Olde Throne – In the Land of Ghosts Review

A little over a year ago, New Zealander Harrison McKenzie dropped his debut full-length album as Olde Throne. It was a tight 39 minutes of harsh, cold atmospheric black metal delving into the horrors of An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, which took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1852 (better known, outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine). Uncompromising and bleak, An Gorta Mór was a strong debut from the then-one-man project. For Olde Throne’s sophomore effort, McKenzie is joined by ex-Tainted drummer Quentin Forster and, together, the two Kiwis traverse the Irish sea, alighting In the Land of Ghosts, the haunted shores and highlands of Scotland. Tackling an array of ghost stories and dark tales, has Olde Throne found fertile ground?

Although billed as atmospheric black metal, and undoubtedly drenched in atmosphere, do not expect Olde Throne to spend hours noodling around with whooshing wind noises (although these do feature in passing; “The Curse of Alloa Tower” and opening to “House of Dun”) and extended synth-driven passages. Much of In the Land of Ghosts, like its predecessor, is abrasive, frosty black metal bordering at times on a second-wave sound, with raw, furious blasts and vicious trem-picked riffs. “Skara Brae,” a well-preserved stone-built Neolithic settlement believed to have been overwhelmed by a great storm that buried the inhabitants and their village in sand, is the perfect example of this side to Olde Throne. Inhabiting similar territory to Afksy and the harsher, more caustic edge to Nostalghia’s sound, In the Land of Ghosts, captures the stark, desolate emptiness of the Highlands depicted on the cover well.

As the album progresses, however, Olde Throne begins to introduce more folk elements into its sound, flowing alongside the black metal and channeling Mystras very effectively in this respect. In the first half of album highlight “Isobel,” we hear fiddle and a harpsichord (possibly) dancing a merry jig around the tale of the infamous confessions of Isobel Gowdie, “The Queen of Scottish Witches”. Although there is no record of Gowdie being executed, this is the likeliest outcome and the frenzied black metal assault launched about halfway into the track seems to strongly suggest what Olde Throne thinks happened. The introduction of everyone’s favorite squalling skin sack, the bagpipes, on “Cliffs of Culzean” could easily have sounded cliched but is in fact handled with great skill, and adds an almost militaristic overtone to the mix. The mid-paced tones of “Duntulm” are more classically atmo black in style but have a brooding groove that works well, and this is present in the haunting, ethereal tones that pepper “Killicrankie” also. “Greyfriars Kirkyard”, which separates those two tracks, sets a blistering tone while keeping the pacing of In the Land of Ghosts fluid.

There’s a lot to like about In the Land of Ghosts, which tackles its themes well, adapting Olde Throne’s sound to the Scots’ tales it tells. For the most part, the album is well-written and paced, although, as with nearly every atmo black album it seems, there has to be a throwaway interlude. Here that interlude is “The Curse of Alloa Tower,” which, while broadly inoffensive, is wholly unnecessary and adds to what is already quite a long record at 48 minutes. For all the strong material on show on In the Land of Ghosts, with highlights “Isobel” and “Greyfriars Kirkyard” standing tall, Olde Throne does, unsurprisingly for the genre, rely a fair bit on repetition of riffs. For the most part, the band manages to avoid over-using anything but I can’t help but escape the feeling that a few of the longer tracks, like “House of Dun” and even “Isobel,” could have had a minute or so shaved off, tightening up the whole package as a result.

Otherwise, there is little to criticize here. The production has a great rough, brittle edge to the sound, with a harsh bite on the guitar tone, while McKenzie’s croaky, rasps have a crypt-like edge to them that works well. I am not sure what McKenzie’s connection is to the Gaelic tales he has focused on in his two albums to date but both are very well-written, compellingly executed pieces of nasty, caustic black metal, with healthy dollops of atmosphere delivered via the folk elements, rather than genre cliches. Tighter and more refined than An Gorta Mór, In the Land of Ghosts has me hungry for more from Olde Throne.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: ~190 kbps VBR mp3
Label: Naturmacht Productions
Websites: oldethrone.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/oldethrone
Releases Worldwide: March 31st, 2023

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