Ice-T is one of the rappers I respect the most, not least because of Body Count, a Speed/Thrash Metal/Hardcore Punk band with a definite Rap aesthetic and considerable Rap-elements in the music. It’s a band that’s basically made it for 20+ years against all odds: one of the earliest all-black Metal bands, who courted controversy from day one and were seriously harassed by the authorities for the song Cop Killer on the debut album; but they persevered, dug in and won in the end, continuing their career despite three original members dying, two due to cancer and one in a drive-by, releasing albums not exactly frequently, but at least steadily during the past 20 years. And now they are back with Manslaughter.
The coolest thing about Body Count is that it’s not just another vanity project in the sense that it regurgitates over-used generic formulas and tries to pigeonhole itself as a stereotypical Metal band. Instead, from the go, Body Count have dared to do their own thing and incorporate the streetwise, tough OG mentality into Metal, and musically exist in a real no man’s land between Metal, Hardcore and Rap with an ever-shifting emphasis on these three pillars that on one album leans more to Metal, another more to Punk, and sometimes more to Rap. Body Count was never cookie cutter Metal or an attempt to give some sort of “musical credibility” to a Rap artist, but a real band that did their own thing and, maybe because these guys don’t have a background in the Metal scene, they did their own thing sounding like themselves, which is more than cool.
Murder 4 Hire wasn’t a very good album; it was brought down by rather thin production, too much emphasis on Rap (in a manner that just didn’t mesh well with the Metal), and an abundance of uninteresting riffs. It felt too much like a Rap album with mediocre Metal backing. It didn’t have the drive that Body Count have achieved when they are looking to seriously kick some ass. Luckily, with Manslaughter, Body Count return to fine form with an album that’s smack dab in the middle of everything Body Count consists of, without being comfortably pigeonholable as being exclusively any one thing; mostly it leans towards the rap-infused hardcore of bands like Biohazard and Madball, but there’s elements from all over the Rap-Metal-Hardcore spectrum of Body Count. Best of all, this time around a working mixture of styles is not only bundled with good songs aplenty, but also with a production that kicks ass and is heavy, brutal and in-your-face. Really, play this album loud and you’ll notice that the production packs some serious punch.
The album starts on a high note with the video track Talk Shit Get Shot, which from the go sets the tone of the album: angry, heavy and uncompromising. This is Body Count doing what they do best: unashamedly angry and explicit music. Most of the time, Ice-T doesn’t rap as much as he shouts over the music in his talking-singing style. Lyrically, the album seems to be less socio-critical and politically conscious than, for example, the debut (which is the standard to which I will always judge all Body Count albums), putting more emphasis on personal topics. On the other hand, a track like Wanna Be A Gangsta, a cautionary tale for suburbian wannabe-thugs, shows that though the perspective might have changed a bit, Ice-T is still also singing songs about the streets for the kids. All in all, though one might miss the in-your-face social commentary, I can’t say Ice-T would’ve lost his lyrical edge; there’s the dark humor, mothafuckas aplenty, and also lyrics that dare to take a stand; lyrically the album just seems to be a bit more geared towards, on one hand, less concrete issues, and on the other hand, more personal topics. But I suppose you can’t expect the lyrics to be the same “angry young man”-stuff they were 20 years ago; in fact, it usually ends up pretty pathetic when a middle-aged artist goes for that approach, so it’s just as well that Ice-T doesn’t attempt that in his lyrics.
Apart from the already mentioned Talk Shit, Get Shot, other highlights include the definitely Hardcore Bitch In The Pit, which is heavy on breakdowns, shoutalongs and stuff you just want to punch a fucker in the face to; Pray For Death, which is again a heavy Hardcore track; the title track Manslaughter; and Wanna Be Gangsta, which has in my opinion some of the best lyrics on the album. Wanna Be A Gangsta starts out as a slower song, but builds up a decent amount of aggro. There are other noteworthy tracks as well, but truthfully also a few tracks that fall a bit short of the mark; Black Voodoo Sex, revisiting the classic Voodoo from the debut album, removed the Celtic Frost/Hellahmmer d-beat and, at the same time, reduces the track to mediocrity. 99 Problems is an entertaining piece, but it’s ultimately rather trivial, and two versions of the track on the album is just too much. Institutionalized 2014 is on one hand dead on in its deadpan delivery, but on the other hand a track from where the novelty value washes off quickly. None of the tracks are outright bad, however, so for its entire 50+ minute duration, the album stays well above the waterline qualitywise.
All in all, although the initial video single promised good stuff, I wasn’t expecting anything of this calibre. Manslaughter is quite honestly fucking murderous, and very likely my favourite 2014-release so far. Fucking Body Count in the house, bitches.
(PS. I don’t dare to talk shit about Body Count, because I’m afraid otherwise Ice-T will body me with the shotty through my monitor)