First of all, let’s be real. It’s difficult being black in America (and everywhere else in the world but especially so in the US). Being black in metal and being widely accepted by that audience is even more difficult. That said, for 25 years now Body Count have largely done that thanks to their no bullshit approach to and appreciation of the form with an assist from Ice-T who is one of rap’s living icons having had success with crossover audiences for years.
That we’re in the midst of shows being picketed and canceled due to alleged racist ties of certain bands, running street fights between actual real-deal white nationalists and their antifa counterparts, Black Lives Matter/police brutality-based protests, and general unrest in the United States is it any wonder that Body Count would re-emerge with the tightest and most serious album of their career in Bloodlust? They doubled down on making this a must-listen for metal fans by bringing in heavyweights like Dave Mustaine, Randy Blythe, and Max Cavalera for guest spots on the record.
How surprised are that the album opens with a siren and Mustaine performing a voiceover about the nation being plunged into martial law? A grinder of a track, “Civil War” opens with some mid-tempo Slayer-esque thunder and a not entirely unfamiliar later period-Megadeth style chorus before stirring up some Suicidal Tendencies like thrash/speed for Ernie C. and Mustaine to throw some leads over. And it’s this moment that announces we have a much more ferocious, focused, and polished version of Body Count than perhaps on previous efforts.
For longtime listeners and followers of Ice-T and/or Body Count it will be unsurprising to know that justice at the end of a shotgun and armed robbery of the rich are still themes here. The anthemic “This is Why We Ride” is one of the big early examples of the theme and shows the band riding a laid back half-time groove that erupts in some deliciously (and judiciously) employed double-bass blasts over the chorus. It’s clear that lyrically and sonically the band are working out some of the rage that has built up over the course of their 20+ years not just in metal but also simply existing in a world that continues to terrorize African-Americans and people of color all over the globe. A well-placed voiceover account of the killing of Keith Lamont Scott as the bridge in banger “No Lives Matter” drives the point home.
The thing about Ice-T is he’s not afraid to create narratives on tracks like “The Ski-Mask Way” and “Here I Go Again” to try and flip that terror on its head. Unfortunately those narratives distract from the most powerful work of the majority of the material here by snapping one out of the experience of listening to the power, rage, and energy of true standout tracks on the album like “No Lives Matter” and the Max Cavalera guest track “All Love is Lost”. The band are most potent when talking about this real-life matter whether he focuses on the idea that greed and capitalism are what drive violence against, not only people of color but, anyone who is poor or the very personal matters of trust and honor.
It’s worth noting that the band, particularly Ice-T and main songwriter Ernie C., have made sure to always mention that this is no novelty for them. Their love of metal is very serious and that comes across clearer than ever on this album. If it weren’t spelled out in the crushing riffs the band include a pseudo-interview leading into the cover of the Slayer classic “Raining Blood/Postmortem” leaves no doubt of their history with the genre even if it feels a little forced and unnecessary. The cover itself though is pretty spot on right down to the legitimately thundering low end of the drums that is critical to the original. There’s also something slightly more chilling about Ice’s clear delivery of every line which is something missed in the original.
Overall, listening to Body Count hasn’t changed in over two decades with a couple of huge exceptions: the compositions by Ernie C. and company have matured tremendously and Ice’s rap/spoken/yelled vocals sit in the pocket much easier, making the delivery of his pointed diatribes more powerful as a part of the overall music. That said, the band’s execution and overall growth is highlighted on the Randy Blythe guest-fronted track “Walk with Me…”. They have have come a long way from the more hardcore inspired beginnings of their 1992 debut and it speaks well of them that they have the wherewithal at this point to invite a guy like Blythe in to contribute letting him do his thing. You get the sense that respect is mutual here and that it’s not simply a guest spot.
Body Count actually save their most aggressive yet polished moment for album closer, “Black Hoodie”, driven by Ice-T in rare metal-spitting form amidst a punishing groove that should have some nice crossover appeal while giving the audience the Trayvon Martin story from the murdered teenager’s side. They even managed to drop the famous refrain from KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police” without it feeling strained is a nice bonus tying the band and the album’s subject matter back to his own hip hop roots.
As a metal album Bloodlust sees a band in fine, raw, charging, furious form that can hang with any of the other more mainstream mosh-laden albums out there. As a document of anger about the state of the world for African-Americans as well as the poor of all stripes it gets the message across without becoming overwrought or belaboring the point. At the same time it would have been increasingly powerful to have heard more of what Ice-T and the band really think about the state of affairs like the militarization of police, systemic racism, and the use of crimes of poverty to drive up incarceration rates as well as what that means to their communities, for instance. Still, this is the best Body Count has ever sounded and is worth a listen for all metal fans who want a serving of Ice-T, metal worship, and a smattering of social justice with their slamming riffs and pounding rhythms.
Bloodlust is out now through Century Media. You can purchase it and any other Body Count-related merch you could possibly want right here.