My love affair with Lightning Bolt began in the same way that many obsessions do: with deep-seated, alcohol-enthused disdain.

It was on Saturday 4th April 2004, at about 11pm, give or take, towards the end of Sonic Youth’s set at ATP Festival in a dilapidated British seaside resort. Lee Ranaldo was talking to the crowd and tuning up when a burst of noise came from somewhere near the back of the room. “Oh” he said, “okay – Lightning Bolt” and gestured to where the duo had already started delivering their brutal and incendiary sheets of visceral noise over those gathered in close proximity. I looked back at Sonic Youth, who were talking amongst themselves and walking off. Lightning Bolt robbed me of another SY song. What a pair of dirtbags! What made it worse is that I was really looking forward to seeing Lightning Bolt, but you do not interrupt Sonic Youth. I don’t care who you are, the moment is marred. As much as I love Lightning Bolt – and I do – I will forever (and unfairly) hold a grudge against them for that. And Dave Pajo was apparently right in the middle of the ensuing throng, too.

Sonic Citadel is, according to their PR, Lightning Bolt’s ‘pop album’ - except that it isn’t, not really. Arguably their most accessible, due to the fact that there are few tangents into elongated noise territory that often put off those weaker of mind and substance, Sonic Citadel still offers all of the sheer force that you would expect from the two Brians, but there are layers in evidence here which were previously obscured by distortion, and they reveal the melodies and structures that have pretty much always been at the heart of what makes Lightning Bolt such joyous bastards.

‘Dracula Mountain’ or ‘2 Morro Morro Land’ are examples of their earlier work that which would not be out of place on Sonic Citadel, so if the buzz prior to release has got you worried that Lightning Bolt have veered too far away from their usual path then fear not. It is true that there is a little more introspection here, more calm than we are used to with these two, but then we are all getting older. It is the presence of hummable melodies and discernible lyrics that is most startling and separates Sonic Citadel from the rest of their work to date.

2015’s Fantasy Empire was the first Lightning Bolt album recorded in a ‘proper’ studio and started the band’s journey into high-fidelity and recordings where the subtleties were more present. Sonic Citadel continues this march towards songs with structure, nuance and subtlety that the onslaught of some of their earlier work missed.

‘Blow To The Head’ starts us off in typical Lightning Bolt territory; Chippendale’s drums seem to be coming from all directions while Gibson’s bass work is less maniacal, less frenzied than we have got used to yet it is still distinctive in its minimal menace. The bass takes over in ‘USA is a Psycho’ with Gibson delivering an exquisite riff which is part Sabbath, part Sleep, part nursery rhyme, yet all Lightning Bolt. This second track allows the listener to appreciate that this is going to be a slightly different listening experience to their previous albums; a theme emerges that with each track there will be a slight shift towards more experimentation, more space in the songs which is almost the antithesis of the band to date.

‘Hüsker Dön’t’ gives us possibly the worst song title ever and also the biggest shift in tone. Chippendale’s vocals are still distorted but his lyrics are easy to make out as he sings: not shouts, not hollers, not intones – sings. There is a surly, lip-curled and teen-angsty punk quality to the vocal performance which is quite charming for a man of his age and also points at musical references for the band which may have gone unnoticed before. This song gives us Lightning Bolt at their most simplistic, and there is a sense of poignancy as a result as we finally get some degree of musical reverence to their output. They may have ploughed their own furrow since forever, but there is also a sense of lineage here which is perhaps surprising, but no less welcome.

‘Big Banger’ is both the perfect description for the song but also the album’s highlight, delivering whirlwinds of catharsis and urgency. This track has all of the hallmarks of Lightning Bolt’s aural adventures to date, as does following track ‘Halloween 3’, which has been a feature of their live shows for 15 years or so. Both of these tracks pummel the listener into gladdening submission, the Stockholm Syndrome coming in to full effect.

As if to prove the previously untapped range of their songwriting chops, ‘Don Henley in the Park’ offers an almost twee folk psychedelia and is almost, gasp, a ballad. Almost, but not quite. It seems that collaborating with The Flaming Lips a few years ago has rubbed off on them.

The harshest tones are left to the final track ‘Van Halen 2049’, which stands in stark contrast to most of Sonic Citadel in its unrelenting abrasiveness and discordant atonality, harking back to some of the work on their first album when they were a trio. Gibson’s bass playing is pretty much all on the higher register. He uses a banjo string on his guitar to produce a disorientating flurry of noise as he tests the limits of the tinnitus of the listener. It’s euphoric, enthralling and also quite painful (in the best way possible, naturally).

Sonic Citadel is something of a departure for Lightning Bolt, but not one big enough to warrant the loss of fans. This is not the sound of compromise, but of artistic exploration and of the disclosing of sounds which were always present, if not always obvious. There is restraint here, an alien concept for a band of Lightning Bolt’s usual undiluted abandon, but there is also the gleeful harshness which makes them such a force of the underground music scene.