Amongst the swathes of by now utterly forgettable modern progressive metal that came out during the 2010s, few records stand out as actual milestones whose shining impact didn’t turn out to be but a short-lived fad in tune with the metal scene zeitgeist. One of those survivors is Slice the Cake‘s Odyssey to the West, a sweeping victory for progressive deathcore and narrative storytelling in music alike. Not even the band’s notorious infighting could overshadow the lasting effect of their creation, which is an achievement all of its own. Below, you will find some of our staff’s takes on this creative highpoint of modern metal.
Slice the Cake is a band that I have loved since I first discovered their Cleansed EP on YouTube way back in 2010. When The Man With No Face and Other Slices both dropped in 2012, I was floored by the progress the band had made and the cohesive unit they had evolved into. The band shifted from being more of a traditional deathcore band, albeit a good one, to releasing tracks of epic length with narrative elements connecting them while shifting through an impressive range of elements.
Fast forward to 2016, and Odyssey to the West had much the same effect on me. It was an album I anticipated for a long time, and my expectations were shattered upon first hearing it. It’s an album I still somewhat regularly throw on, at least a handful of tracks every couple months. It’s an incredible offering of metal, and an incredible listening experience front to back. Odyssey is probably most easily referred to as a progressive death metal album, but it’s so much more than that honestly. It touches upon so many different music styles over its runtime, but it almost always remains incredibly fresh and inspired.
One of my favorite takeaways from Odyssey is how such a heavy and oftentimes abrasive album also has so many moments that are viciously catchy and can be stuck in your head for days. The guitar parts Slice the Cake right are some of the best in metal in my opinion, and they’re backed up by blistering drumming and some of the most versatile vocals in modern metal. At the same time, they write captivating softer songs that intertwine perfectly, such as “Castle in the Sky II – Pieces of Ruin”. “Stone and Silver Part I – The Mountains of Man” is one of the heavier songs that works its way into my brain on a fairly regular basis, particularly the juicy intro riff. “Westward Bound Part I – The Lantern” is equally catchy to me; the last couple minutes of that song go incredibly hard.
There’s a point towards the end of the album (looking at you “Ash and Rust”) where it loses its luster a bit for me, but it comes back with a vengeance for the final two songs, particularly the closer “The Holy Mountain”. Overall, Odyssey to the West is an incredible rarity in this genre of music. Years later it still holds up as much as it did on release, and it’s an album I easily consider a modern masterpiece. Silly name aside, these guys seriously know how to write some damn good music and knocked it out of the park in every capacity with this album. It’s definitely a landmark album in 2010s metal.
Jean Pierre Pallais
There are few things that are as cheesy as a prog metal concept album; it is a reality even I hate to admit sometimes. But does that mean that I don’t love them regardless? Absolutely not. Speaking of cheesy, that brings us to our album of interest, which is anything but (almost had you there, didn’t I?): Slice the Cake’s Odyssey to the West is easily one of the finest progressive deathcore records you’ll ever hear, there will be no debate on the matter.
It seems unfair to call Odyssey to the West just a deathcore release, as it truly is so much more. In my eyes, the fact that it is more is why it is one of, if not the best deathcore release out there. Slice the Cake don’t follow recipes that anyone can easily find online, trying to fall within a certain subgenre or style. They stray the unbeaten path to create their own recipe, resulting in the creation of one of the most addicting cakes I’ve ever had, one that I can’t have just one slice of.
I alluded to the fact that this was a concept record and it definitely is. Unfortunately, I don’t have the real estate here to go in depth to talk about the spiritual journey that Odyssey to the West masterfully tells with an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist. I’ll make it easy by directing you to these two links (Part I | Part II) for you to indulge yourself as they dissect this record down to every stanza. Given the length of those articles, not to mention the complexity of the music itself, it may seem daunting to dig into the story the elegant lyrics are trying to tell. But as you make your way through the record, you’ll find that this slice of cake was born to tell these types of fantasies with how engaging the vocals and the music are as a whole.
With music this captivating, it makes it fun to whip out the detective cap to piece it all together on your own and that is something I hardly ever have the patience for nowadays. Many concept records within the genre are way too convoluted for their own good, but Slice the Cake have something special about them that makes me want to milk every drop of lore from this beast of an album. Tracks like “Western Bound Pt I – The Lantern” show you the sheer musical breadth that Slice the Cake are capable of all while going full-send on the story. Vocally, Gareth Mason’s luscious spoken monologue builds into a fervent display of rage and confusion as the track slowly crescendos with dizzying acoustic guitar segments and looming piano melodies into an absolutely savage outro with cavernous growls and shrieks.
When taken in as a whole, Odyssey to the West makes me feel as if I am at a Broadway show with how grandiose and melodramatic it is in musical scope. The song structures are heavily dynamic, making up these movements that are incredibly reminiscent of what you’d hear at master-production theater performance. There are various suites that take you through the main protagonist’s various states of mind as he continues his exhausting pilgrimage to find God on the Holy Mountain. “Castle in the Sky Part II – Pieces of Ruin” even acts as jaw droppingly gorgeous ‘intermission’, providing a cleverly placed palette cleanser to all the turmoil that precedes and succeeds it.
Normally, I’m not particularly fond of long-winded spoken word passages as you’ll hear throughout Odyssey to the West, but the utterly poetic nature of the lyrics alongside Gareth’s smooth and silky vocals makes it incredibly enjoyable. ‘Singing along’ to those spoken word passages in this track, and also in “The Holy Mountain”, make up some of my favorite moments on this monolith of a record. Hell, it even ends with one of the coolest lyrical ‘mic drops’ that I can recall, especially with the cathartic black metal-esque segment that beautifully closes out this journey. Much like the story being told, this is one of those records that will stand the test of time.
‘I have come so far from home only to find I must return, and I am sorry. But I have nothing else to say.’
Progressive music is known for its grandiloquence and scale – long songs, multi-track suites, complex arrangements, multiple instruments, and heady lyrical concepts. With these elements stretched to a massive scale, there is always a risk that the resulting product will fall flat, with an act’s ambition not matched by their ability. The record we are discussing today, Slice the Cake‘s Odyssey to the West, could so very easily have not reached its towering vision. This 2016 album is 77 minutes and 15 tracks. It has a spiritual and archetypal concept. Many of its songs are lengthy and packed with multiple layers and sections, yet it has become one of my favourite progressive death metal albums in recent memory at the end of it all.
For me, it all started with the first single: “Stone and Silver Part I – The Mountains of Man”. When I first heard it, I was nothing short of stunned. I had listened to Slice the Cake before, but I was not expecting this. The riffs were tremendous, and the arrangement felt like a journey. All of this was topped by a vocal performance from Gareth Mason that was a huge step up from the previous record. I really can not overstate the impact of this massive track on me. It’s the first song I use to introduce this band to others and still one of my favourite examples of progressive death metal songwriting.
Odyssey to the West took a long time to be realized after the above track was released. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the album’s release soured my experience of it for a long time. Thankfully, the band has reconciled since and are now performing and writing together again.
Once I heard the record, though, I was even more astonished. I felt like the character on the album cover; viewing something expansive and unknown in scale that I could not fully comprehend. Yet, despite its complexity, there are always some throughlines for me to grasp onto. These are namely, memorable and massive riffs, and a genuinely compelling vocal performance. It also helped that many musical motifs were introduced and reinterpreted throughout Odyssey to the West‘s extended runtime, helping me as a listener feel grounded despite the album’s enormity.
So what makes this album stand out from its contemporaries? Why is it one of my favourite examples of progressive death metal? At the heart of it all is that the album feels emotionally resonant. Where death metal can often feel preoccupied by rage alone, this record has sorrow, pain, anger, peace, reflection, and longing. While not similar musically, I think the album’s ability to be emotionally resonant draws comparison to a giant in the genre – Opeth. The composers focused on melody and memorability throughout the album instead of overt speed, technicality, or dissonance. It is impressive that I don’t find the album loses momentum or my attention despite its 75-minute duration. Capped off with one of my favourite vocal performances in the genre, this album is a shining example of how to make an excellent progressive death metal concept album. I will be fascinated to see where this incredibly capable band goes next.