Winger‘s Karma has decidedly taken a turn for the better. Once bashed by critics, constantly derided on “Beavis and Butt-head” and symbolically trashed by Metallica in the video for “Nothing Else Matters,” where Lars Ulrich tosses darts at a poster of Kip Winger, these ’80s purveyors of melodic metal had seen their career trajectory crash and burn in the ’90s. And then grunge came along and finished the job.

Their reputation shot to hell, Winger disbanded in 1994, but the story doesn’t end there. A damn sight more intelligent and musically sophisticated than the hair-metal crowd they ran with, a resilient Winger reunited in 2001, and eight years later, intent on restoring their good name, they issued Karma, their fifth studio album.

Unexpectedly heavy and disarmingly alluring, with a series of intricate progressive-rock instrumental passages, Karma was remarkable, a stunning reminder of what Winger was capable of when properly motivated. Out via Frontiers Records, Better Days Comin‘ is more of the same, and perhaps even more dynamic than its much-praised predecessor.

Cementing its reputation as the “Dream Theater of pop-metal,” Winger’s compositions are artfully sketched out on Better Days Comin’, where they trot out the sweeping, atmospheric epic “Out of this World” as the album’s closer, its moody clouds pierced by the lighting bolts of a spectacular guitar solo. Guitarists Reb Beach and John Roth are as sharp as ever here, their byzantine leads and riffs biting down hard on sizzling, irresistibly crunchy rockers such as the gritty “Rat Race,” the lust-filled “Midnight Driver of a Love Machine” – which has a memorable little earwig of a chorus – and the grinding “Another Beautiful Day.”

Strangely colorful and maneuvering in the odd time signatures of a band like Yes, “Tin Soldier” weaves through prog-rock’s twisting back roads and takes in beautifully diverse, ever-shifting instrumental scenery, while occasional encountering slight dissonance. On the brighter, funkier title track, Winger embraces its inner Sly and the Family Stone and shining optimism, before settling into the drifting, Beatlesque psychedelia of “Be Who You Are, Now.”

The genius of Winger is that they make challenging music that’s also warmly human and accessible, all of it consisting of the tricky, yet powerful drumming of former Dixie Dreg Rod Morgenstein, silvery synthesizers, sure hooks and Kip Winger’s gripping vocals. It seems Beavis and Butt-head had them all wrong.

Label: Frontiers Records