A little context is necessary to understand the greatness of Body Count’s latest release. In 1992, Ice-T and his friend Ernie C. started a heavy metal band. Influenced by Slayer and Sabbath, the group meant to bring to the fore the social issues that they experienced growing up, especially police brutality. Channeling their feelings into song, they released “Cop Killer,” a song that is about exactly what the title suggests. Ice-T made it clear that the song was intended to be provocative and did not represent his true desires. But it sparked a fire of controversy nonetheless. Police associations boycotted the track, George H.W. Bush spoke out, soccer moms everywhere were very uncomfortable. The Band eventually relented and pulled “Cop Killer” from the album, but the statement that it made has remained with the spirit of Body Count decades later.
On Carnivore, Ice-T and his crew cover old songs, and barrel through new ones. Their brand is anything but a new idea, but it’s done right. And it’s exactly what the music world needs right now.
Message-wise, Ice-T is still espousing the same sentiments as when he first started. Carnivore even features updates of classics “Colors” and “6 ‘N The Morning.” The latter track’s distinctly vintage flow works surprisingly well over a heavy metal instrumental, and Ernie C’s grungy power chords are a suitable replacement to the 1988 gang-set anthem. It’s refreshing to see musicians willing to continually embrace their early careers — and at the same time completely upend their defining characteristics.
As fun as this project feels, the band calculatedly uses other voices to communicate emotions that Ice-T’s distinctive voice might not. Riley Gale (of Power Trip) is a welcome inclusion to “Point the Finger,” as he and Ice trade bars about the injustice of police brutality. “Drug deal gone bad,” Gale growls. Ice-T answers, “The badge is the biggest gang we ever had.” Likewise, Amy Lee’s ghostly croon takes “When I’m Gone” to a greater emotional height. Some people are going to criticize this song for aligning itself with Evanescence’s much-memed-about nu-metal sound. I don’t think Ice-T gives a rip, though.
I’m giving Ice-T a lot of credit, but the fact is everyone in the band pulls their weight. Agent Steel alum Juan of the Dead lays down an absolutely brutal rhythm section, and Ernie C’s lead playing makes the case for his status as one of the greatest heavy-metal guitarists alive. On “The Hate is Real,” C’s neck-jumping solo shreds the track to oblivion.
The members of this group have reached a point in their careers where they are truly making music for themselves and not necessarily for mainstream consumption. There are elements on this record that would feel hackneyed and dated from any other group. But somehow, Body Count sticks the landing and makes their rap-rock hybrid feel fresh and fistpumping.