AS guitarist in indie-rock band The Vaccines, Freddie Cowan is well placed to know what does, and doesn’t rock. And their latest album, he insists, very definitely does.

“I’m equally proud of every record, but this one felt like unfinished business,” he says, as we catch up while taking a break at West London’s Metropolis Studios, where he says he is “looking at new gear for the next album”.

“It’s the record we wanted to make, as I hadn’t felt we’d made a second great rock & roll record.

“This book ends it for us. It allows us to be able to say we can do what we want to do... and should do.”

Combat Sports is The Vaccines’ fourth album and a return to the full throttle, no-holds barred rock of their 2011 debut What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? which propelled Freddie, frontman Justin Young, bassist Árni Árnason and drummer Pete Robertson into the indie stratosphere, and chart-topping follow-up Come of Age.

For Freddie, the latest album’s unabashed celebration of rock and power pop felt like going back to basics; a return to their roots after 2015’s number two hit English Graffiti, which, while a commercial success, left the band questioning who they were.

It also followed a period of turmoil, with Pete quitting, and live band members Timothy Lanham (keys) and Yoann Intonti (drums) joining permanently.

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“It was a real battle making this record,” says Freddie, who brings the band to Oxford’s O2 Academy on Saturday.

And when he says ‘battle’, he isn’t kidding. Tensions ran so high during recording that he and Justin almost came to blows, with producer Ross Orton having to wade in to prevent fisticuffs.

The episode inspired the album’s punchy title.

“I was also doing boxing with Yoann and it was a typically combative period,” says Freddie. I was ready to go with Justin but Ross got in the middle of us and we cooled off. It was close but I’m glad nothing happened.

“I thought Combat Sports was a good name for that reason.”

Justin has gone on record as saying the band lost sight of who they were. Does Freddie agree?

“Yes. We were going in a direction I didn’t think was right for us,” he says. “And you have to do better to do right.

“The band is, in itself, an entity and you are constantly wondering whether you are doing right by it, whether it deserves more – or makes no sense.

“That doesn’t mean making an unsuccessful record. It just means not doing the right thing and then being doomed. And if we had stuck to the first songs, it might have been a disaster.”

He pauses and says thoughtfully: “There are five people with five opinions. We had a lot of chats about what we were doing, to make sense of it.

“But you can do anything as long as it’s the right thing, is authentic and genuine and right for the time – even if it’s making an album of pan-flute music! If it’s right for the time, you should follow it. But that’s just my opinion.”

He adds: “I didn’t think what we were doing was passion-led. There was a certain type of songwriting I think we did when the electricity flowed, and we were in danger of abandoning that.”

Certainly Freddie, who is the younger brother of Tom Cowan from The Horrors, is happy and enjoying the satisfaction of being at the top of his game.

“As musicians we are not inclined to think we are brilliant. In fact we are inclined to think we are rubbish. But it’s important to be reminded you are good.

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“I used to keep my gold and platinum albums in a pile where I couldn’t see them; it never occurred to me to put them on the wall. But now I do it as a reminder that I made the right choice to be a musician and should keep at it.

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“It’s human nature to aspire and go the next step.

“The people I look up to also have people they look up to, and feel second rate. So this is good because it feels like a validation.”

He hardly needs it. The band have been touted as the future of indie-rock. They have supported no less than The Rolling Stones, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, The Stone Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Muse, had 15 consecutive A-listed singles on Radio 1, picked up a well-earned NME Award and Brit and Q Award nominations, and have toured the world. They have sold more than a million records worldwide.

So does this mark a change in direction? “It might,” he says. I don’t know. But as long as everyone is doing the right thing it doesn’t matter where you go.”

The Vaccines play the O2 Academy Oxford on Saturday. See ticketmaster.co.uk