The modern wind of Body Count’s career may have begun life as a borderline accident when their cover of Suicidal Tendencies’ Institutionalized became something of a meme within the metal community, but it’s genuinely incredible to see what that’s spiralled into. 2017’s Bloodlust might not have persisted in the public memory for too long (which is a shame because it was a great album), but between utter brutality in its instrumental tone, a conscious streak that perfectly embodied with band’s street-level image and the continued showcasing of Ice-T as one of metal’s premier personalities, what it lacked in envelope-pushing moments was made up for by sheer, bloody-minded gumption. And that’s important to note, especially considering the dichotomies formed between Ice-T as a frontman and as a solo rapper, especially on his ‘80s and ‘90s material; there’s an unmistakable difference in refinement, particularly highlighted in Body Count’s own classification of themselves as a metal band distanced from hip-hop, but the anger and perseverance serving as common threads in both have been what’s made this material seem so vital, even for a band now hitting their 30th birthday.
It’s a notion that has special significance on Carnivore for the inclusion of Colors, a remake of Ice-T’s 1988 single that, in the wider context of the album, serves as the ideal conduit between both sides of Ice as an artist and both sides of his artistic output. Gang violence, police brutality and systemic racism are all still issues that haven’t gone away between then and now, and a band like Body Count who’ve witnessed it all happen across both eras tackling those issues couldn’t feel more right and righteous. Especially nowadays with the momentum they’ve built for themselves, the force that’s on display is enormous, and even if Carnivore is pretty cut-and-dry fare for Body Count, the fact that it’s also as incendiary as it comes and imbued with the weight of artists who’ve lived to see how little has changed over time couldn’t have more power behind it.
What’s more, it’s where the relative straightforwardness of Body Count’s approach works the best, getting to the heart of matters with deadly precision and without having anything standing in the way to cloud the point. It’s arguably Ice’s greatest strength as an artist, with the spoken style that further barbs the takedown of racist attacks on unarmed black people by the police on Point The Finger and how normalised the culture of racism as a whole has become on The Hate Is Real, but also in how ruthlessness and violence has become a necessity to survive on the title track and Thee Critical Beatdown. And yet, among it all, there’s the defiance of making it out of poverty and bucking against a society designed to keep people like him down on Another Level, and giving the wider framing of spreading love before it’s too late to a tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle on When I’m Gone. It’s thunderous messaging, for sure, but it doesn’t lack in nuance, nor does it feel for one second as though Body Count are phoning in any part of it; Carnivore hits with effortless voracity and purpose without a second being wasted.
But even with the theming aside and taking it on its most primal level, Carnivore still excels as a fantastic metal album in almost every way. For starters, Body Count still have some impeccable production techniques under their belt, with the sort of command that gives Ernie C and Juan of the Dead’s guitars a mountain-crushing weight when needed, but also deep, peeled-out knell of ‘80s Metallica that lends a track like Another Level its oppressive atmosphere. Of course, heft is kept as a premium and delivered as such, but it’s not a one-note affair; the crossover-thrash and stop-start riffing is allowed to open up for choppier grooves on Colors and a sense of the ethereal woven in by Evanescence’s Amy Lee on When I’m Gone. But at the same time, the inherent thrills brought on by the rampaging Bum-Rush or the breakdown laced with the sound of fighting on Thee Critical Beatdown feels like metal release at its most visceral, and a cover of Motörhead’s Ace Of Spades that could easily seem predictable or maudlin is the sort of tribute to the genre’s past that’s difficult to dislike, if only because it sounds like Body Count are having the time of their lives doing it.
And sure, none of this is exactly new, but when Body Count are showing no signs of fatigue and continue to be amongst the best in their field when it comes to modern, conscious thrash that can pull off its hip-hop edge, there’s no reason to be too critical of Carnivore. It’s just as good as Bloodlust at occupying the same space, and even if there’s very little deviation to be found, the unbridled power of it all careers past any threshold where that could be considered much of an issue at all. It’s frankly excellent at pulling off what it’s trying to do, having a near-perfect combination of incisiveness, power and real enjoyability to make for the sort of crossover album that can do a whole lot with relatively little. Most of all though, it’s just Body Count doing what they do best, and if it’s going to carry on like this, long may that continue.
For fans of: Suicidal Tendencies, Biohazard, Metallica
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Carnivore’ by Body Count is released on 6th March on Century Media Records.