By Meltdown, Ash were establishing a pattern: each odd-numbered album has been a difficult, rockier affair, while each even-numbered album showed off their sublimely poppy side. So this being their fifth record, it's easy to guess where Meltdown falls -- and if you still hadn't figured it out, just check out the faux-metal cover art! Fans of the unexpectedly great comeback Free All Angels might be worried that this is a return to the minor stumble that was the dark and difficult Nu-Clear Sounds -- the last "rock" album -- but thankfully Meltdown bursts with the hooks and little musical flourishes that have made the more mature Ash records such a treat, and has little of the meandering malaise that marred Nu-Clear Sounds. Lead single "Orpheus" sets the tone -- while the verses rage with '70s metal-derived licks, the choruses burst with one of the sunniest and catchiest tunes that Tim Wheeler and company have ever committed to tape. So while "Clones" and the awkwardly political title track rage as hard as anything they've ever recorded -- and admittedly sound a bit more AC/DC than Undertones -- there's plenty of good songwriting, like on the sweet (really) "Evil Eye," the staccato guitar work on the verses of "Renegade Cavalcade," or the honest-to-goodness string-laden power ballad "Starcrossed." The real shame is that Kinetic Records went broke just before the album was to be released, again robbing the U.S. of a timely release. But Meltdown's quality justifies a hefty import price tag: it's a surprisingly strong and assured record, the kind that -- while not the highest point of the band's catalog -- will help shore up their building legacy as one of the most consistent bands to emerge from the British Isles in the '90s. [The American release features exclusive bonus tracks and DVD footage not available on the European album version].