On the weekend of August 23 – 24 2019, Swedish folk metallers Månegarm held their first edition of Månegarm Open Air in their home town of Norrtälje. The scene was set in Pythagoras Mechanical Workshop Museum (Swedish: Pythagoras industrimuseum) which showcases old machinery with the predominant festival area in the courtyard. It wasn’t a large space but they filled it with the stage, food vendors, sitting areas and hundreds of fans, among them Swedes, Japanese, North Americans, Brazilians and Australians. For a festival in its debut year, outside of a major city with only national bands, it seemed to have attracted quite a variety of people.
The size of the festival area was extremely compact, which while a benefit that you could still feel the full assault of the music regardless of whatever you happened to be doing, it was a pain in the ass if you were trying to have a meal with someone as you couldn’t hear them.
The fest started on Friday with two very intimate acoustic performances held inside the museum and tickets were limited to 150, I didn’t manage to make it for that, but I have it on good authority that the set were very good.
On Saturday, the all-Swedish lineup was a great smorgasbord of regional talents across my most preferred metal genres. Coming into the fest I was only familiar with four of the seven acts and for the most part enjoyed them all.
The first band to play was Mercury X. What started off as promising melodic death metal quickly deteriorated into some proggy death metal that lost me as quickly as it hooked me. Normally at this point I would have escaped to another area, but given the previously mentioned compactness of the grounds escape was impossible. They were followed by Stockholm’s Wormwood, a band I have seen before I was very much looking forward to. I found them to be as entertaining as they were the first time, and the melodic back metal was a welcome reprieve from the chaotic and clamorous set that preceded it.
Pure, delicious folk metal was next on stage with Motala’s Grimner. They were my favourite band on the bill, bouncy folk always puts me in a good mood. The guitarist doing the cleans has a phenomenal voice but it was the flutist who stole the show. The highly entertaining music captivated and rewarded those who had showed up before dinner time.
Managing expectations can be hard, and unfortunately, mine were too high for the next band, Ereb Altor from Gävle. I’ve listened to them for quite a while and I don’t know what happened during production on the albums I’ve heard, but the live gig was not what I expected. Most of it was enjoyable, except the main vocals. The power is there but they aren’t refined; this is the classic problem of having the potential of a great vocal range but without the lack of fine tuning on the pitch. The general sound of Ereb Altor is good, but the overall impression becomes unbalanced with the vocals and turning them up was not the solution.
Respite came thirty minutes later with the entry of Fejd from Lilla Edet/Trollhättan. As mentioned, I’m quite keen on the folk metal and adding physical folk instruments like nyckelharpa, hurdy-gurdy and mouth harp just makes it that much better instead of relying on synthesized instruments and backing tracks. The super fun and upbeat band combined with a considerable consumption of beer (of which Månegarm had their own special fest brew) saw a lot of people dancing; the Swedish frigidness was beginning to thaw.
As the sun began to set, the crowd had filled out quite nicely. There was still ample room to move around, lines weren’t too long and it was easy to find a place to sit. Enter Stockholm’s Thyrfing. With total command of the stage they unleashed a barrage of death/black metal: viking elements collided with pummeling death vocals; violent drumming met melodic riffs presenting an outstanding display of Swedish metal ingenuity. If any one could top that set, it could only be the headliners and organizers of the fest, Månegarm. This was my second time seeing them, and apparently the first time wasn’t even them at their best. This set was fucking great. The crowd was alight and a haphazard mosh pit even broke out. Even though I can’t sing along I thoroughly enjoyed the energy that shot through the crowd. They completely nailed their performance.
In conclusion, Månegarm Open Air was a complete blast and it was very nice to attend a small scale festival again. They used, by far, the least amount of production I have ever seen on a completed stage used in this capacity, and professionally speaking, I have to say I liked the minimalist approach. You don’t always need a wild lighting show to over compensate for the music. The last thing that struck me was how they pulled the crew on stage for applause. That’s amazing. Not to say other bands and promoters don’t appreciate the crew but they are usually hidden away. So that’s a big deal to me. If Månegarm Open Air becomes an annual event, I would highly recommend checking it out.
Disclaimer: At times, the review was slightly influenced by Alex’s commentary.
Written for Blessed Altar Zine