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The notorious Detroit rap group's new album explores 'the missing link between you and your salvation,' says Violent J

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Inside the Lotus Pod, the recording studio housed in the Farmington Hills headquarters of Insane Clown Posse's Psychopathic Records, Joseph "Violent J" Bruce is zoning out. He's just cued up ICP's new album, the unrelenting "The Marvelous Missing Link: Lost," and he's nearly expressionless, eyes half-shut, as the record blares from the studio speakers.

After a few tracks, he pauses the album. He's back to life — the verbose, funny, charismatic big man who has fronted the notorious face-painted rap duo for going on a quarter century. He talks about the album, its origins, and ICP's place in popular music. He puts the album on again, and he settles back into his trance.

"I'm seeing exactly what we're singing about," Bruce says later. "When I hear a song, it takes me right to that moment."

In the case of the new album, that moment is a place of soul-searching.

"The Marvelous Missing Link: Lost" — out today — is part one of a two-part concept album about faith. Its counterpart, "The Marvelous Missing Link: Found," is due out July 28. Together, the two albums explore issues of hope and belief in a higher power, themes that came from Bruce's own life as a rapper and a married father of two. (Today's album release falls on Bruce's 43rd birthday.)

"The 'Lost' record is the missing link between you and your salvation," says Bruce, his face covered in a thick layer of greasepaint. "Have you ever known someone who has the holy ghost? They're all super happy and super positive? That person has found the link, they have belief, they have faith. Someone without belief, they can be bitter, they can be lost. Once you find your missing link, you find your faith, you find your salvation. That's it, that's the concept."

Insane Clown Posse — Violent J and his partner, Joey "Shaggy 2 Dope" Utsler — has addressed issues of spirituality before, most notably on 2002's "The Wraith: Shangri-La" when they revealed the group's entire Dark Carnival mythology had been a metaphor for God. ("We're not sorry if we tricked you," the group sang in jubilation.)

"The Marvelous Missing Link" dives back into that pool, but don't expect a lot of hand-holding or sing-alongs. The album — ICP's 13th studio album, and its first since 2012's "The Mighty Death Pop" — is ICP's darkest and heaviest output since 2004's "Hell's Pit" and forgoes the usual humor and cartoonish underpinnings that marks much of its material. (The "Found" album, however, is a lighter and more upbeat affair, Bruce says.)

"Lost" encompasses "banger after banger of wickedness," Bruce says. Songs like "Lost," "Apocalypse," "Shock" and "Explosions" hammer that theme home; only in the album's closing moments — which preview "Found" — does the tone lighten up.

For the album, ICP didn't work with longtime collaborator Mike E. Clark, the architect of ICP's sound going back to 1992's "Carnival of Carnage." Clark has been working with Kid Rock in recent years, and ICP turned to producers Brian Kuma and James "Otis" Garcia, of ICP underlings Axe Murder Boyz, to steer the new album. There were enough leftover tracks for an EP that the group will sell on tour, as well as a full CD of outtakes the group will sell through its website.

"Lost" has a modern sound, with pounding tracks that incorporate trap-style beats and EDM bass drops.

"That's new school, man," Utsler says. "New school beats with what we do, which is that old-school style."

The hiatus with Clark is temporary, Bruce says.

"We love Mike and we will definitely be back with Mike," Bruce says, "but it's nice to take a break, too, and try some new avenues."

The album follows ICP's much-publicized battle with the FBI, who categorized the group's fans, known as Juggalos, as a gang in a 2011 report. ICP sued the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department over the designation, but a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit. While the ruling is still being appealed, there is no mention of it on the album. (There is a scant reference to the FBI on "Explosions," but it is unrelated to the case.)

"We don't want the FBI to define our career," Utsler says. "It's happening, we're battling it, but we're still ICP, we're doing what we're doing. We ain't gonna let it define us."

Bruce says he came up with the concept for the new album about a year ago, but he finished up albums with Dark Lotus (the group's side project with Twiztid and Blaze Ya Dead Homie) and the Killjoy Club (the group's collaborative project with Da Mafia 6ix) before beginning work on it. The idea came from his own relationship with his faith, as well as interactions with his mother.

"My mom's been to hell and back. She's been through divorce, she married the wrong man, a man that molested her kids, but she's not bitter about that anymore, and she doesn't blame herself for that," Bruce says. "Thinking about that, and seeing my mom come out unscathed because of her faith, that has a lot to do with what we're talking about."

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.

Bruce and Utsler say they have found that faith in each other, and, after two and a half decades, they're still best friends.

"If you could read our text messages, you would know this is my brother," Bruce says. "We reach out and tell each other we love each other just to say it. Nobody's reading that; that's ours. We were given this bond, that's our gift. I was given him, and he was given me. I have faith in him."

And the group has faith in the world it has created around itself. Insane Clown Posse will hold its annual Gathering of the Juggalos July 22-25 in Thornville, Ohio, the 16th annual celebration of all things ICP. A tour will follow, and the group will hold its 21st annual Hallowicked concert in Detroit on Halloween.

There's a song on the new album called "Falling Apart" that Bruce jokingly says was inspired by how his body started feeling at 40. But despite the occasional aches and pains, Bruce says he's now feeling better than ever.

"I live the American dream, brother," he says. "I've got a career I've dreamed of. I've got two lovely little kids. I've got a wife, I've got animals and pets crawling (all over me) in my house. I'm surrounded by love, man. I feel like a king. And that's as real as I can be. Nothing will ever (mess) with the stone that is us."

agraham@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/grahamorama

'The Marvelous Missing Link: Lost'

Insane Clown Posse

Psychopathic Records

In stores today

Meet ICP

Insane Clown Posse will appear at F.Y.E., 28297 Woodward, in Berkley at 6 p.m. today. Wristbands will be given out today beginning at 10 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis with the purchase of a copy of "The Marvelous Missing Link: Lost."

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