Body Count, Bloodlust
Erik D. Harshman
Bloodlust may be the most socially, culturally and historically important album of the year.
First, Body Count has nearly always been a band that is a product of its time and environment. And this is no more resonate and important than right now!
And, second, let’s face it: Ice-T is probably one of the only living geniuses in America today.
See, I have a long and storied history with Body Count and Ice-T.
I’m a bit of what you might call obsessed.
Allow me to explain…
I have vague memories of the early 90’s, driving around with my brother as he listened to the first Body Count album (no doubt on cassette), replaying “Cop Killer” over and over. But as I got into metal (later in my teens) for whatever reason I didn’t rediscover Body Count until the year 2000. Sadly, it was the movie Leprechaun in the Hood that re-sparked my interest in Body Count. My buddy Chris Morris and I were in college; we were bored, always looking for new metal (or discovering old metal like it was new) and renting terrible straight-to-video (this is before DVD was king) movies. One night I was working at Hastings (remember them?…) and Chris waited around for hours for someone to return Lep in the Hood. We watched it… though it was unwatchable. But after it was over I remember turning to Chris and asking,
“Wait… What ever happened to Body Count? Didn’t Ice-T used to have a metal band?”
My buddy Chris informed me of Ice-T’s long-running friendship with Slayer. That was enough for me, I quickly ordered Body Count’s first album (the only one in print) from Hastings and listened to it over and over and over… I suppose at first it was simply nostalgia that prompted me to buy it. Then I was enticed by the absolute groove-based brutality the album had to offer. Then, finally, it was the intrigue: here I was privy to a cultural perspective I had little previous been exposed to (and no personal experience with)… Not in music, anyway and not in such a stark, realistic way. However, in the end I was immensely disappointed to find “Cop Killer” not on the album and, later, even more disappointed to find out why it was not included.
And, perhaps not surprising, that summer (the summer of 2000) I had the most trouble I’ve had with police in my entire history on this planet. Mostly cops in Texas (again, coincidental, as the Texas-based police organization C.L.E.A.T were the ones to initially spark the controversy over “Cop Killer”).
The following school year (fall 2000) I began wildly ordering Body Count’s other albums (yes, they had other albums besides that “Cop Killer” record!) off of Half.com (which was a new thing at the time). Born Dead struck a cord with me, though the first time I’d listened to it at CD Warehouse (again… remember them?) it didn’t resonate with me… sometimes albums just take time. Born Dead not only tackled new topics and themes, but reinforced old ones with new speed, aggression and pain. The standout tracks for me were “Last Breath” (and its eerie opening, featuring the score to Psycho), “Who Are You” (an angst-ridden, but focused, attack on the plight of poor families, their dynamic, the stigma they bear and the drama and conflict they endure) and finally “Street Lobotomy” (Ice’s attack on drugs and how they debilitate those already beleaguered by poverty, crime and discrimination). The album came out in 1994, but even metalheads (it seems) didn’t take notice.
However, the crown jewel of Body Count’s pre-break up work for me was 1997’s Violent Demise: The Last Days. Perhaps B.C.’s best album with (obviously) their most violent lyrics. However, the album also dares to have fun with a lot of their topics. Songs such as “Strippers” and the gallows humor of songs like “I Used To Love Her” (which pokes equal parts fun at infidelity as it does the guilt of O.J. Simpson), “Dr. K.” (a lampoon on the whole controversy surrounding Dr. Kevorkian, sang by guitarist Ernie C., who sounds a bit like a young Lemmy Kilmeister on this track), “Root of All Evil” (Ice’s meditation on money and its affect on society and mankind as a whole) and “Last Days” (a haunting goodbye that professes that all men, however different, are joined in brotherhood by hardship and, eventually, death).
I suppose Born Dead and Violent Demise did not get the attention they rightly deserved (as each album shows the band progressing and maturing both lyrically, musically, vocally and in terms of production value) because there was no controversy. And it’s sad to think that the metal community (ever a dedicated friend to even the most downtrodden) would abandon Body Count simply because the novelty of listening to them had worn off with the controversy surrounding “Cop Killer”.
But perhaps it was the fact that I was hearing a new black voice in metal (other than Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon, Bonz from Stuck Mojo, Derrick Green from Sepultura, Candiria and Living Colour), or perhaps it was that I was hearing a black voice that jump ropped from one side of the musical spectrum to the other, but this is where my interest in rap & hip-hop began a resurgence. In fall of 2000 I bought The N.W.A. Legacy, followed very-quickly by (in early 2001) my re-buying of Straight Out of Compton, Eazy-E’s Eazy Duz It (both of which I owned as a youth on cassette, rediscovering them was perhaps one of the best things to happened to me, musically speaking, in my adult life) and my buying of Ice-T’s Home Invasion and (later) O.G. and my burning of Gansta Rap. I’d been turned on to Home Invasion via a VH-1 Behind the Music special on Ice-T, which, sadly, also informed me of the disappointing reason “Cop Killer” was no longer featured on the self-titled Body Count album (in short, lack of support from Time Warner).
After this I was largely alone in wringing my hands, waiting for a Body Count reunion. Thankfully, I didn’t have long to wait. Ice-T came back to metal in a fashion no one would have expected: a duet with Chris Barnes on the track “One Bullet Left” off Six Feet Under’s 2001 opus True Carnage. In an interview with some metal rag of the moment, Ice alluded to a techno-metal band he was prepping (something along the lines of early White Zombie, Static-X or Gravity Kills, called P.S.K. – Perverted Sex Kult) and a fourth Body Count album. The next few years were an exercise in endurance for anyone who cared (like me!).
Thankfully, I didn’t have long to wait again, as Body Count headlined the 2003 Milwaukee Metalfest (a festival they’d been to before and, if memory serves, the place where Ice-T and Chris Barnes first met and expressed mutual admiration for one another). I’d never seen such a big, violent and intense crowd in any compact metal show in my life. Truthfully life changing. Even more so was the meet and greet. I wore my Six Feet Under tour shirt (which Ice enthusiastically commented on) and had him sign the booklets for both Violent Demise and Home Invasion. Ice turned to Coco (his wife) and beamed with pride… perhaps at the fact that a long-haired white kid from the suburbs had even heard of Body Count’s other albums (and liked them!) and had sought out his hip-hop efforts.
But the wait for Body Count’s new album continued.
I spent that time reading Ice-T’s book The Ice Opinion (which, I’m told, college sociology classes once used as a textbook due to its unique perspective on how to express ideology through various forms of media) and (in early 2006) seeing Ice-T live in another capacity: giving an academic lecture (something he does occasionally on the college circuit, along with his friends in elderly punk rock Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra). At this lecture (which was held at UMSL’s Touhil Performing Arts Center) there was a Q&A afterwards. Most asked Ice about the modern state of hip-hop and for the lowdown on various L.A. gang bangers. When I approached the mic (dorkily clutching my copy of Ice Opinion), I asked him about the new Body Count album, spasming with joy when he told me that it was done and going into post-production and asking him if his decision to reform Body Count had anything to do with history repeating itself (a Bush in the White House, a war in the Middle East, etc.). Ice played it off and said that a bunch of friends from high school were just getting together to make music. I accepted the answer… tentatively.
In the summer of 2006 Murder 4 Hire dropped and, well, disappointment ensued. The seven-year wait (for anyone who was actually waiting after Violent Demise) was not paid in full. Sure, there were some standout tracks (especially the tracks that confirmed my suspicion that Body Count came back, partly, in answer to Bush and the injustice he was perpetuating), such as “End Game” and “Dirty Bombs”. But mostly the album had lackluster tracks like “Invincible Gangster” and “You Don’t Know Me: Pain” and “Lies”. Sure, they tackle some new ground: issues committing to and enduring female proclivities (“Relationships”) and religion (“Passion of the Christ”), but mostly there are rehashed themes (“Down in the Bayou” could easily be a cousin to “KKK Bitch”). Which is a shame, as in late 2005 I devoured Body Count’s two live DVDs (Live in L.A. and Smoke Out) and simply could not wait for Body Count’s return. To have it come with such paltry and, it seemed, half-hearted results was discouraging to say the least.
However, as most do, I shrugged and moved on. Body Count did not tour for Murder 4 Hire and, as far as I know, Ice-T is largely unhappy with how the album turned out.
I entertained myself with my previous Body Count albums (and a 1993 Live in L.A. CD I overpaid for from some guy in Italy off eBay) and DVDs and waited for their next move.
I even saw Ice-T on a hip-hop tour as he came through town to Pop’s in 2007. I sat in the back and did not move from my seat during the show. I had checked out & burned Ice’s new rap album (Gangster Rap) from the library and (having enjoyed it) wanted to hear the material live. I was thoroughly amused to see a long-haired white kid (probably in his 20’s) at the front of the stage, ranting (clearing inebriated in some fashion) about wanting to hear Body Count songs. Ice loved the kid, but eventually had to set the tone, saying,
“Dude, how are we gonna do Body Count… We ain’t got no guitars…”
Now, when I began to immerse myself in metal (which was probably around 1998 or so), I was crestfallen to find that several bands that had dominated the scene (and created music that I loved after the fact) were disbanded. I lamented the loss of Obituary, Carcass, Prong and Helmet. But lately it seems as if all things old are new again and that evil never really dies. Obituary came back in 2005 and have continued the fight and never been stronger. Carcass came roaring back onto the scene (again, stronger and more prolific than ever) in 2008. Prong and Helmet have been back for some time… and have carried on as if they never really left. Even Pissing Razors have (quietly) reformed (with the original line-up) after years of silence… Now, if only we could get Dead To Fall and (Karyn) Crisis to return to the studio and touring circuit.
Body Count’s return is no surprise. Initially, in 2014, Ice said that he reformed Body Count because nothing was interesting him in hip-hop; modern rap wasn’t saying anything. It was all just “poppin’ bottles” and bragging about material acquisition. But what started as a desire to return to metal for lack of anything intriguing in another genre, has turned into a cathartic, and all-too necessary, call to arms for a faction of Amerika that has seen better (or slightly better) days and are only in for darker days ahead.
But I get ahead of myself.
One of the most astounding aspects of Body Count is that Ice-T is such a respected figure in hip-hop (as one of the, if not the, founding fathers of gangster rap), but is also hailed and beloved and immensely revered by nearly every prominent figure in the metal community. Hell, even the most legendary of death metal bands sign his praises. Ice-T has done songs with Slayer (“Disorder”, off the Judgment Night soundtrack… the recording sessions of which, showing Ice-T and Tom Araya sitting on a couch, reminiscing about the heyday of punk rock, has made its way to YouTube), Chris Barnes (as stated earlier), helped jump start the career of Pro-Pain (even guest starred on the track “Put the Lights Out” off of The Truth Hurts), has toured with Sepultura and Ministry as well as with Guns N’Roses and Metallica, has done shows with Rollins Band and Cannibal Corpse and has expressed endless admiration for Carcass and Napalm Death. But more than that, Ice doesn’t pick sides. He’s toured with Metallica, now he’s done a song with Dave Mustaine. He’s best friends with Chris Barnes, yet toured alongside Cannibal Corpse (during the 2014 Mayhem Festival) and made great friends with the rest of the band and their new singer (George Fisher even dedicated “I Cum Blood” to Ice-T during their set). Ice-T truly is a universally loved individual.
Nothing proves that more than 2014’s Manslaughter. Sure, the album had fun with tracks like “Bitch in the Pit”, “99 Problems”, “Black Voodoo” and their take on Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized 2014”…They even show joy while expressing anger at certain annoying attributes of modern society, the standout example being their response to Internet trolls, “Talk Shit, Get Shot”. But there were also serious tracks. “Enter the Dark Side”, “Back to Rehab”, “Pray For Death” (playful, yet angry), “Manslaughter” and “Get A Job” are among the more serious and solemn (while still having fun). A friend of mine offered that, with this album, Ice-T showed a side of himself that was (for lack of a better word) vaguely Republican: songs like “Get A Job” showed little sympathy for those in need (or, rather, those in want) and “I Will Always Love You” (a song about veterans and their plight). But, really, these themes are nothing new. Ice talk about his love of veterans (he being a veteran himself) on the track “Shallow Graves” off Born Dead and his intolerance for entitled laziness is as old as his disgust for the ever-widening socio-economic class division. All in all, had it not been for Cannibal Corpse releasing another progressive, anthem-filled slice of death metal grooviness (with Skeletal Domain), Manslaughter would have been my favorite album of 2014. And seeing them live at Mayhem Fest (with an energy and joy that I’ve seldom seen in bands half their age) was perhaps the most fulfilling concert experience of that year.
But now we look at their sixth album: Bloodlust.
First, a look at the guest stars reminds one of early-2000’s records, when metal bands tried to pile as many varied guest stars on each album as they could (see (Hed) P.E.’s Broke and Six Feet Under’s True Carnage for reference). In fact, it’s ironic that Body Count has Max Cavalera on this album. I remember reading the list of guest stars on 2000’s Primitive and thinking, “How are they going to play any song on this album live unless they tour with all of these bands?!” Sure, Body Count has had guest stars before (Jello Biafra on the “Freedom of Speech” off their self-titled debut) and Jayme Jaysta on the track “Pop Bubble” off Manslaughter). But this album has such a mixture of old and new metal icons its astounding: Dave Mustaine (who, like Body Count, just made a stellar comeback from a string of stale mediocrity, with last year’s stellar Dystopia), Randy Blythe (of Lamb of God) and, of course, Max Cavelera (Sepultura, SoulFly, Cavalera Conspiracy, etc.).
Furthermore, Body Count (with each of their new albums) has managed to have a standout, “Cop Killer”-esque track that stirs controversy and has a title, groove, lyrical content and message that sticks with the listener and resonates long after the album has gone silent (though, let’s face it, Body Count is never silent). Manslaughter had “Talk Shit, Get Shot” and Bloodblust has “No Lives Matter”.
Right off the bat, people will notice that Bloodlust is decidedly more dark, angry, serious, and vicious of an album than Manslaughter. Why? There’s the obvious: Michael Brown (Rodney King’s beating was a huge catalyst for the first Body Count album… the difference here: Rodney King lived and there was at least moderate justice served in that situation) and the results of the 2016 presidential elections. Any supposed Republicanism has since been siphoned out of Body Count’s lyrics. Sure, Ice-T is a rich Hollywood star, but he grew up relatively poor and orphaned. The presumed serenity and equilibrium of having a black president and a Democrat in office for eight years has burned off and has been replaced with the results of the new presidential election, which shows that the unjust dichotomy between the rich and poor has never been more obvious and offensive.
Hell, even the cover art is less colorful and playful than Manslaughter (which was decidedly grungy and morbid, but still vibrant and vaguely fun). The cover for Bloodlust is, if nothing else, a bit uncanny and unpleasant to look at. Bloodlust is indeed a product of its time. So much has happened in the three years since Manslaughter one cannot, I think, even imagine Body Count releasing an album as (even partially) “fun” as Violent Demise or Manslaughter.
If you had to encapsulate the thesis of Bloodlust I think it could be this: is the cruelty of man (shown in prejudice, greed, blind hatred and violence) innate? Furthermore, is the blueprint for man’s cruelty logical (and, therefore, predictable) or chaotic (and therefore unchecked and uncontrollable)? And, finally, if man is indeed prone to such acts of immoral cruelty, then are we truly the most evolved of all primates?
Leave it to Ice-T to ask such questions in a dark, unflinching and brutal album that is as heavy as South Central L.A. pavement. The standout tracks, for me, are: “The Ski Mask Way”, “No Lives Matter”, “Bloodlust” and “Black Hoodie”.
The album opens with “Civil War”. Now, the song does indeed feature Dave Mustaine, mostly giving a little spoken word segment at the beginning about how the U.S. has become a police state, but he remains absent the rest of the track. And, sadly, since iTunes and Amazon are not offering as many digital booklets, for albums bought as digital downloads, as they used to, I’m left to guess as to whether or not Mustaine did guitar duties on this song along with metal heavyweight Ernie C. And while this track does indeed set the tone for the rest of the album, it is largely forgettable. I think perhaps starting the album with “The Ski Mask Way” might have been a better jumping off point. Be that as it may, the track is still heavy (with growling death metal vocals in the background of the chorus) and extremely prophetic (in addition to showcasing Ice’s opinion on our current presidential administration and the future of America).
“The Ski Mask Way” is textbook Body Count: fun, heavy, brutal and layered. Sure, on the surface it is a song (told somewhat playfully) about a group of men robbing others at gunpoint. But if you pull back the surface curtain it’s a story about men driven to extremes in order to survive. The most haunting lyrics are the ones that play on suburban fear: the fear of being victimized and the fear of death at the hands of a stranger due to an unbalanced class struggle rife with desperation.
“All on InstaGram
Showing that cash off
What you really hope:
I don’t take this mask off
Don’t make me punish you
Don’t want to hurt your wife
Come up off that watch
It ain’t worth your life.”
Musically, the song is one gigantic breakdown. And when the breakdown actually happens, it is epic. And Body Count is one of the many Kings of the Metal Breakdown (see also “Body Count’s in the House” and “Talk Shit, Get Shot” for further evidence).
“Why We Ride” is another song that offers explanation (beginning with Ice’s spoken word intro) as to inner city violence and his own obsession with violence (both fictional and real). And while the lyrics are vitally important in proving Ice’s point, and giving his listeners an insight into a facet of society that (let’s face it, if they have the money to buy this album) they don’t understand or have never seen, the song is mostly covered ground for Body Count. Though, to be clear, that doesn’t make the song any less important or essential to the record (as every song supports the album’s thesis). Musically, however, the breakdown during the chorus is heavier than most of the thrash that’s been produced in the last fifteen years. There’s even a guitar solo that sounds a lot like heyday Megadeth (Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, etc.)
“All Love is Lost” is a song about betrayal, playing on themes explored in both Body Count, Sepultura and SoulFly albums, a perfect subject for a Max Cavalera/Ice-T pairing. And while the guitar riffs reign down like axes chopping, sadly, the song is a bit forgettable. When I listen to it, I enjoy it. But when it’s over, I have to re-listen to it to remember its content. I would’ve wanted a more brutal, fast and collaborative effort (Cavalera only sings the chorus, screaming the songs title every few seconds).
Then there is the Slayer medley. Well, what can be said of this? Ice-T is metal as hell. Sure, I don’t love Slayer as much as everyone else does (and their fans just annoy and often piss me off), but there’s no denying that Ice’s affiliation, admiration for and friendship with them gives him infinite street cred among metalheads. That and Ice and Ernie C. play versions of Slayer’s songs that are damn-near unmistakable from their original versions. However, on the next Body Count record (and let’s hope there are many more), I want to hear no homages to other bands; or, at the very least, no homage/covers (like “Institutionalize 2014” off Manslaughter).
“God, Please Believe Me” is a curious song. It’s not a song about theology (as was “Passion of the Christ” off Murder 4 Hire), but Ice rapping (borderline spoken word) over metal music about, again, the violence and crime-ridden life he’s lead and explaining why things like that happen to certain people. While still important to supporting the album’s thesis, it feels a lot like filler.
“Walk With Me” could perhaps be the only true duet/collaboration on the album. The album veers between sounding like a Lamb of God song and sounding like a Body Count song; the musical duality is impressive. Now, we all feared that this song (based on its title) would just be a cover of “Walk With Me in Hell” with Ice-T guest starring on vocals. Like when we heard that Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbi was to guest star on Megadeth’s latest album (2007’s United Abominations) and it turns out she was simply doing some guest vocals on a new version of “À Tout le Monde”. Yeah, not the case here. This song is a true collaboration. Lyrically, the song is, essentially, about how sick in the head Ice-T and Blythe are, the dark things they’ve seen and how the average man cannot comprehend their worlds. Sure, the song will fall into regular rotation in my listening of this album, but it doesn’t completely gel with the thesis of the album. Still, it is a worthy track that does not feel like filler, but a necessary component of a much larger design.
“Here I Go Again”… Nope, not a cover of the Whitesnake song, but an ominous, doom-metal-ish song about (I suppose) a serial killer… or a man with an unknown murderous streak (or perhaps the confusing ranting of a man afflicted with lycanthropy). For those unfamiliar with death metal, the lyrical content and the meandering beat of the music might seen off-putting or unpleasant, but for those of us already assimilated into such culture, the song is pure joy. It could also reasonably be seen as a companion piece to “Last Breath” off Born Dead. That and the shout-outs during the song to Slayer (“South of Heaven”) and Carcass (“Surgical Steel”) are admirable.
“No Lives Matter” is truly this album’s “Cop Killer” or “Talk Shit, Get Shot”. Ice’s spoken word intro could not be more resonant, thoughtful, intelligent and timely. But, once again, Ice’s manages something praiseworthy that few bands (rap, metal or otherwise) have managed to do: take a racially charged situation and, using empathy, reveal that the issue is indeed about something much larger and disturbing. Not only does the song have one of the catchiest grooves of the entire album, but it is almost an anthem to those of us (of every color) who feel left behind, discarded and dismissed by a society that rates one’s monetary value (be it earned, stolen or inherited) over one’s morals, work ethic and character.
The chorus is almost a war cry for the downtrodden, for anyone not included in America’s 1% to rise up and enact violent revolution (which harkens back to Jungle Rot’s “I Predict A Riot” and “Rise Up” off Kill On Command).
Fuck with us
Once we realize
We’re all on the same side!
Split us up
And let them prosper
Off the divide!
Don’t fall for the bait and switch
Racism is real, but not it.
They fuck whoever can’t fight back
But now we gotta change all that!
The people have had enough
Right now it’s them against us
This shit is ugly to the core
When it comes to the poor:
NO LIVES MATTER!”
I repeat my original statement: this is the most important album of 2017 (possible of the next four years, but certainly of the decade). It ranks right up there with Pro-Pain’s Voice of Rebellion, Misery Index’s Heirs to Thievery and Jungle Rot’s Kill On Command and Terror Regime in terms of socio-political importance. This is what heavy metal should be.
“Bloodlust” is the kind of track bands wish they had ten of on every album. The song is almost one long breakdown. And, again, Ice’s spoken word intro sets the tone of the song perfectly. I wrote about what this album’s thesis is, but this song (as it should, being the title track) defines it perfectly. Just listen to the song yourself; you’ll find it one of the heaviest and uncompromising metal compositions written in some time. “Bloodlust” proves why Body Count has, despite massive support from metal fans and record labels, endured and maintained throughout the years: talent. This is a song (musically, lyrically and vocally) any metalhead could be proud to have thundering out of their speakers as they drive down the street.
And the album concludes with “Black Hoodie”, perhaps the most disturbing and unsettling song on the album. If “Cop Killer” was parenthetically about Rodney King, then “Black Hoodie” is indeed about Michael Brown (and the endless succession of racially inspired police shootings that transpired both after and before). The song is heavy, fast, brutal, eerie, upsetting, ominous and full of the rage and helpless hate that most of us can never dream of (and those who have experienced it hope never to feel it again). It is a hate that comes from facing an unstoppable and undefeatable enemy: the law (or rather those who are suppose to enforce it, but abuse it instead). If any song defines the tension between urban African-Americans and the police in the 2010’s, it is “Black Hoodie”. Ice barks the song’s chorus with an aggression reminiscent of Chaos A.D.-era Cavalera and the music is no-frills, just dark, fed up metal. Perhaps the song could have benefitted from the absence of the onomatopoeia at the end,
That’s the sound of the police
(Gunshot sound effects)
That’s the sound of the streets”
But overall the song is perhaps the most important (save for “No Lives Matter” and “Bloodlust”) on the album. The fact that it ends with a gunshot should haunt the listener and put the final period in the band’s statement: life is tough… on the streets, or anywhere, if you’re the wrong color, in the wrong socio-economic echelon or dressed the wrong way… pray you never learn this the hard way.
I’ve said all I need to about Bloodlust. To say it is an achievement in metal is a vast understatement. Bloodlust could be modern metal’s redemption, as so many bands have recently fallen into either just going through the motions, and taking no risks, or releasing, what I can only imagine they know are, substandard material. The cultural and social landscape were ripe for a new Body Count album and Ice-T did not disappoint with his choice of subjects and his lyrical brilliance. Ernie C. and the rest of B.C. met and even exceeded the obstacle of creating original, heavy and impacting grooves. This is an album every metalhead needs to own, listen to, study and consider… even if the lifestyle it represents is foreign to them. Because even if we cannot understand Ice-T and Body Count’s world perspective, we should aspire to what they have so eloquently offered to the rest of the (often cruel) world: empathy and understanding.
Recommendations: Slayer, Carcass, Hatebreed, Napalm Death, Throwdown, Lungbrush, Machine Head, Skinlab, Pro-Pain, Misery Index, Six Feet Under, Jungle Rot