It’s weird to think there’s a whole generation of kids who only know Ice-T as “that dude from Law & Order” and have never even heard the man rap, let alone heard his metal band Body Count. In spite of being young at the time, I remember when the band released their self-titled debut and the controversy surrounding the song “Cop Killer,” which was eventually deleted from all subsequent pressings of the album. I was only twelve when the album came out and didn’t hear it until a few years later, but it was evident that lost amidst the controversy was the fact that Body Count was an incendiary album of hardcore punk-fueled heavy metal that should’ve garnered acclaim for making mainstream heavy metal dangerous again thanks to Ice’s willingness to express himself in whatever way he saw fit without giving a fuck about who he might offend, rather than being a target for uptight and out-of-touch folks who believe the average American isn’t intelligent enough to distinguish fantasy from reality.
Body Count never seemed to recover from the “Cop Killer” fiasco and their subsequent albums largely went unnoticed. In fact, I have to admit that the last thing I expected to be in 2014 was excited for a new Body Count album. When I heard that the band was getting back together with a re-tooled lineup after an eight year layoff, I was morbidly curious, but it didn’t go any further than that until the music video for “Talk Shit, Get Shot,” the opening track from Manslaughter was released. Morbid curiosity rapidly transformed into “holy shit, when is this fucking thing coming out?!” after seeing what might be the best music video released in the last fifteen years. Not only is “Talk Shit, Get Shot” a cracking hardcore-tinged rap metal track, but the video has absolutely zero regard for anything even remotely resembling political correctness, making it both refreshing and a ton of fun.
In fact, “fun” might be the best word to describe Manslaughter as a whole. Yes, it’s a pummeling record musically and yes, the lyrics are crude, violent and totally over-the-top, but it’s so goddamn refreshing to hear a metal band in 2014 that isn’t black or death metal take this approach that I can’t help but smile every time I hear it. The thing is, you can actually understand every word Ice-T is saying, which makes it that much more awesome and entertaining to listen to and the man is for the most part every bit as lyrical as he ever was. It’s a about as big a “fuck you” to anyone that says “lyrics don’t matter” as there could ever be, and if you’re a fan of words you’ll likely appreciate the mastery that Ice displays here; his flow hasn’t lost anything in spite being away from the mic since 2006.
As over-the-top as Body Count is, Ice does tackle some serious topics on Manslaughter. “Pop Bubble,” which features a cameo from Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, attacks the current state of hip hop, asking why rappers are more concerned with selling out and being materialistic than they are with tackling the political and social issues of today. “Wanna Be a Gangsta” criticizes those who still believe street life is glamorous, while the title track reminds us that manhood used to mean something prior to the PC police’s hostile takeover of America. Of course, there’s also plenty of pitch-black humor, as evidenced by “Institutionalized 2014,” a side-splitting remake of Suicidal Tendencies’ classic with updated original lyrics that fit the frustrations of everyday life circa right now. The aforementioned “Talk Shit, Get Shot” envisions the grisly demise of internet shit talkers to hilarious effect and includes what might be the greatest metaphor for getting shot of all time, “dusted with a musket.”
Musically, Body Count’s rejuvenated lineup, which now features guitarist Juan Garcia of Agent Steel and bassist Vincent Price of Steel Prophet in addition to drummer Ill Will and founding lead guitarist Ernie C sounds lean, mean and hungry, providing a devastating mix of rap metal, thrash and hardcore for Ice-T to spit over. Nearly every riff is mosh-worthy, and the guitar tone is crushing, propelling tracks such as “Pray for Death” and “Bitch in the Pit” to impressive levels of frenzy and ferocity. C’s solos sound as if they’re more influenced by ’70s rock than Slayer, but damn if they aren’t effective, giving the album a soulful side amidst the ultra-violence. The drumming is straightforward and hard-hitting, with Will proving himself to be just as capable of providing the backbone for brutal breakdowns as he is of laying down hip hop-influenced grooves. As a unit, Body Count are one of the tightest and most locked-in bands I’ve heard so far in 2014.
Manslaughter isn’t a perfect album; at fourteen tracks and nearly an hour of music, there are bound to be a few duds. “Black Voodoo Sex” is goofy as hell and its campiness takes away from the gritty tone of the rest of the album, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind “I Will Always Love You” (no, it’s not a Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston cover), the quasi-ballad execution is lacking and doesn’t really fit after the band has been beating the shit out of you for the past dozen songs. Manslaughter also features two different re-make versions of Ice-T’s solo classic “99 Problems” (which Jay-Z famously borrowed the hook from for his own “99 Problems” in 2004) and while it is a classic, the superior “rock mix” surely would’ve sufficed.
Body Count’s return is a highly successful one; it’s heavy, it’s fun to listen to, and the songs are actually about something, with both the band’s chops and Ice-T’s storytelling and wordplay in top form. Quite frankly, this is exactly what metal needs, a breather from the pretentious and the politically correct; it’s all too rare these days to find an album that’s this blunt, provocative and irreverent. Whether or not it’ll give the genre a true shot in the arm remains to be seen, but I’ll take Manslaughter over whatever the big metal labels are pimping or the critics’ flavor of the week and you should too.