Before this, I had never actually heard a full release from Slice the Cake, but I’ve always had a passing interest in them, and have been subtly anticipating their second full-length for some time. “Deathcore” is always seen as such a juvenile and regressive genre, filled with basic and low-brow tropes, but Slice the Cake, mostly with their debut album The Man With No Face, have gained a reputation as a truly progressive deathcore band, tackling the genre in a decidedly left-field sort of way. And nothing is more left-field than the announcement that this year’s sophomore album, Odyssey to the West, would be an ambitious concept record, and preceded by an EP of dark ambient music as a ‘prequel’. So naturally, with the band using such an interesting way of releasing this record, I am using an interesting way of reviewing it. As I write this, I have still not actually listened to Odyssey to the West. I am assessing Odyssey to the Gallows as the ‘prequel EP’ that it is.
Honestly, I’m not really sure I want to hear the full album after getting into this EP, because this is truly quite an experience, and I have my doubts about whether the band can carry this onto a proper full length record with actual metal and prog and *shudder* deathcore. This is dark. It’s pitch black. It’s dark ambient in the proper sense of the term, not pseudo-dark spooky-core made with Casios and drum machines. Slice the Cake have taken a lot cues from black metal here in the atmosphere, with the music getting impossibly close to a group like Darkspace or Vattnet Viskar in its oppressive and claustrophobic noir tones. While Odyssey to the Gallows is obviously missing a great deal of substance in order to be called a properly excellent release (it is basically a 28-minute piece of ambient wandering), the atmosphere and scene-setting here is so powerful in its blackened fury, that I do wonder how on earth they manage to hold this through a progressive deathcore album…
Much of this is haunting ambience and intense spoken word, with overly poetic lyrical threads spoken at varying degrees of anguish over piano, strings and guitars, never leaving a feeling of ominous doom. The spoken word aspect calls me back to an album like A Forest of Stars’ Beware the Sword You Cannot See, or the final track in Behemoth’s monstrous The Satanist – epic lines of Shakespearean tragedy bellowed over minimalistic tritone ambience in unrivalled fury. The delivery of the spoken lines, which eventually reaches the demonic intensity of full-on black metal rasps and pitch-shifted growls, does push into the realms of melodrama and occasionally detracts from the piece, but I can confidently say that this gives me the shivers without even listening to a single word of what he’s saying. And it’s reasonably well paced for a 28-minute ambient track. Just when the spoken word begins to get repetitive it breaks from that line and ventures into an absolutely brilliant segment of swirling synthesiser chaos. I admire the lack of any ‘metal’ sections on here, though the vocals do get close. I do feel that the introduction of generic metal riffs or drum parts to this would kill the otherworldly atmosphere it brings to the table.
A combination of captivating ambience and poetic melodrama makes Odyssey to the Gallows a striking and attention-grabbing prequel to the concept of Odyssey to the West. But such is the tense black metal atmosphere that is given here that I am truly skeptical of how Slice the Cake can carry this onto the full album. Well, I guess that’s where I head to next… But for now, this is an excellent release of extreme tension. For fans of atmosphere and melodrama, this is one of the best dark ambient pieces I have heard in recent times.