughing, socialising and music. Plus, if you are particularly brave, why not take a dip in the fjord?
Aside from these rituals, there are opportunities for daily meditation on the gravemounds and metal yoga to help you take your own spirituality and worship of metal to a whole new level.
2. That Line-Up!
This year's 5th anniversary line-up was insane...
After the opening ceremony, Gaahl's Wyrd began the festival with their eerie atmospheric metal. Following Gaahl are the legendary Tormentor and then an exclusive set from headliners Enslaved's Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna's Einar Selvik of their two albums Hugsjá and Skuggsjá – absolutely magical, and that's just day one!
Day two is headed up by no other than death metal legends Deicide and the museum's reconstructed Viking great hall, Gildehallen, sets the perfect scene for bands to play amidst Viking armoury, reconstructed carvings and animal furs.
Chinese black metallers Zuriaake entraced the Gildehallen (they were set for the mainstage initially), local sludgy stoners Jointhugger shook the building with their heavy vibes and Icelandic underground legends Nathraal brought their gory death metal to the structure with the help of pro sign language interpreter Hege Bakken.
The incredible Heilung bewitched the entire festival on its final night with their ceremonial, tribal folk – sending the audience into an emotional trance with their unique ritual constructed exclusively for the festival – and that wasn't until after Memoriam, Einherjer and Enslaved had riled up the crowd.
However, such a stellar line-up is common for Midgardsblot. Last year featured Dimmu Borgir, Watain and Rotting Christ while 2017's line-up included Tyr, Solstafir, Aura Noir (takes deep breath), Moonsorrow, Winterfylleth, Heilung and Tengger Cavalry.
2016's Midgardsblot offered a similar line-up to this year with Wardruna, Ivan and Einar's Skuggsjá, Trollfest and Enslaved, while the first year back in 2015 included sets from Isahn, 1349, Kampfar and Myrkur.
3. Immerse yourself in Viking culture!
Having the museum right on your doorstep has a whole long list of perks (decent toilets, running water, a café...) but one of the greatest must be the ability to really play out your ancestral fantasies and give Viking sports a go.
The Viking games area is open 11am until 4pm everyday and gives festival goers a chance to have a go at archery, axe throwing and duell of balance (a sort of Viking martial art).
There is also a tournament within the Viking games area, where you can try your skills in strength games, rope games, agility games, throwing games, skin/leather games and wrestling.
Plus, Folkvangr Viking Village is full of Viking re-enactors who live like it's 669... check out their Viking era tents and they will give you a taster of Viking daily life and sell you some authentic Viking handmade souvenirs, clothing or jewellery.
There's also a bar and merchant space, dubbed Kaupangr, where further goodies can be bought, plus you can have your hair braided and face painted like a Viking warrior, ready to take a seat (and photo op) on Odin's Throne – right by the main stage.
Plus, head over to the bar in the evening and you can also enjoy some traditional Viking saga storytelling!
4. Learn something new
As part of the festival, there are seminars held everyday entitled "Mimir Talks". These talks marry the two worlds of metal and history and aim to teach festival-goers more about both aspects and enrich them with knowledge and wonder.
This year's Mimir Talks included topics like Ásatrú, Reinventing Old Norse Religion, The Grotesque and the Disturbed - the Aesthetics of Metal Album Covers, Truth in history, and seeing the big picture through the small places: how “Skuggsjá” and “Hugsjá” came into being (with Ivar and Einar of course) and Dayal Patterson's Evolution Of The Cult. There was also a very special panel, moderated by our very own Jonathan Selzer on metal's past, present and future.
Being situated within the Midgard museum and park means there are plenty of things to see when you aren't within the festival arena.
Take a guided tour of the Viking gravemounds, built around 600-900 CE and discover who and why the site is important. You can also check out the museum's exhibitions, including one entitled Entombed (perfect for any morbidly fascinated metal fan) where you can view weapons, jewellery and other artefacts from the Viking burial site at Gulli, right outside Tønsberg.
5. The fun never stops
As well as the incredible line-up and daytime activities, there are metal DJ's, club nights in the Gildehallen and that eternally blazing campsite fire to keep you occupied well into the early hours.
This year, on day one you could stay late and have the opportunity to dance until dawn to Heilung's specially curated DJ set – a unique and highly danceable mix of dark, tribal, electronic, edgy and down-right freaky music.
Friday's "hall" was a viking party to get you into the mood for battle, and saturday saw DJ Britney Houston playing allsorts of delishly dark delights from EBM and electro to darkwave, industrial and metal classics.
... And that's not all! The main bar featured DJ's from Oslo's finest and most legendary metal clubs, pubs and radio. Thursday's host is DJ Suzifer of Radio Rock and Elm Street Metal club, Friday and Saturday's bar playlist was curated and executed by DJ Draven from Rock In and AyeAye Club's DJ Ugh! while Saturday also saw DJ Kapun of the capital's Kniven bar (where Darthrone's Fenriz used to DJ) spinning the decks.
6. Incredible food and drinks
The food and drinks are absolutely top notch, especially for such a small and intimate festival.
First and foremost, it's important to note the Norwegain Cooks' Federation (NKL) pop-up, which serves restaurant quality food until 2am every evening.
Their menu is both locally developed and mostly sourced from within Vestfold county and has its roots in the traditional Norwegian kitchen with era appropriate expression! We highly recommend their pork!
Plus, there's a hog roast, pizza to carb-up on and even Thai food and popcorn!
Alongside the impressive eats, the drinks are pretty damn great too. If you are over 20 there's an array of spirits available at the Runa Bar, while all other bars serve a large selection of beers and ales as well as two exceptionally good meads – one of which, named Berzerker, is blood red in colour (it's not blood though, don't freak, it's merely beetroot!).
If you fancy further indulging in the food and drink there are beer and mead tastings available for 200NOK (approx £20) and you can try out a few more off-the-menu tipples.
This year there was also a food tasting seminar, MATR, A journey through New Nordic Historic food tasting. Yum!
7. The magical people make it
The humans truly make this event special. Attracting a crowd from all over the world, the festival's dedicated followers are some of the friendliest and most interesting people you will meet.
Participation is crucial to the success of the event and to the joy it can bring festival goers. Taking part in Viking battles, music jams, ceremonial ritual and food and drinks tastings enrich your experience – this isn't just about getting drunk in a field and missing all the bands!
The size means that you never feel overwhelmed or lost and can easily swagger between stages and bar, without pushing through rowdy, drunken crowds.
It's full of like-minded metalheads who not only worship the genre, but have a deep appreciation for the past, their roots, their ancestors and their own humanity, resulting in a friendly, loving atmosphere where everyone is accepted regardless of faith, race or nationality. if you make friends here, and you will, they will be friends for life.
Plus, it's super family friendly. The activities, such as the Viking games and exhibits are great for keeping little ones occupied, the whole atmosphere of the event and its dedicated followers means its perhaps the most family friendly festival we've ever witnessed – and it's got to be the most kid accommodating extreme metal event in the world, ever.