Head Like A Hole's reunion in 2008 came as a bit of a surprise. Here was a band that had split almost a decade ago, for the usual rock and roll reasons, and had probably all moved on and got jobs or benefits or whatever it took to pay the bills. I was away at the time and pretty disappointed to miss the reunion show at the Powerstation - particularly given that their contemporaries Supergroove had reformed about a year earlier and put on an absolute belter of a reunion show at the Kings Arms.
There was always a lot to like about HLAH. For a brief history, check out "The Head Like A Hole Story in about 200 words by Nigel Regan". They rocked hard. They had a charismatic front man in Nigel 'Booga' Beazley. They had their own quite distinct, unique sound, and wrote songs with quirky titles like Fish Across Face and Spanish Goat Dancer. They also did a riotously good Bruce Springsteen cover.
Anyway their reunion was both a blessing and a reminder that New Zealand has really produced shit-all in the way of decent bands since that brief spurt in the 90's that gave us Shihad, HLAH and Supergroove. OK, well admittedly Beastwars are pretty cool too, but that's about it.
But now, on the back of that reunion, HLAH have recorded a new album, Blood Will Out, their first since HLAH IV: Are You Gonna Kiss It Or Shoot It? It could have sucked, as many reunion albums do. Thankfully it does not. In fact, it is rather good.
Blood Will Out is a swaggering slice of hard rock. There is plenty of the trademark sweaty, greasy HLAH groove, but at the same time the songs somehow feel consistently a bit tighter, in a way the band only occasionally hinted at in the past (on the likes of Comfortably Shagged and A Crying Shame). It is possibly the only HLAH record thus far where it is consistently the music and the songs that shine, without the aid of any supporting gimmickry (this has previously included chainsaws, excerpts from porn movies, and a cover of a song from Grease).
And some of those songs really do shine. The album opens strongly with a barrage that includes singles Swagger of Thieves and Glory Glory, both of which showcase Booga's trademark growl - if anything he sounds better with age.
But it is the middle where things really step up, courtesy of two particularly mighty tracks: Valhalla (10,000 BC) and Death of a Friend. The former - surely a contender to pop up on season 2 of The Almighty Johnsons - is a rollicking, up-tempo barn-burner of a track which grooves along from guitar solo to guitar solo whilst never sounding lost or losing any of its considerable impact. The latter is a sludgy, Sabbath-y doom extravaganza that would make Tony Iommi proud. It is entirely possible that these are the two best songs that HLAH has ever written, so it is probably fitting that they are the centrepiece of the album.
Rounding out the record is the Monsta trilogy - the lurching stomp of Monsta X, the catchy almost-pop of Hardest Battle (Monsta Y) and the synthetic grind of Blood Will Out (Monsta Z). It all ends almost too soon with (unexpectedly) an acoustic closer, In Articulo Mortis.
Blood Will Out is an easy album to get into, and a hard one to put down. It's refreshing to see a band with the benefit of extra years and wisdom put that to use crafting some damn good songs and not just rehashing past glories. This is the best kind of comeback album - one that will appeal to HLAH's old fans whilst hopefully also winning some new ones. And more power to them.