Michigan's wicked clowns Insane Clown Posse were on a hot streak in the early 2000s, closing out the first deck of their Joker's Card series in 2002 with eighth album The Wraith: Shangri-La. With that album, the rappers concluded a lengthy conceptual saga they'd built around the premise of a dark carnival by revealing that the entire series was in actuality a testament to God and the teachings of Christian spirituality. Following that epic move was going to be tough, and the group's next album, The Wraith: Hell's Pit, issued two years later, served as a dark and graphically violent warning against the horrors of hell. The nine songs on Hell's Cellar are outtakes from that album, and they maintain the same minimal production, grizzly storytelling, and sinister overtones as Hell's Pit. Interestingly, the project is more or less a Violent J solo effort, with no verses from his counterpart Shaggy 2 Dope on any of the songs. The material is also decidedly less commercial, even by ICP standards, sounding more like artistic experiments with dark beats and horrific lyricism than the usual over-the-top choruses and sophomoric shock humor the duo excelled at. Perhaps that more inspired creation is what kept this collection in the vaults. Even though the tracks are still full of cackling clown sound effects and the usual schticky elements that defined ICP's sound, Violent J switches up his flow with the scattershot delivery of "Can't End Myself" and sounds genuinely tormented by uncontrollable visions on "I Can See It All." Sound clips of religious ceremonies, demented preachers, and people speaking in tongues all add to the demonic atmosphere of Hell's Cellar, made all the more creepy by a restraint not characteristic of the group. Of course, there's the over-the-top ridiculousness of a fairy tale made gangsta "Big Bad Wolf" and the plodding and disjointed "Clown Show," which both drag the collection back into middle-of-the-road territory. While Hell's Cellar hints at a depth of artistry that didn't always show up on more heavily produced ICP albums, it's ultimately a collection of horrorcore B-sides and stray songs of varying quality.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas