An excellent new Queens of the Stone age album every two-and-a-half years or so has become something of a tradition, so while the high quality of their most recent release is no surprise, it’s certainly no less pleasant for it. QOTSA have always been able to maintain a balance between rock’s opposite poles–arty without being pretentious, technically proficient without being mechanical, heavy without being angry–and Era Vulgaris does nothing to interrupt that streak, delivering more of the narcotizing, classic-minded hard rock that Josh Homme has been delivering since he formed the band out of the ashes of the even-greater Kyuss. Building on the sounds of the band’s previous four albums without cannibalizing them, Era Vulgaris is yet another excellent album in the QOTSA tradition–loosely constructed, wide-ranging, and determinedly rocking, with none of the woe-is-me drivel that weighs down so much of what passes for rock music these days. And as usual, it’s littered with the muscular, surging guitars and smart melodies that have become Josh’s stock in trade, making this yet another classic album for blasting in your car with the windows open. Despite their well-documented history of heavy turnover, the band actually sounds as tight as ever here, taking about ten seconds of the opening Turnin’ On the Screw to lock into a killer groove that never quite lets up until the album ends. The following Sick, Sick, Sick is even better, bringing a manic, rapid-fire energy to the proceedings, with vocals that are less sung than declaimed over a backup of speedy metallic riffage. Some might proclaim Make it Wit Chu too mellow and playful to fit on a QOTSA album, but I actually found its bouncy, piano-tinged arrangements and insinuating crooned refrain to be perfectly in keeping with the band’s traditional good time-oriented approach. Of course, just in case anyone does find that track overly lightweight, Josh & Co. follow it up the with the memorably intense riff-rock of 3’s and 7’s before skidding into the laid-back, trippy haze of Suture up Your Future. And while many QOTSA albums have petered out on the final few tracks, Era Vulgaris is not one of them–Run, Pig, Run fires out of the blocks with a wall of thick, hard-pounding riffs and harsh noises backing a winding, ominous vocal. It’s certainly not the first song to highlight a darker, more visceral aspect to the Queens’ sound, but with the possible exception of the last album’s Someone’s in the Wolf it may be best, and it brings a suitable conclusion to yet another top-notch album in Josh Homme’s ever-expanding catalogue.