With crushing force, Initial Mass’ Bending Light comes bursting out of the silence with “Killing Heroes,” one of the album’s more consistent and well-rounded tracks. In this explosive stadium-rocker, the riffs take all of the spotlight away from a rollicking drumbeat, with the vocal holding everything together in a sleek, streamlined arrangement of verses. As we transition into the title track, there’s a spike of treble in the guitar parts – something that will plague the remainder of the LP – and amidst the sharp string melodies, the mix starts to take on a tinny, car radio-quality sound that waters down the muscularity of the music significantly. We’re off to a rocky start, but nevertheless, there’s a pulsating electricity in the riffage that entices us to press forward (for better or worse).

“Reason to Take” desperately tries to replicate a Blood Mountain-era Mastodon in the halfhearted virtuosity of its intro, but the song ultimately comes apart at the seams because of a skewed pop groove that sounds completely out of place in this LP. “Piece by Piece” is similarly confusing in its construction, but sports a sexier vocal than what we hear in the title track and “Reason to Take” by leaps and bounds. There’s a lot of excess in all four of these compositions, but not quite as much as we’ll encounter in the second half of Bending Light.

We segue from “Piece by Piece” directly into “Resolution,” a cheaply-mixed nod to the Seattle copycats that grew out of late 90’s alternative rock, but in “Silence No More,” Initial Mass wisely get back to doing what they do best – pounding out big, bold riffs. Again, there’s a strong retro-vibe to this song, but it isn’t enough to sour its sensationally catchy hook (which, in my opinion, is the best of the entire album). If the band were to cut any singles from Bending Light, this would be the only track that I would deem worthy.

“Alchemy” and “Years Past” continue the angst-ridden whine of “Resolution,” but spare us the jagged groove metal accents that make the latter song almost unlistenable. Initial Mass strike up a decent power ballad in “Embers Within,” which mercifully brings Bending Light to a conclusion after a tracklist packed with more stylistic contradictions than creative gems. At only two minutes and forty six seconds in total length, it’s the shortest song on the record, but if there’s a lesson to be learned from its simplicity, it’s that sometimes (especially in hard rock) less can be worth a whole lot more to fans and critics alike.

Bending Light doesn’t even come close to matching the inventive sound that audiences were introduced to in Initial Mass’ first two albums, 2018’s Tidal Force and 2016’s Time & Measure, but I wouldn’t call it a complete loss for this group of dedicated hard rockers. There are no shortage of issues with this record, from the production quality to the poorly designed mixture of styles, but at the same time there are a handful of moments – like “Silence No More” and “Killing Heroes” – where Initial Mass show signs of steadfast vitality.

Sebastian Cole