You can’t fault the work rate of Canadian power metallers Striker. In an age when most bands toss off an album in order to get out on the road for months on end, these boys have released five full-length albums – every one a cast-iron, latter day metal classic – in less than eight years. And still crammed in a shedload of touring along the way… Their latest opus, Play to Win, does nothing to diminish the ever-burgeoning Striker name. I always baulk at using the word mature in conjunction with heads-down, gonzoid metal releases, but Play to Win really does carry with it an air of maturity that surely hasn’t been present before.

It’s most evident on tracks like the balladic Standing Alone; Striker have never been a band lacking in self-confidence, but this track simply oozes the stuff. Ostensibly the sort of sting-in-the-tail power ballad that bands like Leatherwolf and Icon thrived on in the late eighties, it’s actually just a titanic piece of metal songsmithery, performed with class and aplomb by a unit for which those words are no longer the exception but the rule. This isn’t coming-of-age stuff, but it is the sign of a band ripening nicely on the vine, ready to come to fruition and explode all over your ears very soon.

But don’t fret if, like me you’re a long-term fan of the band – there’s still plenty of juvenile headbanging and air guitar action to be had. Not to mention gang-vocalled choruses to chant along to as you get ready to go out on the lash of a Friday night (for if this album is anything, it’s perfect getting-ready-to-go-out-on-the-lash soundtrack fodder). Head First in particular will have old Striker heads grinning like loons, and if there’s not another radio hit of the calibre of Bad Decisions or Too Late on this album, there’s no need to worry – the gap has been plugged with titanic true metal in the shape of songs like the impressively heavy Summoner and the riffmongous Heavy is the Heart.

Band mainstays Tim Brown (guitars) and vocalist Dan Cleary both put in their usual impressive shifts at the coalface, with Cleary in particular giving several bravura performances (his vocal on album closer Hands of Time is very nearly worth the price of admission on it’s own), but as usual this is a team effort, with bassist William Wallace, second guitarist Chris Seggar and drummer Randy Black (yes, that Randy Black, helping the band out on a session basis again) all delivering hard-hitting support performances.

You’ll find this album takes a little longer to give up it’s secrets than the previous couple of Striker releases, but very often that’s the sign of something truly substantial albums. Striker don’t ever make bad albums – that’s a given – but Play to Win is an absolute, solid gold classic in waiting. If you’ve never heard this band before, rectify that sorry situation immediately. And if you have – you’ll need to add this to your collection – similarly speedily.

Play to Win will be released on October 26th.