An Intelligent Review of ''The Wraith: Hell's Pit''
We all will die. I know, seems like a simple statement. I hope you all knew that already, it's no major revelation.
Well, for 12 years a very obscure, unheard of and often hated rap band called the "Insane Clown Posse" has been pondering the meaning of our inevitable end. ICP's message started in '92 where they prophesized 6 faces of a "Dark Carnival" would rise to teach us lessons vital to saving ourselves in the face of judgement. The lyrics were dark, juvenile and vulgar. It put off most listeners. Those who took the time to dig deeper were rewarded with a special message that was seemingly aimed right at them.
12 years later, we reach the conclusion of the Joker's Card saga. The 6th and final face of their "Dark Carnival" has risen, it calls itself the "Wraith". Like the other beings they sing about, the "Wraith" is a mystical and magical being that in some way facilitates the judgement. So the story goes, when you die, the Wraith will take you up to heaven or down to hell, depending on the course your life took. This is reflected in the two versions of the Wraith... Shangri-La and Hell's Pit.
If you read my full look at the career of ICP, you will know that The Wraith: Shangri-La wrapped up all the mysteries of ICP's music, giving it a meaningful and relevant end. The message of the band was to have faith and hope in God, more broadly, in being a good person, so when you die you do so without regrets. Innocence was the aim of Shangri-La, for instance, we saw that in the story of the Butterfly, told by ICP member Violent J. Quite ironic that this was the message of those years of dirty, immature and violent lyrics, isn't it?
Indeed, if you look back at years of ICP's music, you can see, hidden in riddles, subliminal messages, and lyric sheets, these ideas being tossed around by what is viewed as a very simple-minded band. This adds to layers of complexity not before seen, and if this if the first time you've ever really looked at the band, maybe you're finding this out for the first time. They tricked you all, and they ain't sorry they did. They made that literally clear in The Wraith: Shangri-La.
ICP isn't done with their tricks. The Wraith takes you one of two places when you inevitably die: Shangri-La (ICP's multi-cultural heaven), or Hell's Pit. Shangri-La came first and we saw it's meaningful ending to the 12 year Joker's Card saga (if not, read about it in my look at ICP). ICP saved Hell's Pit for the end. Is there some new message to be found inside? A new revelation? Will they turn everything upside-down only to fool us again?
This review won't be like a typical review. I merely will make the recommendation to buy the album (preferably during it's opening week), and listen to it if this review intrigues you.
The Story of the Path to Hell's Pit
Hell's Pit is not a great place to be. Unlike other dark horror-based musicians, ICP does not by any means glorify the pain and suffering of Hell. In fact, stuff they've been holding back for years finally is free to speak out. We know we are talking about moral responsibilities and the acknowledged consequences of basic religious understandings, Heaven and Hell, do or die. So what is Hell like? This album comes closer to the darkest reaches than I've heard from any other "dark" or "horror" album in the past, I hope to illustrate that here.
When we die, if the Wraith isn't gonna take us to heaven, well, take fear. According to ICP the majority is going to the deep recesses of Hell's Pit. This album is the story of those taken down that path. I'm going to break down each track and talk about how it contributes to the story of Hell's Pit as we walk down this path of the damned.
Intro & Walk into the Darkness
The creative balance between describing the worst parts of Hell isn't to scream whatever violent thing you can. It helps, but that's not gonna capture the true sense of despair Hell represents to society. A lot of the Hell's Pit album is very soft spoken or low tone, to capture emotion. Some of the quietest words come in the start, at the end of the Intro, as we're told by a voice... "Welcome to Hell. Why did you choose this?"
Hell, as the question asks, is indeed a choice, at least conceptually. I'm an Atheist for crying out loud, I don't believe in Hell. However, the concept of moral wrongdoing being reprehensible is older than recorded history. Even amongst Atheists the sense of wrong/right is kept in a field of understanding that there is a certain reprehensibility for acting amoral. Few believe in true moral anarchy.
Let's get some words from ICP about what Hell is like, as we venture inside...
"Walk till you fall into the darkness of Hell. You get raped in Hell, by Satan's tail. And all you bitches with them pussies, believe you getting fucked, by a 27-foot dragon while chewing your face up. It ain't pretty in Hell, and the only light be the fire that you squirm in while you burnin' all night. And when the Wraith take you, his grip is hard as a nail, it'll turn your world upside-down and make it rain Hell." - Walk Into The Darkness
"Don't cry for the dead 'cause they cry for you. Because we laugh about an aftermath that they know how true. And listen, ain't no fuckin' body gettin' it worse than you and me... and ain't nobody gettin' it worse than you or me? And we will see a pterodactyl swoop through the caverns of Hell, and carry two unfortunates off to the Ogre's cell. And ain't no guards playing cards ain't no uniforms needed, you the only one around, butt-naked bloody and bleedin'. With seven demons in your ear, got you believin' you're a heathen, talk you into pulling out your own intestines to get even. You were born with the shine, but you lost it down the line, you fucked life up and you can't rewind." - Burning Up
"My eyes keep bleedin' from the rays of the darkness, they powerful and burn you something heartless. I hear a giant thumpin', some kind of ogre or somethin', I see the phantoms screamin' as this giant behemoth is coming. And it swung at me, I felt a rip my head went spinnin', and flippin' and rollin' and finally landed in position. I can see my body still standing headless as fuck, it finally fell, but what the hell, I got my nugget but I'm stuck. I can't move, fuck I'm only a face why even try? On top of that it's a centipede crawling in my eye... I wanna die." - Everyday I Die
Sounds like Hell is a shitty place. Of course, that's the premise, isn't it?
Operator: Suicide hotline, may I help you?
Caller: Yeah, uh... well, I'm about to fucking kill myself.
Operator: Listen, you don't wanna do that okay, you don't wanna do that.
Caller: I'm gonna, there's so many fucking reasons why I don't even need to be here anymore. I'm gonna put a slug in my fucking head!
Operator: You don't wanna do that do that, you want to be on Earth, okay?
Caller: Fuck that shit man, I got a gun right now, and I need it right under my chin, man fuck that.
Operator: Take it away from your chin.
Caller: I'm gonna blow my fuckin' head all over the ceiling.
Operator: No you're not, okay?
Caller: Fuck this shit man.
Operator: Hey, just talk to me, okay?
Hell is a place of despair, and if you were ever there, you'd probably want to kill yourself all the time. Some of us get to the breach of commiting suicide, sometimes we just do it because we want someone who will talk to us and putting a gun to your head manages to get you that attention. Other times it's in a sincere wish to end it all. The track "Suicide Hotline" is a dialogue between a suicidal caller and an insincere suicide hotline operator.
Despite being the second track it's perhaps one of the best. It's definitely amongst one of my personal favorite. Others say they "understand" what we're going through when depressed, down in life. But I think they'd be really surprised to hear what we really think. The idea of Hell's Pit is to embrace some of the very negative aspects of living. This song illustrates that well by touching on a variety of failure... futility.
Thankfully he doesn't do it, at least, not in the course of the track, although whether he does or not isn't the point of the song.
"I hit rock bottom, and then I fell in a hole, then I fell through the floor of that hole some more. I've been missin' for a year and nobody's lookin'. I got beat down and my shit tookin'. I look ahead and all I see is more of the same or this self-inflicted bullet hole pourin' my brain."
That about sums it up, on several different levels.
A pot-shot at pedophile priests and no-do-gooders in the established churches, Violent J and Shaggy decide to bloody up some crooked preachers. "We shootin' for the preacher - FUCK! I missed and hit the reverend, but it doesn't matter though they say he's going to heaven."
Unlike past records, after sporadic periods of violence, Violent J and Shaggy's characters actually die at the end of these tracks. This is making more a fundamental point that it's not the violence that's right but the notion that there is some justice to be had in the vindication of righted wrongs. Maybe this is touching more back at the point that vigilante justice isn't right but perpetual vigilance is? I don't know, but I do know that I agree with J and Shaggy - leave those kids alone!
Suicide Hotline had a sense of isolation but it was broken by the dialogue. Even though there was shallow dialogue from the suicide hotline operator, at least that was another person. Truly Alone is about a person whose sense of right or wrong degrades over time as he sits alone. With no one else around to watch him or tell him what's right or wrong he winds up going insane. Again, after the killing spree, this twisted individual gets killed and is sent to Hell. This goes back to the point from the last track... is it about the violence, or about what's right and wrong, and the consequences of human suffering?
The lesson of Shangri-La was that we can avoid this sense of isolation if we embrace others, and seek a more fundamental innocence. While it's clear there will be crazy people, at least ICP (who are no strangers to insanity) knows that it isn't wrong when the wackjobs get put down. It's wrong that society produces these wackos in the first place by being so cold and heartless to isolate people so long.
I'd say that breaks down to a lot of other fundamental problems with society, but that's a whole different article.
Everyday I Die
In ICP's music, ICP are super-hero comic vigilantes. Usually it's ICP doing the killings and beatings. Well, Hell gets the better of our duo. Despite their best efforts, in this track, J and Shaggy are separated in Hell, and they are beat all to hell. If it's not a giant ogre, it's huge crows and spiked gates. Witches and phantoms and demons... ICP has WAY too much time on their hands to be thinking of this crazy shit.
I think it's important to point out, in Hell's Pit the heros do not win. We're all losers if we wind up in that terrible place.
The Night Of The '44
Another good song, involving lots of violence where the antagonist gets killed at the end, one has to wonder if the point isn't becoming more clear. No one gets away, no evil mocking laughter. It's just really down. In this track, which got it's name from a song off ICP's first album, a guy snaps and kills someone in anger. Knowing he's through, he decides he's gonna go out with a bang, although it is more of a bust.
What the heck is the Witch?
Well, the Witch is depicted as convincing people to do the worst things. It's clear from the song's lyrics that these things are going to result you from being barred from heaven. The Witch lies and convinces people to do things that are simply wrong.
The possession of the Witch at night, as it's mentioned several times, is actually based off a common medical sleep issue. Sleep paralysis is when you wake up but your body is still asleep, therefore you cannot move it. ICP's explanation for this event is that it's "the Witch" on your chest.
But what is "the Witch"? A reverse message leading into this track explains that clearly. The Witch is the Devil. This explains the use of the Witch in the remainder of the album. And as the reverse message says, fuck the Witch! Again reverse messages support the idea that ICP isn't on the Devil's side.
The great thing about "the Witch" is that ICP felt the need to invent something to disguise the Devil, but still discuss him. You see, ICP didn't want you to think of Hell as being a glorified place. That's why they invented "the Witch". By construing the Devil as something else, they didn't give the Devil his due.
If ICP said "In the name of the Devil I cut the head off a mule, I gutted it, I put it on and I wore it to school." in the first line of "Walk Into The Darkness", it would've appeared as if they were satanists. Shangri-La contradicts that and simply put, the clowns are on God's side, not the Devil's. So to refuse the Devil the credit for the wicked lyric that's meant more to scare you, they said "In the name of the Witch I cut the head off a mule, I gutted it, I put it on and I wore it to school."
And of course that's a different impression. Very creative way to illustrate the terror of Hell without creating a confusing impression or glorifying it. If you get a chance to listen to this album, listen closer to the Witch references.
In this song two brothers collect human heads as a past-time. They use it as a substitution for human interaction. Idolotry of objects in leiu of real human relationships is really wrong, which I think is more the point of this song. It's one of the few "fun" tracks, if you can consider any part of this album "fun".
There are two DVD's being sold with this album, one of a live concert from ICP's Wicked Wonka tour, and another that is a old-school 20 minute long music video for "Bowling Balls". The Bowling Balls video is also the first high resolution DVD to offer 3D-glasses vision. Bowling Balls DVD was also filmed in standard print as well, in case you don't like the retro 3D glasses. I personally ordered the live concert DVD package, however I have a deal with a friend to share DVD footage, and he will be getting the Bowling Balls DVD package.
24 is about the clowns serial killin' 24/7 around the clock all day and all night. It's Hell, so they might as well get the chopping in while the chopping is good.
Burning Up is one of the more acclaimed tracks of the album by the listeners thus far, as the title indicates it's about the penalty for sins in Hell, which involves a lot of burnin'. A lot of the people in the first verse of this tracks are hypocrites in life and they find themselves later in Hell paying the penalty for their sins. Hell in very grimly described here as a place where the people go who have lost their "shine", mostly meaning their innocence.
Finally winding down the serial killing madness, our clowns decide to take a few sedatives to calm it out. They still manage to get out a murder or two, but the serial killing sprees are winding down, it's Hell's Pit after all, and the Devil doesn't want the clowns out doing God's work, so he makes sure they're thoroughly doped up. This has some confused and disoriented clowns making some strange observations... "The only time I'm a peace is when I'm not even there... God tell me why the fuck am I here?"
In My Room
ICP decides to address the often hurtful subject of love in this song about a young man who falls in love with a ghost girl who visits him each night. She taps on his window and he lets her in, but she only stays so long as it's dark and undisturbed. The guy in his dark room starts turning violent and reclusive to create the right environment for her. When his mom's cat sneaks into the room and scares off his undead girl, he snaps and mutilates the cat. The neighbor kid sees her being let in his window and she flees, and he realizes that she won't be coming back until the kid is dealt with...
Even after killing the whole family nextdoor, the girl winds up leaving him alone. Then he realizes the err of his ways, alone, in the darkness. No happy ending this time - he killed all those people for no reason - but this is Hell's Pit, there isn't supposed to be a happy ending.
This song is about the crippling drug addicted basehead bums that too often plague the cities of America. In a surprisingly targeted way, ICP totally goes all-out against these "zombies". This definitely is a noteworthy listen if you've ever lived in a city that has this problem. I personally have been accosted by all manner of bum for change, and I agree, they are like zombies.
The album's last story is again about love lost, a man whose wife dies spends his time in remorse firing projectiles into the sky in an effort to kill the angels for taking away his wife. Eventually he does hit his wife, to bring her down from the heavens and ask her why she left him. Very, very disturbing. Of course, the dead angel doesn't give him any answers.
With the clowns not getting their way throughout the whole trip through Hell, I can imagine that by this point they are pretty drained. Being beheaded by ogres, thrown on the gates of Hell and roasted, sedated and drugged up, shot and stabbed, the low-tone finale song of Manic Depressive represents the emotional drain that Hell's Pit is meant to be.
Real Underground Baby
This track may confuse people who aren't familiar with ICP, if this is the first album of ICP's they are listening to. Hell's Pit is the end to a 12-year long story. The meaningful climax was in Shangri-La... that leaves little to wrap up with here on Hell's Pit. This final Hell's Pit track, a long 12 minutes, is a mediocre and somber mix of some of ICP's hits. Think of it as the "outro" to the Joker's Card saga. There is no meaningful message here, it's just a nice long remix painting the picture of the story as it fades out.
And that's it. What did we learn from "The Wraith: Hell's Pit"? Well, Hell is a miserable place of despair and loneliness. There is nothing to look forward to there, the heroes lose and only the Devil wins. Even the entertainment of the wicked shit that bring people to ICP is sucked out and sedated by the staleness of Hell's deepest recesses. Where Hell isn't exceptionally violent it's soul-sucking and remorseful.
Of course, that's the point of this album... and it drives into the point of the Joker's Card saga. Look inside yourself and really think about if you have what it takes to avoid ICP's Hell's Pit. Keep the Witch off your chest. Hold hands with the Wraith to your final destination. Don't overburden the Amazing Jeckel Brothers. See through the magical tricks of the Great Milenko. Look inside your own Riddlebox before you must turn the crank. Don't fuel the sinful Ringmaster. Be wary of a Carnival of Carnage... the message has been the same throughout the years. Each card is a reflection of you, and Hell's Pit is a reflection of your worst fears and deepest anxieties. If you get a chance to listen to it, take it in from this perspective. It might leave you in a bad mood afterwords (it did me), but you might learn something from ICP's simple lessons. ICP would have you believe Hell is a real place, even those of us who don't believe that would do good to think that way once in a while.
And what's next? There is a Hell's Pit tour underway, and quite possibly a future release of Forgotten Freshness 4 (a compilation series of unused material the band puts out periodically, no doubt FF4 will be filled with scrapped Wraith material). The rest, well, that's "purely speculation". I have a feeling they'll continue producing their unique brand of music, but they definitely will be doing something different now that the Joker's Card saga is finished. They may even decide to change their imagry as the "Insane Clown Posse". No matter what they do, these Wicked Clowns won't be dying any day soon (except perhaps in a song or two), even if they wound up someday taking the facepaint off.
It's only fitting that I include a message from ICP to their fans inside a booklet packaged with "The Wraith: Hell's Pit"...
This album completes our Dark Carnival story. Now, for the rest of your lives, we invite you to sit back and take it all in. We hope each Joker's Card will live on forever. To finally complete what we started 13 years ago is amazing, yet we don't want it to end.
But it must.
The story is now completed exactly how it was meant to be. We listened with the spirits and brought forth all 6 Joker's Cards. We believed in each one as they arrived, and tried to spread it's message as far and wide as possible. We delivered, and as life went on, each Card's Era provided us with incredible memories and stories that will last forever. The fact is, each Joker's Card is somebody's favorite, somewhere, and that's enough to give them life. They will be there for you all to call upon, for the rest of eternity.
From Carnival of Carnage to Hell's Pit, may all 6 Joker's Cards rest comfortably in time. Thank you all for listening.
Thanks for reading and if this peaked your interests, go out and purchase or download the album. ICP is an underrated group, and if you believe so, give them a chance on Hell's Pit opening week and try to make your purchase now. Give them boosts up the chart and let's see where they can debut with NO MTV, NO radio and NO national marketing strategy. It may encourage more artists to take their harder, but more rewarding road to long-lasting musical success.