Except they’ve gotten rid of the metal Ostrich that adorned the covers of their first two albums! I’m all for bands maturing but can I humbly suggest this might be going too far? No? Okay then, on with the music.

Mastery is indeed Lancer’s third album, and I have to say it is undoubtedly their best to date. The format is the same – the band are at their best when rattling out Keeper-era speed metal, less impressive when they take their foot of the pedal and try to sound like latter-day Maiden – but everything is just somehow… more. The greatest recipient of this seemingly invisible improvement is vocalist Isak Stenvall, who really arrives as a top-drawer Euro vocalist on this release; Less a supplicant of Michael Kiske now, more a peer, his confident, powerful delivery on every track is a revelation and a delight in equal parts. Listen to him on the album’s standout tracks Iscariot, Follow Azrael and especially Widowmaker and tell me I’m wrong, A star might not have been born on Mastery, but he’s definitely come of age.

Widowmaker is a startlingly good piece of traditional heavy metal that really marks how far Lancer have come in the last couple of years. Had it appeared on the last album it might have been labelled slightly derivative; Now, with the band’s increased confidence coursing through the song, it sounds like the work of a band approaching the top of their game, and taking no prisoners. And that sounds good.

Further evidence of this upstride in status comes from the two seven minute-plus epics that have found their way onto the album; All bands like Lancer do slow-burning epics, usually striving for the high ground somewhere between old Queensrÿche and Dio. Most of them sound perfunctory, or worse, forced, as if the band know they have to do one but can’t really be arsed to get it right. Not so Lancer, who deliver the goods in frankly stunning style with Victims of the Nile and Envy of the Gods. Sure, Envy… still can’t quite rid itself of the shackles of Keeper of the Seven Keys – either part – but I’ll be a very happy man if I hear a better closing track to an album in 2017. Axemen Fredrik Kelemen and Peter Ellström prove themselves to be a masterful (sorry) duo throughout the album but play out of their skins here, adding light and shade when required, whilst the rhythm section of Emil Öberg (bass) and drummer Sebastian Pedernera add the ballast in pleasing, sledgehammer style.

Great stuff on all fronts then; it’s great to see a band making palpable steps towards greatness, and the fourth Lancer album is going to be something to behold, of that I’m in no doubt. But for now just enjoy the mastery of this album…

Mastery is released by Nuclear Blast on January 13th