Insane Clown Posse returns to core theme

Rap group revives Dark Carnival for its latest work

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Barnum & Bailey may still own the title of Greatest Show on Earth when it comes to putting on a traditional circus.

If you go

• What: Insane Clown Posse, in concert.

• When: 6 p.m. June 4.

• Where: Portland Expo Center, 2060 N. Marine Drive, Portland.

• Cost: $32-$25, through TicketsWest, 800-992-8499 or http://ticketswest.rdln.com. Parking is $7, and $6 for carpools with three or more people.

• Information:http://www.expocenter.org.

But when it comes to putting on a hip-hop or rock and roll show, Violent J of Insane Clown Posse has no hesitations about where his group stands.

“I don’t want to sound conceited, but to me it’s the best thing going,” he said. “We feel like we’re putting on the greatest show on earth.”

Whether one agrees with that assessment may depend on one’s tolerance for soakings in Faygo. Insane Clown Posse shows have long been famous for spraying the audience with the grape soda.

But it makes sense that Violent J would bring up a circus motif at this point in the career of Insane Clown Posse. That’s because the duo, after a seven-year absence, have brought back one of the recurring themes of their previous albums — the Dark Carnival.

When it last surfaced, on the 2002 CD “The Wraith: Shangri-La,” the Dark Carnival appeared to be closing and packing up. That CD was named for the sixth in a series of six joker cards that had tied together six of the key albums released by Insane Clown Posse, beginning with the group’s 1992 CD, “Carnival of Carnage.”

With “The Unveiling,” the 17th and final song on “The Wraith,” the group seemingly had closed the book on that saga, saying that the story had been about following God and the hope that the group’s fans (affectionately known as “juggalos” and “juggalettes”) would find God as well.

This revelation, no doubt, caught many observers off guard, considering that the lyrical stock-in-trade of Insane Clown Posse had always involved plenty of profanity and songs about sex, women (usually when they’re having sex), and various episodes of violence and revenge.

Violent J has no problem explaining why Insane Clown Posse couched a spiritual message within such violent, profane and sexual language.

“That’s the stuff that people are talking about on the streets. So in other words, to get attention, you have to speak their language,” he said. “You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and speak of your experiences. Then, at the end you can tell them God has helped me out like this, and it might transfer over, instead of just come straight out and just speak straight out of religion.”

In any event, with all six joker-card CDs completed, it was time for a new phase for Insane Clown Posse. But Violent J said doing the subsequent releases — the EPs “Hells Pit” (2004) and “The Calm” (2005), and the full-length CD “The Tempest” (2007) — only caused him and Shaggy 2 Dope to realize that something was missing without elements of the Dark Carnival and the joker cards in their music.

“It felt like the records we were making and the albums we were making were just collections of bomb-ass music,” Violent J said. “But there wasn’t any story line to it. There wasn’t any secret to decipher. There wasn’t any Part Two. There wasn’t any message or secret underlying message. It was void of that tone, that sound, that magical sound, that rides with us when we’re focused on a joker card or a Dark Carnival project.”

So on the latest CD, “Bang! Pow! Boom!” fans will find Insane Clown Posse seeking to recapture the thematic elements of its early albums, while on a musical level, the boisterous raps and guitar-heavy sound are squarely in the tradition of “Carnival of Carnage” and 1997’s “The Great Milenko.”

“We felt we had the right to say this was the return of the Dark Carnival, because this album, although it’s not a joker’s card, it has all the elements of a Dark Carnival album,” Violent J said. “It has a story line behind it. It has a main theme to the record. It has a solid, positive message to the record. It just fits in with the Dark Carnival saga.

Lyrically, the CD will also sound familiar. But “Bang! Pow! Boom!” has a bit more of a topical bent than previous Insane Clown Posse CDs, as it takes on issues like abusers of women and children (“To Catch a Predator”) and business scams and greed (“Vultures”).

“That’s why we feel ‘Bang! Pow! Boom!’ is a part of the Dark Carnival, because it attacks those evils and it has a message to it,” Violent J. Said. “The other records we did in between, they just weren’t so much saying anything at the end of the day.

“For this album, we wanted that old Dark Carnival sound, but we wanted all-new subject matter, all new song topics, all new stories,” he said. “But (musically) we wanted the sound to be familiar and the tone to be familiar.”