The second album is – or so I keep on hearing – a challenge for bands. If this is so, it’s surely doubly so for a band who manage to make some serious waves with their debut, raising the expectations even higher and putting a lot of pressure on the band to match or preferably even top the success of the debut. Rapper Ice-T’s Thrash Metal/Hardcore crossover act certainly fits this description, as their debut caused a shitload of controversy, prompting statements even from the president of the United States, some heavy pressure from law enforcement agencies, and resulting in both the first edition of the album being pulled (later to be re-released minus the controversial track Cop Killer) and Body Count severing ties with their old label.
Sadly, Born Dead doesn’t quite manage to rise to the challenge. It’s not that the band can’t write good riffs or compose a good tune, because they can; however, there are a multitude of issues that condemn Born Dead to remain a somewhat inferior release.
The first major thing that’s flawed on Born Dead is the production, which is too thin and too flat to go with the music. This has a somewhat crippling effect on especially the guitars, and robs the songs from much of their drive and punch. A proper remaster with production that kicks ass would probably benefit this album greatly. The second major flaw is that there are too few “real” songs here: about a third of the album is under-developed stuff that feels more like a raw draft of a song with simple, repetitive two/three line lyrics, and out of the “proper” songs, Masters Of Revenge features annoying slowed down spoken word vocals which means it doesn’t really qualify as a “proper song” in my books, and the same goes for the last track on the album, which is also the title track: most of it is just spoken word stuff over a bassline. So the ratio of filler stuff is a bit too high.
It’s a shame, since some of the filler stuff, like Killing Floor, really has potential: Killing Floor has a pretty killer riff, but it’s not developed into a song proper, making it a somewhat pointless exercise. On the other hand, some of the “real” songs aren’t quite up to what one should rightly expect from Body Count; the aforementioned Masters Of Revenge, where the vocals seem rather sloppily put together and the title track, which has some pretty good riffs interspersed among the pointless spoken words and bassline sections, just don’t work. The same goes for Surviving The Game, which is probably the slowest track on the album, and is basically just a bore. The cover of Hey Joe is ill-fitting, as it both sounds totally different from the rest of the album and, frankly, isn’t very good; Ice-T’s limitations as a singer (as opposed to rapper) clearly shine through here. On the topic of the vocals, in comparison to the first album, Ice-T’s vocals are actually much closer to singing than the hybrid between singing, spoken vocals and rapping of the debut album; the result is pretty good, although I think I prefer his vocal approach on the first album. The different approach doesn’t, however, sound bad and Ice-T still sounds like Ice-T.
The third flaw, which is a pretty major flaw, is that Body Count doesn’t sound half as angry, pissed off, provocative and confrontational on Born Dead as on the debut. Sure, the lyrics are still full of acerbic commentary, provocation and the whole deal, but many of the lyrics still lack the brutal, honest, urgent and sincere edge of the debut, and the delivery is not as heartfelt and direct as on the debut. It is the anger of the debut that gives it much of its energy, and lacking it, Born Dead comes across as a much tamer animal. It lacks the Hardcore edge of the debut, instead going for a more purely Metal sound, eschewing the direct confrontationalism of Punk for a more musically complex expression. In Body Count’s case, it doesn’t work to their advantage, though it perhaps better showcases that especially guitarists Ernie C and D Roc know their shit.
Despite all the criticism, there’s a lot of good stuff on the album, and some very worthwhile songs, such as Necessary Evil and Shallow Graves, but the album as a whole feels a bit unfinished and unpolished, and the band come across complacent and/or timid. Better production could possibly add some of the missing element of aggression to the album, but as it stands now, it lacks that necessary kick in the groins. As a sophomore album after the both controversial and brilliant debut, Born Dead just doesn’t manage to cut it.