Auckland rockers Villainy are back after a four-year break with their highly-anticipated and slick new album, Raised In The Dark.

Their third record and first since 2015's Dead Sight sees the four-piece again team up with long-time collaborator Tom Larkin (Shihad) and his Melbourne Studios in the City team, along with legendary LA engineer and producer Mark Needham (Fleetwood Mac, The Killers, Imagine Dragons).

The group whittled down a mammoth 107 tracks written over the past 12 months, to 10 melody-filled numbers that mark a shift into new and broader sonic and musical territory for the two-time NZ Music Award winners.

Larkin's influence is apparent from the first thundering bars of the album-opening title track, before frontman Neill Fraser echoes many young Aucklanders' worries in singing, "Can't afford a house and you can't afford a wedding ring/Well some things have to give."

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Having established themselves as one of New Zealand's biggest rock acts over the past decade, Villainy know what it takes to get to the top. But by the fourth track, Dreams, Fraser might be lamenting the harsh realities of the industry with the line: "Don't give up the hard work/ And everything will hurt when no one really cares about who you are and what you need/Coz no one gives a f*** about your dreams".

His polished but powerful voice sits over high-energy guitar work and a driving rhythm section throughout the 40-minute album, which boasts plenty of variety to keep young fans of punk pop happy while still holding appeal for older rock traditionalists.

By the eighth track, IFXS, the tension explodes into head-banging rage with the rapid-fire lyrics "Watch me, watch me, shed my skin", in stark contrast to the melodic chorus of "And now I'm deep, deep, deep in love again".

Things pull back towards the end with the more subdued Skeletons, before closing with the chugging pop grooves of Growing Pains, capping Villainy's most ambitious and accomplished recording yet.

Stars: 3.5/5
Artist: Villainy
Album: Raised In The Dark
Label: Warner Music
Verdict: Impressive from start to finish, Villainy are at their peak here.