A little bit of something different for you. Ball Noir are a Dutch dark folk-metal band, though it’s fair to say that they’re rather more influenced by the golden periods of bands such as our very own My Dying Bride and Anathema than, say, Skyclad. First impressions were good – even though the CD has been self released, it’s been produced in an attractive folding card CD case, with some nice artwork and a lyric booklet, no less. It’s an impressive looking and feeling package for something the band have knocked up themselves. As we all know, however, packaging is one thing: the music within has to be worth the price of admission.

To be fair, the six piece are on the money here too. I found a whole lot to recommend them. At heart, this is very much a dark metal album, perhaps closest to the mid nineties version of My Dying Bride or Alternative 4 era Anathema, and so if your palette doesn’t like the more accessible end of the dark metal oeuvre, you’d be best off giving this a miss. For the rest of us, or people who love their Amorphis at round about the “Elegy” point in their career however, these are some fine songs. So, sure, there’s hints of folk here and there – a cursory glance through the instruments used on the CD include the alto hurdy-gurdy (as well as the non-alto hurdy-gurdy: which I guess is going to be an absolute treat for all you hurdy-gurdyists out there), the bass and b-flat clarinet as well as a harp. There’s not a hey-nonny-nonny to be heard, however, and there isn’t likely to be any kind of Morris dancing or faux Viking shenanigans going on with this. It’s got the odd folky melody or two knocking about – as with the instrumental “Shaking Ground”, but elsewhere there’s plenty of variety among the brooding tunes. “Never again”, with its desolate waltz; the sprawling epic of “The Other”.

Jeroen Gilhuys has a fine, clean voice, not unlike the vocals of original Tyr vocalist, Pol Arni Holm. The guitars a treat, with their delicate melodies weaving in and out of the full bloodied riffing, while the rhythm section does their thing in sturdy if slightly unspectacular fashion. Here and there, the more traditional instruments are introduced, with the occasional synthesiser flourish. The production gives both plenty of punch and polish as well as space for the music to breathe, and to say the band produced it themselves, it has a great sound. At this point in their career, they’ve already produced a really polished and interesting album. I’d love to hear them push a bit more in terms of their own sound in the future, as I think they could move from being solid to spectacular.

(8/10 Chris Davison)