Right from the Portuguese spoken word intro and rumbling, hypnotic drums of opening track 'Silence', we're made aware that this won't be an easy listen. It's over two minutes before Beth Gibbons swoops in with her spine-tingling vocals, reminding us that this is the band who brought us hits like 'Sour Times' and 'Glory Box', but her bleak lyrics ("Empty in our hearts, crying out in silence, wandered out of reach, too far to speak, drifting unable") offer little in the way of comfort. It appears that when knob-twiddler Geoff Barrow dismissed Mark Ronson as "s**t funky supermarket muzak" last year, it wasn't so much a criticism as a statement of intent. Clearly hurt by suggestions that their Mercury Prize-winning debut sparked the coffee table chill-out trend, Portishead have filled Third with tribal rhythms that create a sense of impending doom, plenty of claustrophobia and the sort of glitchy, uncompromising guitar noises that Radiohead have been trying to master since 2000.
There are occasional moments of haunting beauty to remind us of their past, most notably the mellow twinkle of 'The Rip', which begins with soothing musings from Gibbons before blossoming into a Goldfrapp-esque electro epic. Meanwhile, the gentle, mandolin-led 'Deep Water' will provide a moment of solace for those who prefer their music without industrial breakdowns. However, for those who don't run a mile when they hear the words "experimental dance record", the real highlights are found among the band's less commercial tracks. It's unlikely that the Terminator sound effects and crunching drum machines of 'Machine Gun' will trouble Virgin Radio playlists; similarly, the cinematic and sparse 'Nylon Smile' (Sample lyric: "I would like to laugh at what you just said, but I just can't find a smile") would be better suited to a horror movie soundtrack than a dinner party stereo.
No album can meet eleven years' worth of expectation, but Third gets about as close as is humanly possible. The undoubted high point is 'We Carry On': six-and-a-half minutes of menacing beats, Jonny Greenwood-style guitar thrashes and sinister "aah aah" harmonies from Gibbons that could aptly soundtrack the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It's unlikely that this record will match the band's chart success of old, but in a musical landscape populated by inane pop bands masquerading as rock acts, it's refreshing to find a group so unfazed by the draws of commercial success. It was worth the wait.