After a suitably portentous instrumental opening, Benediction, returning NWoBHM survivors Cloven Hoof launch headlong into a prime bit of sub-Priest steel, Redeemer – and you’ll find yourself with a massive smile on your face almost straight away.

Y’see, the ‘Hoof have always been able to churn out a top draw metal choon or two – their storied self-titled debut was full o’ the bastards – but, for too long there’s always been a slightly stale, tired whiff about the band, leavened only by the wild-eyed, unquestionable devotion to the cause of heavy metal displayed by the band’s leading light, bassist Lee Andre Payne. That smile you’ve found on you face? Lee’s smiling it too now, from ear-to-ear, as you can see his band’s fortunes taking an abrupt upturn before your naked, steaming eyes, thanks to one man:

Harry ‘The Tyrant’ Conklin.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard that one of America’s most enduring metal throats had thrown his lot in with Cloven Hoof, but my word I’m glad he did, because on Heathen Cross he elevates the band back to contender status with just a flex of his ironclad tonsils, in the process helping the band to create the album they’ve threatened to release since the late eighties.

Even workaday material like Aleister Crowley tribute Do What Thou Wilt becomes an energising metal anthem thanks to our hero, who also delivers tracks like Last Man Standing with the sort of conviction usually reserved for lunatics and the criminally dangerous; It’s actually thrilling to listen to, and when The Tyrant goes for broke on killer triumvirate Curse of the Gypsy, Frost and Fire and Sabbat Stones you can’t help but leap out of your seat and get involved physically. This is great heavy metal – strangely reminiscent in places of Tony Martin-era Sabbath, which is high praise indeed in the circles I move in… And that’s without mentioning the stupendously magisterial album closer, The Summoning, a superb piece of heavied-up Heepesque pomp metal that simply has to be heard – mere words can’t convey just how good it is!

Of course, it’s not all Conklin, who, it is revealed, is just the icing on a surprisingly tasty cake. The whole band pull out all the stops on galloping anthem Darkest Before The Dawn, which takes classic period Maiden as it’s starting point before souping the template up and out into the stratosphere, courtesy of some irresistible dual lead work from Luke Hatton and Chris Coss, Payne’s rumbling, grumbling bass and some athletic drumming from Ash Baker. Underpinned by tasteful keyboard washes from Chris Dando, this song will go straight to first place on may a true metal playlist, I’m pretty sure…

In fact, it’s fair to say that Heathen Cross as a whole will find itself on a fair few end-of-year best of lists, such is the quality to be found within it’s grooves. If you’ve ever wondered what the word ‘renaissance’ might sound like in musical form, here’s your chance to find out. Stunning, must-hear stuff for all metalheads…

Heathen Cross releases on May 31st.