...the best thing you’ll hear this year?

The Followill clan serve up a swift successor to the best album of their career - have they dared to better it?

The most exciting thing that one has come to expect of Kings Of Leon now is a level of progress unmatched by any other festival headlining band of the past decade. Who would have thought, whence first they landed on our shores in a blitz of facial hair, models and vast amounts of prophylactics, that this brazen quartet would, over the course of only three albums, develop into a group of such significance that their stadium gigs sell out in around an hour, and each new album’s imminent release stirs a fervent hunger unseen since Amy Winehouse last got the munchies.

Last year’s ‘Because Of The Times’ set an unprecedented watermark in their career when it introduced a new and improved Kings Of Leon - the band reshaped as sonic adventurers, delving through soundscapes armed with a million hooks and harmonies to scare off pretenders. And it was impressive. It was magnificent. Not for nothing did Clash vote it the best album of 2007. Who else came close?

The outstanding ‘Only By The Night’ follows hot on its heels. It conjures up images of a more refined band - the songs have overall a slower pace (though just as much intensity), and so sounds more considered, more deliberate, more reflective. There are no real garage rock shit-storms - they went out with The Strokes’ career; instead we’ve grandiose anthems that can fill an arena, evoking the very best of U2, Radiohead and such forefathers of imposing atmospherics.

The broody ‘Closer’ is a bold introduction to the record; its minimalism and bleakness at odds with what you might be expecting when you first press play, but it’s at once KOL - especially when Caleb’s voice comes in, clearer and sharper than ever. As an ominous premonition (“Now it’s coming closer...”), it sucks you into the album with curiosity needing fulfilled... And then - bang! ‘Crawl’ is a suitably titled creeping Led Zep cruncher, fuelled by Jared’s fuzz bass, then ‘Sex On Fire’, which not only is KOL’s most perfect single to date, it’s a glowing mountain-top yell of post-orgasmic pride (“We’re still the greatest”).

A pervading ghost of the Eighties haunts ‘OBTN’ - from the ambitious stadium anthems as previously mentioned, to the melodies throughout that sound as if they ought to be familiar. ‘Use Somebody’ and ‘Be Somebody’ (not intentionally alike) both share choruses that just grab you - and you can already sing to. Somewhere there’s a lost Tom Cruise movie begging for an end titles soundtrack.

There are tender moments too - the guilt-ridden remorse of ‘Revelry’, where Caleb faces up to his wrongful treatment of his lover (“The time we shared it was precious to me / But all the while I was dreaming of revelry”), and the earnest ‘I Want You’, a sparse but lovely plea for desire.

Closing with a heartbreaker, ‘Cold Desert’ is a desolate masterpiece. Light drums patter in, a Joy Division bass line wanders, and the guitar mournfully echoes the aching wails of a lost soul; “Jesus don’t love me / No one ever carried my load” Caleb sings, apparently unaware of the universal adoration he effortlessly invokes.

It’s audacious to admit, but (given a few listens, as admittedly it’s a grower) it surges ahead of its predecessor in the ‘best KOL album’ stakes. While it delves deeper into the darkness and the demons of the Followills’ psyches, it finds salvation in the hope and dreams of ambition, and reaches skywards with intentions unparalleled in many other recent high-profile albums. That said, the top spot for the 2008 polls is there for the taking. This is the only band that matters; this is the only album that counts. ‘Only By The Night’ is the best thing you’ll hear this year and next - guaranteed.