The industrious thrash metallers Dust Bolt return with Mass Confusion, their third album in four years. Dust Bolt have always been inclined towards straight up old-school thrash metal in the vein of Sodom, rather than the thrash insanity that bands like Vektor have been dishing out recently. As such, Mass Confusion does not represent a musical step forward for Dust Bolt; but this is no tragedy, because Dust Bolt are very good at what they do. Just as in their previous two albums, Dust Bolt engineers the foundation of a solid album in the simplest possible way: through great riffs.
Mass Confusion announces its presence with “Sick X Brain”, an absolute barnstormer of an intro. The song hardly eclipses a minute, but those precious seconds offer the full Dust Bolt sampler, complete with frenzied riffs, gang shouts, and a solo. Dust Bolt certainly isn’t a band to hide their cards – what you hear in the first minute is what you will get for the remaining forty-five.
The following songs, “Mass Confusion” and “Allergy”, provide evidence for Dust Bolt’s greatest strength. Dust Bolt have the rare ability to run through a high volume of riffs tactfully, such that the weaker riffs seem to disappear before they can derail a song’s momentum, but the better riffs always stick around long enough to engross us. In “Allergy”, several okay riffs are utilized but quickly discarded before the band appears to settle on (and reuse) one of the album’s best riffs. This is the case throughout the whole album. Like the capricious weather in New England, if you don’t like a riff, just wait a minute.
Although thrash metal has never been a paragon for musical diversity (especially within an album), “Blind to Art” is a necessary refresher from the hard-charging riffmania of the first few songs. Swaggering and menacingly brash, “Blind to Art” might be Dust Bolt at their very best. The slower pace of many of the riffs, as well as some wailing background guitar provides textures that reveal a more complex side of Dust Bolt. At the conclusion of the song, a nifty tritone melody and a perfectly executed solo come together to create a startlingly dark atmosphere at the end of the song. But although the song strays from the Dust Bolt archetype with great success, the song still has trademark Dust Bolt gang shouts that will have listeners shouting “You’re fuckin’ blind to art!” along with vocalist Lenny B.
After the excellence of “Blind to Art” the album takes a predictable downward turn in quality, but the drop had no need to be so steep. After the average “Mind the Gap”, the album sinks to its lowest point with “Exit”, the band’s attempt at a power ballad. The song is a lesson in bad arrangement. Although the song begins slowly and softly, so do several other Dust Bolt songs, and none of them turned into power ballads. So the expectation, then, is for when the thrash will burst onto the scene. But the diluted riffs that finally do convince themselves to show up do not satisfy. This song could be excusable if it were, y’know, good. But the strained vocal melodies Lenny tries to croon out sound more like an angsty teenager’s Bush cover band than something that belongs on a metal album. The song fails at being either powerful or a listenable ballad, and should’ve been left at the cutting table.
But while “Exit” is easily the worst sounding song Mass Confusion has to offer, the biggest disappointment is unquestionably the album closer, “Masters of War”. With a bombastic title like that in the final slot, an epic finale is certainly expected. But as the second-shortest song on the album, “Masters of War” somehow does less with it’s three minutes than the album opener did in one. It takes until the halfway point for real riffs to replace the clean strings that opened the song. But almost as soon as the riffs arrive, they are replaced by a soft outro that closes out the album.
The reason this song is so frustrating is because Dust Bolt have shown the capacity to create a fantastic album closer before. In their sophomore album, Awake the Riot, Dust Bolt penned a towering seven minute epic that resulted in wildly successful experimentation. “Distant Scream (The Monotonous) brought the band to more progressive territory than they had ever traversed, and it worked marvelously. This is the kind of experimentation Dust Bolt should have gone for – not some sordid rock radio ballad, but the kind of song that is just within the outermost limits of their capabilities that would slam the door shut on Mass Confusion.
In the end, Dust Bolt have not broken much new ground with this release. But they weren’t expected to, and frankly, they should stick to what they do best. Good riffs make good music, and Dust Bolt is smart enough to litter Mass Confusion with them.