Metal and Viking culture combine for Norway's Midgardsblot festival

Taking its cue from last year’s Eidsivablot festival in Eidsvoll, Norway - which hosted the live premier of Wardruna and Enslaved’s epic Skuggjá collaboration, Midgardsblot is a larger, longer, and even more ambitious festival exploring the links between extreme metal and Viking culture.

Located in the Borre park on the south coast of Norway, and a former Viking settlement that’s still home to a great hall and several burial mounds, Midgardsblot is a three-day open-air festival running from August 20-22 that brings together Viking history, site tours, lectures, live sets from Ihsahn, 1349, Myrkur, Solefald, Einhjerer, Kampfar, Glitterind, Thyrfing and many more, plus documentaries, all manner of family activities and a beer and mead festival.

Midgardsblot will also include three very special sets in the Great Hall itself, featuring Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson, Mayhem’s Attila Csihar, here performing with Void Ov Voices, and Wardruna founder Einar Selvik, a man steeped in Viking history, not least in his musical contribution to the much loved TV series, Vikings. How does the historical significance of Borre resonate with him personally?

“Borre is an absolutely stunning place and the whole Vestfold region should be highly significant for anyone who is into Norse history, me included,” he explains. “The area is full of historical sights and is also the the area where most of what you can see in the Viking-ship museum in Oslo originate from. Last summer I had the great privilege to perform a song on the site´s biggest burialmound in front of over 700 Viking re-enactors honouring the past, so the Borre site itself will always carry special meaning to me.”

The festival also carries a lot of significance for 1349’s Ravn, and not just in terms of ancient history either.

“Well, first foremost, the Midgardsblot show is now of extra importance for 1349,” says the frontman, “as heavy winds caused us to cancel a show this month, which is approximately just about half an hour away or so from where Midgardsblot will take place. But in a historic aspect, the place holds a lot of heritage and history that spans from national to international value, culturally speaking. Here we find the famous graves of ancient kings, as well as the home of one of the biggest painters in art throughout all times: Edward Munch, painter of the world-famous Scream. I do also have personal memories from childhood from this area consisting of beautiful framework, courtesy of Mother Nature. This is all in addition to the fact, that we’re not playing that many shows on our home turf this year, so I can safely say that this will be a very special evening for us.”

Although Ishahn’s work has been very connected to nature, both with Emperor and as a solo artist, he hasn’t tended to reference Viking culture directly. Nevertheless, as he explains, his personal connection to Midgardsblot is more than apparent.

“I guess I’ve always been a bit abstract in my lyrics,” he says, “and found it easier to use the more universal imagery of nature rather than linking it to particular epochs or cultures. Nevertheless, I am naturally influenced by the surroundings and cultural peculiarities of growing up in Telemark, Norway, and I am very exited to be performing in a festival so close to home. Most importantly, though, festivals like Midgardsblot that are linked to a special place and unique surroundings, and have the advantage of a set atmosphere that I believe will make the experience for both bands and audience very different to what you’d experience in more traditional field and tent festivals.”

After last year’s Eidsivablot, Midgardsblot looks like a massive undertaking, but as festival organiser Runa Strindin makes clear, this has been a collaborative effort that will make the festival one of its kind.

“We are so lucky that we got the best people in the business with us,” she enthuses. “Since they’re in high demand so to speak and involved in lots of different projects the main challenge has been to organise stuff in between very busy schedules. And since it’s the first edition we need to plan everything from scratch so getting things sorted in time has been quite a race.”

Among the many special events, which also include Viking games, a talk on ancient Nordic Music and a guitar clinic with Ihsahn himself, Midgardsblot is also running a preview of the black metal Black Hearts documentary featuring Iranian musician Sina who has collaborates with numerous Norwegian artists for his From The Vastland venture and, somewhat controversially Naer Mataron frontman Kaidas, infamously a member of Greece’s far-right nationalist party Golden Dawn. Is Runa worried that Kaiadas’s affiliation with Golden Dawn will give an overly nationalist perspective on a cultural event such as this?

“One of our main goals with this festival,” she replies, “is to take our history and Norse culture back and free it from all political agendas. The Blackhearts documentary gives us the perfect opportunity to kill the myths of Norwegian extreme metal being political and show how misunderstood the genre has been sometimes, like the example of Golden Dawn. We’re arranging a panel debate about these topics just after the preview, where some of Norway’s leading extreme metal artists will attend to explain their view on the matter. We hope this will help people understand that Midgardsblot is a cultural festival with no political associations whatsoever and that Viking history is not to be interpreted as an expression for any political agenda.”

With such a rich tapestry of experiences on offer, Midgardsblot looks set to be an unmissable journey of discovery, not least for Runa herself.

“In Norway, metal and Viking culture goes hand in hand, but the link between those two is stronger than I thought. I discovered a whole new scene of Norwegian Vikings that uses all their spare time to live and study the Viking history, lifestyle and crafts, with their main goal being to keep our Viking heritage alive. I’ve learned so much about our Viking culture I never learned in school or could read in books. And so many of the Vikings are metalheads, so I think Norwegian metal has played a part in getting people interested in Viking history.

“Besides the metal fans in the scene,” she concludes, “the rest of the Vikings also want to support us and help to see Midgardsblot happening, which is a great honour for us. And it’s a very important contribution so that the people coming to the festival get to experience the genuine Viking culture.”

Tickets for Midgardsblot are £117.83 for a three-day pass, £38.47 for the Thursday and £54.17 for the Friday and Saturday each. Family passes for two adults and children under 12 years old are available at the site itself.

For more details, visit the official Midgardsblot site here.

And visit the Midgardsblot Facebook page here.

Jonathan Selzer

Having freelanced regularly for the Melody Maker and Kerrang!, and edited the extreme metal monthly, Terrorizer, for seven years, Jonathan is now the overseer of all the album and live reviews in Metal Hammer. Bemoans his obsolete superpower of being invisible to Routemaster bus conductors, finds men without sideburns slightly circumspect, and thinks songs that aren’t about Satan, swords or witches are a bit silly.