One year has passed since Slice the Cake surprised us all with an abundance of new material. Given the nature of April 1st, I first discarded their announcement as a bad April fools’ joke, but soon enough I came around to it. Making up a total of 105 minutes of music, the Odyssey series is divided into two separate releases – one being a single-piece EP of 28 minutes, and the other being a full-length album of no less than 77 minutes. Moreover, various riffs, lyrics, melodies and rhythms scattered throughout their discography up until this point have been re-used as a means of tying up Slice the Cake’s music into one big finale. To see the story of three random music forum members who exchanged ideas and eventually came up with music like this – after years of hard work – end, is both tragic and fascinating at the same time. The band may have disbanded, but they went out with a bang. A true concept album fantasy for every prog nerd, this is.
First off, the vastly overlooked Odyssey to the Gallows comprises of a single 28-minute song. Paying tribute to Of Gallows from their album The Man with No Face, this epic uses a slowed down version of said song as background noise. While a lot can be said about this band and its obvious technical death core nature, this epic ambient journey more than proves that this band is more than just that. If Gareth Mason’s one-of-a-kind storytelling voice would not already have drawn you in, mesmerizing waves of ambient/noise music will make sure to accentuate the vocals that will in a matter of seconds be able to transition into demonic/antagonistic death growls, to put one in a psychedelic trance.
As we move from the first piece to the next, a haunting exhale commences the profound journey the listener is about to experience. Serving as the true anthem Slice the Cake never had before, The Exile Part I: The Razor’s Edge demonstrates the rare occasion in which the band utilizes neither blast beasts nor death core vocals. In combination with The Exile Part II: The City of Destruction, this introductory piece about describes the sound range of the rest of the album, but not quite. The sheer emotion portrayed in the protagonist’s voice during Part I is truly unmatched and in contrast with the pounding riffs and aggressive growls of Part II makes the story even more vivid.
The right use of repetition is one that is incredibly hard to master, even among the most skilled composers in the industry, but these guys know exactly how long to stick with one theme and when to move on to the next one. Which leads to the use of recurring themes, a concept anyone who considers themselves a fan of concept albums should be well-familiarized with. The way the various themes have been regenerated throughout the album, they gain a lot of character and make this album and its themes more relatable. It also causes the record to sound notably dense for a 77-minute piece, for better or worse. At the same time, there is a certain degree of complexity in the composition that feels very rewarding, as one year and countless listens later, I am still picking out details that I had not noticed before.
While on its own, the opening riff in Stone and Silver Part I: The Mountains of Man is already one of the most memorable on the entire album – no – in their entire discography, it is also probably the most used riff as it returns more than once later on in the album in different forms. Constructing such an elaborate story and making sure every single puzzle piece fits takes more effort than one could imagine, and when executed properly, man, does it pay off.
Obfuscation tends to be a serious issue among songwriters in progressive music styles, a term used to describe overcomplicating terminology for the sake of making something sound more complex than it has to be. Gareth Mason has complained about this in an interview, and assures the fans that this is not the case with his lyrics. However complicated and mystique his lyrics may sound, the message is clear at all times and you can tell it makes it significantly easier for the listener to follow along. The thick layer of backing instrumentals also serves as a clear indicator of the mood/direction of the story. To put it into perspective, take Westward Bound Part I: The Lantern, which opens with the album-defining speech in which we hear beautiful poetry transition into massively fierce growls seamlessly.
As we pass the 35-minute mark, the continuous bombarding aggression is severed by the sequel to one of the songs off the debut album: Castle in the Sky Part II: Pieces of Ruins. A ballad, no less. Surprisingly, these guys pull off a ballad almost as well as they do heavy music. The prime difference being that this sounds more like a genuine and straightforward piece of music, while the other songs mostly serve a degree of compositional depth that makes you ponder how a certain element in the music came about, and how it fits into the whole.
Reminiscent of the ambient feel of Odyssey to the Gallows, Unending Waltz carries out a transcendent experience, mainly led by echoing guitar amps and a mixture of male and female narratives. As one of the few songs that could stand on its own really well, it does a great job of building up intensity gradually for its rather short duration.
The Ash and Rust series once again show that Slice the Cake is more than the average tech deathmetal band venturing into a more progressive nature. The series combine the band’s atmospheric, progressive and core sound into a cohesive whole.
The album closer is a rather interesting one, as The Holy Mountain does not try to out-do the record by being the most crushingly epic piece in history or anything of the like. Instead, it manages to smoothly re-enter some of the most interesting themes and from the very first second in which the Destiny’s Fool theme is continued in a heavy fashion it gradually calms down as we hear one last poetry passage before a final post-rock induced instrumental fade-out.
With a fan base that primarily gravitates towards intriguing concepts with hard-hitting climaxes and aggressive tones, delivering such a colossal yet structured concept that ties all of their discography into one story with a more balanced sound sure was a risky move – as it is way more to take in than your average concept album – but it was a good move for sure.
Within the niche, this record got a lot of love – I don’t think the guys from Slice the Cake could’ve hoped for much more although they have literally spent over three years putting all of this together, and it shows – but I can’t help but feel they are the unsought heroes flying under the radar of many ambitious progmetal fans. Happy 1 year anniversary to Odyssey to the West, here’s to hoping the rumors about the band re-uniting in the future are true. Until then, we can enjoy Gareth Mason (vocals) and his newly gained permanent spot in the band Novena, featuring him and members of progressive rock/metal group Haken, among others.