There's no question that Foals have moved past the indie-dance aesthetic that their earlier material - and even some of the songs on 2008 debut Antidotes - embodied. They moved things up several gears with 2010's wonderful Total Life Forever, an album on which the Oxford quintet expressed desire to do their own thing and not get lumped into any 'scene'. It brought them considerable critical acclaim, and the more expansive sound pursued by Yannis Philippakis and co. certainly gave the impression that the band were maturing rapidly. Upon listening to Holy Fire, it becomes clear that its predecessor was the bridge between one era of Foals and another. They had to make it to get to where they are today, and there's no mistaking their third album as the one on which the band realise their full potential.

I realise I may have ruffled a considerable number of feathers with that last statement, but it seems as though Foals are too focused on the here and now to think of what's gone before. They've undergone a thrilling metamorphosis, which has seen them go from gatecrashing the charts with the dance-rock-influenced Antidotes to a band that wear their pop influences on their sleeve. With the exception of the curtain-raising 'Prelude', which works so well as an album opener that to take it out of its proper context would diminish its power, every song on the new record could be a single. Yes, even the stripped-back closer 'Moon'; as unconventional as it sounds, it has a strong enough hook that it would work as a single. That song is the serene coda to an album that constitutes the most impressive body of work the band have produced to date.

Depending on whom you speak to, Total Life Forever may be viewed as a better set of songs - and even Antidotes, a forceful but slightly outdated debut, will be championed by those who long for the Foals of old - but Holy Fire's cohesion and perfect flow mark it out as the strongest album in the band's catalogue. There are certain songs on which its predecessor's legacy is most strongly felt; slow-burning album centrepiece 'Late Night' could be Spanish Sahara's funkier cousin, with a strong emphasis placed on Walter Gervers' basslines; and 'Milk and Black Spiders' is reminiscent of '2 Trees', right down to the rave-influenced drum pattern from Jack Bevan. This time around, though, the sound is more muscular: the powerful post-chorus riff in 'Inhaler' simply wouldn't have worked before now. The heaviest moment in the band's catalogue so far would have sounded out of place on either of their previous records, but there's enough variety between that, 'Prelude' and infectious current single 'My Number' to suggest that the band have widened their focus considerably. They can get away with more.

For instance, I can't say for sure that the band would have had the confidence to write songs as overtly poppy as 'Bad Habit' and 'Everytime' before now. Sensibly, they're placed right beside each other on the album, allowing their creators to signal to the world (as if it isn't already clear by then), 'Oh hey, we write pop songs now'. Undeniably Foals-ian pop songs, yes, but pop songs all the same. Of these, the swaggering 'Providence' (written in 7/4, no less) is a particular highlight, from its (almost) a capella intro to its jaw-dropping finale, which is hard-hitting both literally and figuratively, as it features Bevan going hell-for-leather on his snare drum. 'Out of the Woods', meanwhile, is simple yet addictive listening, standing up for itself in between two gargantuan songs and doing an impressive job of not getting swallowed up.

When it comes down to it, Foals are essentially the same band they always were. The radical shift in focus came almost 3 years ago, so if that was when the band shed the dance-punk skin of old and tried on something new, here is the album on which they finally settle into themselves. The urgency of old has been mixed with the tender beauty of their more recent output, and the result of this marriage is an album that sums up what they've done before just as well as it heralds the beginning of a bold new chapter for them. They are almost ready to unleash Holy Fire upon the world, and the album deserves to be regarded as their best work yet. It feels as though Foals have finally arrived.