Body Count – Bloodlust (Century Media Records, 31 March 2017)
Some of our younger readers may recognize Ice-T as the curmudgeonly old guy in the “It’s Lemonade” commercials, or maybe they’ll recall his stints as a reality tv star (here and here). Perhaps he’ll even seem familiar from his portrayal of a police officer on Law & Order: SVU. But before he was gracing screens small and big (and by the way, his acting career has included roles as cops dating back more than a quarter-century), the man born as Tracy Marrow in New Jersey (and then raised in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles) made quite a name for himself as a hugely influential part of the music industry.
Known primarily as one of the innovators who helped to shape the gangster rap genre, with songs like “6 ‘N the Morning,” he later formed the group Body Count with some high school friends who shared an affinity for hard rock music — introducing the band on a self-titled track on his 1991 album O.G. Original Gangster before they came out with a full-length self-titled album the following year.
They have been heavily influenced by fellow Californian contemporaries in the worlds of thrash (like Slayer) and especially crossover (like Suicidal Tendencies) — but for years I’ve seen a lot of negativity expressed towards these guys within the so-called “metal community,” from some of its more closed-minded individuals. Whether that’s a refusal to acknowledge rap or hip hop artists as genuine musicians, or a xenophobic reaction to a perceived “outsider” tresspassing into the “scene” — well, Ice-T‘s spoken-word intro to the original “Body Count” song can be applicable in both directions: “You know, as far as I’m concerned, music is music. I don’t look at it as rock or R&B, all that kind of stuff, I just look at it as music. […] But I do what I like, I happen to like rock ‘n roll. And I feel sorry for anybody who only listens to one form of music.”
Fast-forwarding to the present, Ice-T says, “Music happens in climates. As an artist, you can be as pissed off as you want, but if the audience is dormant and care more about their chai lattes, well…” and he also opines that “We’re dealing with a generation that has never known rage.” But “now, in 2017, let’s see if people are really as pissed off as they act like they are. […] Now we have impending doom again, racism is at an all-time high and it’s our season again. This is the optimal time for a Body Count record.”
And so — recently signed to metal stronghold Century Media, the band that has always stirred up controversy with its politically-charged messages and grim depictions of real life situations, has returned with their sixth album Bloodlust. Original members Ice-T and lead guitarist Ernie C are joined by the same supporting cast they had on 2014’s Manslaughter: longtime bassist (and Steel Prophet member) Vince “Vincent Price” Dennis, drummer Ill Will, and guitarist Juan “of the Dead” García (also known from his work with Agent Steel, Evildead, Abbatoir, etc.)
The new album starts off with a bold declaration of purpose: “Civil War” is introduced with an announcement (performed by Dave Mustaine) describing a theoretical (but very realistic) horror story in which martial law has been instituted nationwide. This narrative continues into a very heavy thrash riff with some slam/groove elements; once the lyrics enter, the song provides a statement of the mess the country is in now, and caution how the nightmarish situation described in the intro may be coming sooner than we realize. Here, as well as throughout the rest of the album, the veteran rapper draws on his famously aggressive style of rhyme-slinging, although the delivery here has more in common with the talk-yelling of crossover artists like Mike Muir than the hip hop he’s associated with. Honestly, listening to this record I can’t help bringing up thoughts of yesteryear hacks like P.O.D. or Biohazard — just because the performance and execution here, and the overall tone, are basically a perfect rendition of what those types of bands had always dreamed of sounding like.
Speaking about the band’s material in an interview a decade ago, Ernie stated, “Everybody writes about whatever they learned growing up, and we were no exception. Like the Beach Boys sing about the beach, we sing about the way we grew up.” Accordingly, several of the songs here — “The Ski Mask Way” (esentially a euphemism equivalent to “paying the iron price“) with its description of acts of robbery, “This is Why We Ride,” an anthemic view back at life in a poverty-stricken violence-filled neighborhood, and “God Please Believe Me,” a brief introspection looking back at a life roughly lived, to name a few examples — focus on the members’ earlier lifestyles.
On the other hand, the album does branch out into some more “traditional” metal themes: “Here I Go Again” is particularly dark, brutal and gory, told from the perspective of a deranged serial killer, while the title track speculates that the desire to kill or to inflict pain may be an innate part of human nature. There are also some moments that lean in more of a hip hop direction as well, like “All Love is Lost” which addresses a nameless other party in a manner reminiscent of a classic hip hop feud/beef track — but presented with a very metallic aesthetic, including viciously roared backing vocals where Max Cavalera puts in a guest appearance alongside the rest of the band. And without question, “Walk with Me” (where Ice trades off vocal duties with Randy Blythe) is just straight-up speed/thrash metal, made of pure anger and aggression. But the biggest step into the realm of classic metal would come following an introduction excerpted from an interview (highly resembling the beginning of the OG version of “Body Count” in that respect) wherein Ice describes the band’s history, name-checking Black Sabbath in addition to Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer before the band bursts into a ripping rendition of the latter’s “Raining Blood.” The song’s legendary riffs are faithfully executed, but the track really gives Ernie C room to shine in the solo section, and — let’s be honest — this recording presents an improvement over the original in the vocal department. The outro shifts directly and unexpectedly into a snippet of “Postmortem,” its immediate predecessor on the Reign in Blood album, with harshly barked vocals provided here by bassist Vincent Price.
All of that aside, though, the thing Ice-T and Body Count have both been known for more than anything else is outspoken sociopolitical commentary — and Bloodlust certainly delivers on that. Unsurprisingly, based on their history with songs about police officers, the band takes this opportunity to directly address the all-too-frequent occurrence of deadly force being used against unarmed individuals in “Black Hoodie,” and further discusses this issue among myriad others in the stingingly insightful “No Lives Matter,” which starts with a discussion of the contrasting slogans #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter but gives way to a venomous look at the real, though often hidden, conflicts that should really be getting people’s attention.
Grab yourself a copy of Bloodlust right here.
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