Although it might be hard for people born post-mid-90’s to fathom, there was a moment when rap-metal was seen as a revolutionary and exciting concept. A melting pot of two of music’s most progressive and antagonistic genres that could theoretically provide unforeseen levels of cross-cultural exposure for artists.
Arriving amidst the deep-seated racial and socio-economic unrest of pre-riot LA, Body Count were trailblazers, seizing upon the new genre’s potential to amplify not just their music but its message. Debut record Body Count stirred the pot both underground and in the mainstream courtesy of the controversial subject matter of its hard-hitting mosh anthems with album cut ‘Cop Killer’ in particular inciting media hysteria.
Fast-forward to 2017, with the US seemingly as divided as ever, and the underground is once again screaming out for a voice that can cut through the noise and misinformation and make the truth heard. Body Count have stepped-up to try and fill the void via their raging new record Bloodlust.
Sonically and thematically crushing, Bloodlust finds Body Count sounding as agitated and vital as ever, with Ice-T spitting fire over a fierce metal backdrop that has you banging your head (and thinking with it) from the get-go. Opening with Dave Mustaine-(Megadeth) featuring ‘Civil War’, Body Count come out swinging with a thunderous groove-based riff (courtesy of Ernie C) as Ice-T drops a barrage of uncomfortable truth bombs about the growing economic and social divide in the USA, before Mustaine delivers some trademark frantic lead breaks over a Suicidal Tendencies-recalling second half.
‘The Ski Mask Way’ follows with another monster riff laying the groundwork for Ice-T to recount the mentality of his early gangster years, whether the intention is satire, glorification or realism, the impact is undeniable, with the malevolence of the protagonist sure to be unsettling to many listeners.
The musically restrained ‘This Is Why We Ride’ turns down the volume but turns up the intensity lyrically, with Ice-T delivering some stunning insight into what motivates the seemingly senseless street violence that occurs nightly in the inner city community he grew up in.
When combined with the nihilistic stomp of ‘All Love is Lost’ (featuring a killer guest spot by Max Cavalera of Soulfly), the introspective ‘God Please Believe Me’ (home to some clever verses where Ice-T reflects on the contradictory elements of his own cultural conditioning and how they manifest in conscious and subconscious ways to this day) and the hellacious Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) co-write ‘Walk With Me’, the front half of Bloodlust paints a vivid picture of the internalised struggle of life in the ‘ghetto’ and the violent ways in which that struggle often manifests.
While some of these tracks could be misinterpreted as glorifying the gang mentality, the artistic intention appears to be to provide a more rounded view of the issues, instead of bludgeoning you with one view but MANY RIFFS, Body Count appear to want to fill in the gaps in your understanding, with multiple viewpoints and MANY RIFFS.
When they do have something direct and clear to say, they do so with unflinching honesty. Case in point album highlights ‘No Lives Matter’ and ‘Black Hoodie’, two fierce anti-police brutality anthems that break down the #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter movements, stripping them clean of any tokenistic sloganeering that might detract from the message and presenting them in the cold harsh light of the facts.
From the moment Ice-T delivers a spoken word explainer as to why so many took issue with the #alllivesmatter slogan, it’s clear that Body Count have a vital message to deliver with ‘No Lives Matter’; that the rhetoric and doublespeak that engulfs the US cultural sphere have too often hijacked what is quite literally a life and death issue for the people it impacts most. That the excessive violence and consequences of corruption experienced by those in poorer, often majority (but not entirely) African-American communities is emblematic of a system in which wealth, privilege and colour, rather than justice, dictate how crime or alleged crime is responded to. That such a message is delivered via a powerful earworm of a metal jam only adds to the track’s vitality.
Where ‘No Lives Matter’ clarifies and contextualises the issue, ‘Black Hoodie’ puts the listener inside the reality of living in the eye of the storm. A no-holds-barred rager with a distinctive old-school hardcore sensibility, ‘Black Hoodie’ provides an eyewitness recount of a police search turned unnecessarily fatal (complete with what appear to be real recordings of a cop cuffing a dead body instead of calling a paramedic) and the appalling excuse for an investigation that follows.
The “Black Hoodie” line that anchors the chorus is an obvious reference to the death of Trayvon Martin, one of many indicators that unlike ‘No Lives Matter’, the police brutality in ‘Black Hoodie’ is absolutely racially motivated. It’s as direct and confrontational as heavy music gets and it puts an emphatic full stop on what is arguably the band’s best effort since their 1992 debut.
After 20 years of repeating the same message yet seeing no real change, Body Count’s rage has not diminished, it has intensified. With the current political climate being what it is Bloodlust couldn’t have arrived at a more fitting time. Listen up. This is a voice that needs to be heard.