On April 28th, 2015 Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J celebrated his 43rd birthday. This is no trivial accomplishment. With a childhood steeped in gang violence and accentuated by poverty, Violent J (aka: Joseph Bruce) may be lucky to have made it even beyond 20.
But something happened along the way which changed Violent J’s life forever. He formed a band. Along with his childhood friend Joey Ustler (aka: Shaggy 2 Dope), J built the Insane Clown Posse from the bones of defunct street gang Inner City Posse.
On October 18th, 1992, ICP released their debut full length album, ‘Carnival of Carnage’. The first in an album series known as the ‘Joker’s Cards’, ‘Carnival’ set ICP onto their lifelong musical odyssey. The Joker’s Cards are a series of thematic albums, each revealing some aspect of the listener’s inner-self—they display moral quandaries and psychic terrors like so many carnivalesque freak-shows.
Since then, ICP’s career has stood as a blazing contradiction to the ‘mainstream’ music industry. With the formation of their record label, ‘Psychopathic Records’, Joe and Joey have created an underground industry for themselves, bringing up countless other acts along the way.
With this sense of purpose, the lives of these two Detroit youth have morphed from nightmares to dreamscapes. Both describe their lives now as being filled with all the happiness and fulfillment they could have ever dreamed of. For more information about the genesis of the Insane Clown Posse, see the Brad OH Inc. article ‘Circular Journey’ (Link).
This all brings us back to April 28th—as this year, Violent J’s birthday also marked the release of the 3rd Joker’s Card of the second deck—‘The Marvelous Missing Link: Lost’.
‘Lost’ is only one half of ‘The Missing Link’, with the other half—‘Found’—dropping later this year, on July 31st.
Like all Joker’s Cards, there is a very specific theme behind ‘The Missing Link’. As a whole, ‘The Missing Link’ refers to our internal link to belief—our connection to and faith in whatever keeps us on the right track.
Specifically, ‘Lost’ is about the experience of having no belief. Its dark tales tell of loss, death, and torment—the experience of any soul living in such a depraved world without any belief to buffer against the daily anxieties of such a life.
With tracks such as ‘Lost’, ‘Apocalypse’, and ‘Vomit’ painting hellish stories of misplaced anger and suffering, ‘Lost’ is accordingly one of the darkest albums the Clowns have ever released.
Without long-time producer Mike E. Clark at the helm, ICP have instead placed their faith in the talents of Psychopathic collaborators Mike P, Michael ‘Seven’ Summers, Brian Kuma, and one of the label’s up-and-coming stars, James ‘Young Wicked’ Garcia. This results in a daring change to the sound. While every album has certainly represented a significant shift in musical style—ICP have continued to explore their artistic range even after nearly 25 years together—this stands as one of the most radical departures for the group yet.
Marked by the heavy use of DJ scratching and industrial-style bass drops, the backing tracks are fast and heavy—contributing an often frantic pace to an album about the madness of lacking a sense of purpose. The disc plays at times more like a soundscape than an ordered collection of songs, with lyrics often sampled and repeated over and over—the usual raps slipping on many occasions into something closer to a Gregorian chant. In this way, the album is reminiscent of ICP protégé-band Twiztid’s stellar 2009 release- ‘W.I.C.K.E.D.’.
Garcia’s efforts deserve special credit here. Contributing many background vocals and several choruses including on the songs ‘How’ and ‘I See the Devil’, Garcia brings a fresh and welcome sound to the album—acting often as the distant voice of hope amidst the dark rumblings of ICP’s verses.
ICP’s delivery here is significant as well. While never competing amongst the most technically skilled rappers, the Clowns have always turned out crisp lyrics meshing well with their energetic beats. Not here. While frantic at times, the beats seldom flirt with anything close to ‘energy’—opting rather for a more frenetic, plodding, and often vulgar feel.
ICP’s raps follow suit perfectly. When not stuck in repetitive loops, the lyrics often come in disjointed bursts, as if being made up on the spot by a mind too occupied with more pressing concerns. This is especially noticeable in the song ‘Shock’, and fits well with the theme of being unable to control your own deranged impulses, despite how off-putting it can seem at first.
This attention to detail is consistent throughout the record.
While the intro can be somewhat brazen in its repetition, and even disturbingly overt in hammering the point home—it does much to illustrate the earnest message behind this brooding album: Find something to believe in, or risk being lost. Despite this theme however, the album does little to provide any idea of just what one should believe. If internet memes are to be believed, ICP are a couple of evangelical Christians, and thus the easy conclusion would be faith in the Christian God.
But you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, and this is a perfect example. While the ultimate message of how to find your way will inevitably be addressed on ‘The Marvelous Missing Link: Found’, a recent interview in ‘The Detroit News’ did a good job showing the flexibility of Violent J’s views on the matter:
“Faith, for ICP, isn’t about any particular religion; Bruce admits he’s never read the Bible. It’s about finding something to believe in, whether that’s in one’s relationship with their spouse, their children or with art.” (Source).
But this isn’t to say that ‘Lost’ is entirely bereft of guidance. Several songs cover the issues of false beliefs—Money, Sex, Power, and other such temptations which distract people from finding a true sense of purpose. In ‘Vomit’, ICP tell the stories of two people who used sex and money respectively as their guiding principles, and end up lost in the depths of hell as a result.
Notably missing from the album is the familiar sense of humour so ubiquitous to other ICP releases. The lyrics and concepts are consistently bleak, with only brief glimpses of hope in songs such as ‘How’, which laments the confusion of trying to live a decent life amid such lurid distractions.
The album is moreover barren of any deep metaphor—which of course requires belief, as covered in depth in the former Brad OH Inc. articles on ‘The Metaphorical Imperative’ (Part 1 and Part 2). In an indirectly humourous twist, the song ‘Falling Apart’ accordingly eschews metaphor entirely. It tells the story of a man literally falling apart—fingers and limbs snapping off as he tries in vain to keep himself together. The song is punctuated by a surprisingly earnest chorus, in which Violent J channels his inner Rock Star to ask ‘What’s become of me/ I’m falling apart…’.
It pays off wonderfully.
The rest of the album plays out as a series of macabre stories and scenarios depicting the pitfalls of a life devoid of meaning. In stark contrast to most other ICP albums, the protagonist’s endeavours seldom end well, as evidenced in the song ‘Flamethrower’, where the Clown’s characters are ultimately killed. This subtly negative detail is similar to many songs from the group’s 2004 release, ‘Hell’s Pit’.
To me, one of the especially interesting things about this album is that it’s really not the album ICP probably ‘should’ have made at this point. Based on the huge surge of mainstream attention they garnered from songs like 2009’s ‘Miracles’, contrasted against the comparatively underwhelming reception they’ve received in the last few years, it would have made commercial sense to create a much more goofy album; ripe for public lampooning.
Instead, the Clowns opted to make a brazenly sincere album, focused on earnest meaning with a great sense of personal introspection. In theory, it’s the ‘wrong’ album to release just now, and that’s part of what makes it so damn interesting.
‘The Marvelous Missing Link: Lost’ is a daring album and bold new direction for ICP. Its heavy themes and plodding delivery often make for an uncomfortable listen, but that’s just the point. As is their wont, ICP have focused very intently on creating an LP that fits with their own artistic priorities rather than mass-appeal. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the band itself may be seen as the very ‘Link’ which raised Joe and Joey away from the fate of most children born to inner city poverty and set them on their purposeful path to happiness and fulfillment.
‘Lost’ is a dark, moody album. It’s not going to cheer anyone up, and this era in ICP’s career may be remembered as one of the least traditionally pleasant—challenging us with a barrage of negativity before moving on to the inevitably lighter tone of the ‘Found’ album. But ‘Lost’ does provide an important impetus for all of us to consider what really matters in our lives. It’s imperative that we take the time to recognize and cherish these things. Otherwise, our own Missing Link may never be ‘Found’.
A Note to the Reader: This is the first ever album review from Brad OH Inc. We hope you’ve enjoyed this new avenue, and encourage all of our fans to reply in the comments section with their thoughts on the review, or suggestions for other albums to review in the future.
-Brad OH Inc.