*prognotes – Slice the Cake’s Odyssey to the West: Part I

*prognotes breaks down and analyses your favourite metal and progressive concept albums lyrically and musically. Read other entries in this series here

2016 has been a great year for our *prognotes feature, and here we are with yet another mammoth album to explore. Slice the Cake’s Odyssey to the West clocks in at a massive 77 minutes, and that’s without even looking at the 28 minute accompanying EP Odyssey to the Gallows which acts as a prologue. Today we’ll only be looking at the LP, so strap yourselves in because this is going to be a long one, and we’d best be getting started.

Act I

The Exile, Part I — The Razor’s Edge

In which the Pilgrim wakes in dead of night and finds himself with questions

 

The record begins with the panting of a man who has just woken from a troubled sleep, one full of visions and nightmares. A gentle guitar plucks away and adds a peaceful sense of harmony to the night, an atmosphere which must surely contrast what our protagonist has just dreamt of. This protagonist, known as the Pilgrim, then begins his narration, the first of many such spoken word passages.

So, here we find ourselves again,
And one might think it such a pity to be standing on the razor’s edge.
O’, how Occam would be ashamed.

Or so the dreams appear to say…

The razor referred to here is a philosophical term, meaning a rule of thumb which helps shave off unlikely explanations for an occurrence. More specifically, it addresses Occam’s Razor, an age-old problem-solving principle attributed to William of Occam, a 13-14th-century friar, theologian, scholar, and philosopher. It states that when having to choose between competing explanations, we should select the simplest explanation, or the one which makes the least assumptions. The use of this philosophical terminology indicates the Pilgrim is burdened by deep thoughts, whilst the religious background of William of Occam suggests these thoughts are spiritual in nature. The questions tormenting the Pilgrim are the same one’s he has been battling for some time, and the word razor’s more colloquial meaning implies that he is on the precipice of a momentous and dangerous decision.

See, they tell of numb and wretched men who’ve strayed far from the path,
And they tell of nameless, faceless men whose every detail shrouds
Itself in myth and with poeticism, with insight and with tragic glee.

O’, what does this speak of me if I look on so curious and unappeased?

The Pilgrim’s dream is not just a dream, but a vision of the future, only he is unable to decipher its meaning. But he knows it is important…

why does it haunt me so?
What agency is mine to bring to a union with the pre-ordained?
What have the fates to gain from a destitute and witless being,
Long discarded by the Way?”

So is this a treatise or is it a game?
…Perhaps this could be destiny?

This passage brings to light several of the record’s key motifs. It introduces this concept of ‘the Way’, an umbrella term encompassing the God and religion of the world we’re in. More importantly, it sees the Pilgrim interact with his God as he grapples with the concept of fate. Why does God give him visions of the future, if the future is fated and cannot be changed regardless? What control over his own life does the Pilgrim have? Furthermore, the weight of such thoughts is magnified by the final three lines quoted above. The Pilgrim questions his God, questioning whether his life is just a game, the unspoken implication being that his God is a capricious one. What’s more, the Pilgrim gives an insight into his own dark history, or at least dark in the eyes of God, for why else would he have been discarded by the Way? The Pilgrim appears to be something of a religious malcontent, one who has spent much of his life questioning, challenging and defying the religious principles of his people.

But as long as I draw breath I’ll not let it make a fool of me,
Lest I wander to the Gallows and hang until I’m dead.
I’ve seen the mountain in my dreams, and I shall seek it ‘till the end.

This is a very interesting passage. The Pilgrim continues to challenge God, claiming he would sooner die than allow himself to be made a fool. Yet, what could be more foolish than defying a God, especially in a fated life, and believing that he could actually pull it off? Despite this, he then proclaims he will follow his dreams, his vision, and seek out the mountain. He will comply. He will follow his fate. This decision is met with a long, primal scream, the first instance of harsh vocals on the record as the music becomes appropriately heavier. Musically it is an interesting juxtaposition, a savage cry met with choirs and grandiose instrumentation. It is the moment the Pilgrim’s instinctive spirituality connects with the religious order, with the Way. It is the moment his soul knows it is time to undertake a quest. A pilgrimage. An odyssey.

So beneath the sight of god
Shall I forever more retreat into the pines and find my place in the all.

…But what of you, my dear?
O’, what of you, my love?
O’, how I’d hate to see us part.

But I must deceive you again.
I’m sorry but the voice that calls me rings inside my head.
…And for this, I leave a rose beside your head.
Our crown of thorns.

So the Pilgrim has decided what he will do, but he has done so without consultation. Not for the first time, he chooses himself over his Lover, departing to find his place in the world and to answer the questions which plague his mind. The religious symbolism continues to come in thick and fast, for the Pilgrim leaves behind a rose. As well as symbolising love, faith, beauty and devotion, the rose is also a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps this is a sign that the Pilgrim sees himself as some grand piece of God’s design? Despite such positive associations and the clean singing which reinforce them, the image is tainted by that final line. Christ’s crown of thorns was a symbol of mockery, inflicting pain upon the man as well as degrading him and deriding his status as a supposed king. Here it is a shared burden between the Pilgrim and his Lover, suggesting that trying times lie ahead for them both and that sacrifices will have to be made. As pretty as a rose may be, as noble as a quest may seem, there are always thorns to be found.

The Exile, Part II — The City of Destruction

In which the Pilgrim, befit with Holy Madness, exiles himself from the City.

 

We could’ve been so beautiful
O’, why won’t you fly with me?

The Pilgrim’s tone has changed dramatically here, the emotive and wistful nature with which he addressed his Lover replaced by a near-rambling madness. He seems to be blaming his Lover for not going with him, even though it is he who has just abandoned her. His state of mind has completely shifted in an instant, and the defiance with which he had addressed his God has been exchanged for a newfound piety. The Pilgrim roars furiously, ferocious harsh vocals dominating the song:

What have we done?
We’ve raised such towers in our image!
Chaos reigns.
We shall pay dearly with fires and floods and the weeping
Come sweetly unto me so that all might be cinders.

The Pilgrim laments and condemns all, including his past self, for losing their Way and allowing society to degenerate. The tower he refers to is an allusion to the Tower of Babel/Babylon, a magnificent tower described in the Bible as having been built in defiance of God’s orders, a symbol of man’s pride and greed. Those two vices certainly seem at home here, the Pilgrim’s righteous fury apparent, his piety appearing to empower him in a way we had not seen before. The harsh vocals are accompanied by the arrival of true deathcore instrumentation, this track much heavier than the opener as the Pilgrim spits lyrics relating to death and destruction. The majority of the track’s lyrics are thematically similar, religious references interwoven as the Pilgrim describes the downfall of society and God’s judgement upon it.

So hear me now as I’m prostrated upon the floor.
I renounce myself, so that the winds might take me westward.

So in these fissures I sacrifice a mortal path in favour of thee.
I relegate these bones to thee, this mortal frame is yours to keep.
Behold this vessel!
Do with it as thy will before it all goes to waste.
Before it all goes to waste, I’ll live forever in exile
.”

The song ends with the Pilgrim acknowledging he is powerless in the face of God’s might. It’s almost as if for most of the track he was the vessel communicating God’s words, and now it is he who truly speaks. The Pilgrim gives himself wholly to God, sacrificing his entire City and the life that he had lived within its walls, in order to serve God and embark on his pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain.

Stone and Silver I — The Mountains of Man

In which the Pilgrim reflects on what he has left behind in favour of his Holy journey.

 

The track begins in a relatively mellow fashion before gradually rising in intensity. As with the previous track, the first vocal lines are addressed to the Lover:

Why won’t you raze, with me, the Mountains of Man?
O’, my love, if only you could see the state of our impiety.

As short and simple as those two lines may be, we have quite a bit of unpacking to do. First of all, the word raze suggests that something is about to be destroyed and levelled to the ground. Obviously it’s not possible to do that to an actual mountain, but we’re not dealing with an actual one, we’re dealing with a metaphor, we’re dealing with a Mountain of Man. What could that be? Why, none other than the Tower of Babylon of course! Mountains are God’s creation, and the tower was built as a marvel of mankind, something to reach into the heavens and rival even God’s powers. However, upon closer inspection you’ll also find that raze is a homonym, meaning a word that sounds just like another, differently spelled word. If you were to listen to this track without having access to the lyrics, you would probably hear that first line as “Why won’t you raise, with me, the Mountains of Man?”. This seems like a pretty logical interpretation for a text dealing with religion and the supernatural powers of God(s). If all this talk of raise, raze and towers sounds familiar, then let’s take another look at one of the lines from the previous track:

What have we done?
We’ve raised such towers in our image!
Chaos reigns.
We shall pay dearly with fires and floods and the weeping
.”

Compare the underscored line with the first line from the previous quotation. This clever wordplay links the two songs together and solidifies our Babylonian motif. This, together with the fact an image of a crumbling tower is a part of the album’s artwork package, makes it safe to assume that the Pilgrim’s home is none other than Babylon itself. That brings us to the importance and symbolism surrounding this most ancient of cities. Babylon (in real life) spent centuries at the heart of mighty empires as arguably the largest city on earth; however, it was also conquered many times throughout its history before eventually falling into ruin and abandonment, never to return to its former glories. These events are somewhat echoed in the Bible, in which Babylon is a seat of great power before God ensures the destruction of the city and all its inhabitants as a punishment for their sins. As you may have gathered from such a fate, their sins were many, to the point that the city itself came to represent sin and pride. The city was also personified by a woman, known as the Whore of Babylon, and so this leaves us with an intriguing question. Could the Lover and City be one and the same entity? This could explain why we never hear the Lover’s perspective, why the Pilgrim had lost his Way, why she is never consulted in his decisions, why he continues to rail against her even when it was his choice to abandon her and why she is unable to follow.

“If only we were to see that all that we hold dear shall all disintegrate one day.
It’s naught but stone and silver.”

The Pilgrim begins to wax poetic, preaching that no matter what life we lead on earth, eventually it will all come to an end. The material wealth we accumulate will not grant us immortality, but spiritual wealth and purity may yet be able to do so.

“And so I go to travel t’wards the setting sun,
The chariot awaits beneath its glow,
Sat astride the wings of Icarus,
I know no place to go but westward bound to make it so.”

This verse brings together several mythological/religious symbols. Our Pilgrim travels west, the setting sun being drawn by a chariot as described in ancient Greek and Norse mythologies. Honing in on the former, the Pilgrim flies with Icarus, a mythological figure who escaped a prison by flying away on wings of feather and wax his father had designed for him. Having been warned by his father not to fly too close to the sun, Icarus, in all his pride and arrogance, disobeyed the instructions and soared upwards into the heavens. As always in Greek mythology, such hubris would prove to be his downfall as the heat of the sun’s rays melted the wax of his wings, and he plummeted down to his death. The story of Icarus makes a fitting parable for Babylon, the city’s sinful hubris personified by the man. The direction of the Pilgrim’s destination is also highly significant in multiple religions. In Judaism and as described in the Bible, the temple of Jerusalem faced the east, which meant in order to enter the temple, and in order to come closer to God, patrons needed to walk towards the west. Similarly, in Chinese Buddhism a journey towards the west symbolises a journey towards Enlightenment. However, on the other side we have the ancient Egyptians and Celts who believed it was the direction towards the afterlife, leaving us with yet another question. Will this journey lead to spiritual enlightenment, bringing the Pilgrim closer to God and freeing him from the vices of his Lover and City? Or will he share Icarus’ fate, and will this journey lead to nothing but his own demise?

“O’, what are we to do?
O’, what are we to do, my love?”

This passage represents a break in the middle of the track, its sound mellowing as acoustic guitars offer a reprieve from the negativity around us. They’re complemented by a melodic guitar solo courtesy of The Helix Nebula’s wizard-like Jake Lowe; however, there is a pervading sense of melancholy and impending danger to the passage, a sense that it’s the calm before the storm. An electric guitar riff continues to chime away as if in warning in the background of the mix, whilst the Pilgrim’s words sounds forlorn and bitter. Sure enough, it’s not long until the storm arrives, hard-hitting chugs and harsh vocals entering the fray as we find support for our Babylonian hypothesis:

“O’, hear how Babylon has fallen!
O’, bear witness to the Mountains of Man!
O’, bear witness with impunity as The Tower crumbles and falls!”

Babylon falls, though whether this has already occurred or whether it’s another of the Pilgrim’s visions we do not know. What we do know is that he bemoans the situation he finds himself in, or more relevantly, the one his Lover finds herself in:

“For what it’s worth, why would one choose to stay amidst the decay?
Is it too late for us to change?
Or are we bound to the dichotomy?”

The Pilgrim desperately tries to find some way to reconcile his dilemma, to save both his own soul and his Lover. Yet as we enter the refrain he knows that all of this world must soon come to an end, that regardless of what he does everything is “naught but stone and silver”, and that he must focus on his spiritual journey.

slice-the-cake-odyssey-horned-god

Stone and Silver II — The Horned God

In which the Pilgrim meets an ephemeral being and is gifted thus with Boons of Three.

 

Whilst the first couple of tracks centered on Christian mythology, the previous one increasingly began to work in pagan myths as well. The latter become central to this track, by far the heaviest of the album to date, as the Pilgrim continues his journey towards:

“…An old and holy grove.
Enumerate in starlit forms, how the trees came to speak in tongues
And what it is they say through a conduit of horned form.”

In this grove he comes across the Horned God, one of the two main Wiccan deities, and the personification of masculinity, nature, the underworld and the life cycle. Some interpretations even place him as some form of intermediary deity, one who liaises between a supreme deity and the people of earth, and it’s reasonable to adopt this interpretation as our own here. Whilst we were in the City, we were inundated with Biblical references, and so it seems fitting that we find ourselves surrounded by their antithesis, a pagan deity, when surrounded by nature. Whether or not the Horned God is part of the same theistic kingdom as the God we’ve been discussing so far makes for an interesting thought experiment. We can thus ponder whether this is a world which synthesises pagan and monotheistic beliefs, or whether it is a world in which competing theological models are valid and work harmoniously beside one another. The Horned God’s voice draws out the most brutal vocals of the entire record, tones sinking to abysmal depths as vocalist Gareth Mason plays a supporting role for JJ Polachek’s (7 Horns 7 Eyes, Monotheist, ex-Ovid’s Withering) crushing guest spot.

Know not of where it is you came from,
Know, Pilgrim,
Know of these three things:

The Sword that is not a Sword
The Sound that is not a Sound
The face that is not a Face

These boons, I give to thee,
O’, Pilgrim
To light the way home!

What these prophetic words mean is a mystery to us at this point, but they are certainly words of warning, a peek into the future and the possible threats to come. What is most interesting for the moment is that the God claims they will “light the way home” and yet, our Pilgrim is travelling westward towards the Holy Mountain pictured in his initial dream/vision. This then begs the question, where is the Pilgrim’s home? Will these boons aid him in returning to Babylon, or what’s left of it, once his pilgrimage is complete? Or is the God implying that the Holy Mountain is the Pilgrim’s home?

Stone and Silver III — The Man of Papyrus Limbs

In which the Pilgrim is taught of Spirit and the union of opposites.

 

After the brutality of the previous track, we are met by vastly different music here. Ominous church bells clamour amongst a chilling synth and serene harp, bombastic horns lending their voice to the spoken word vocals, the Pilgrim asking the very same question we were a moment ago:

“Though the question remains present
Cast in the cold light of day, what is ‘home’ but a place to lay one’s head?
Does the Pilgrim’s Way see bliss in a stagnant glimpse
Or is there something to be said for the comfort of the nest?
Because it doesn’t seem so clear to me anymore…”

At least we can find comfort in the fact that the Pilgrim seems as stumped as we are at many of these questions, and so we can both hope to find our answers in time. Returning to our discussion on the Wicca, we mentioned that the Horned God is one of their two main deities, the other being the feminine Triple Goddess (named so as she represents the Maiden, Mother and Crone cough Game of Thrones cough). The two gods are polar opposite and yet in perfect harmony, she is the feminine to his masculine, the moon to his sun, and the life to his death. A crucial aspect of this relationship is that of the seasons and the life cycle, for it is said that the Horned God is born in Winter, courts and impregnates the Goddess in Spring, peaks in Summer and dies in late Autumn, only to be born again from the Goddess/Mother in Winter. Thus it’s a continual cycle of death and rebirth, much as the album has its own musical cycle of heavy and mellow sections, the latter gradually transitioning towards the former as we hit the next verse:

“It feels it’s been so long since I left what I once knew and loved.
I know it’s but a day but it feels it could be aeons,
Born to die a thousand times and born to live a thousand more,
as stone and silver, I have been here before.

I have been here before.”

The choice of words and sense of deja-vu which permeates throughout this verse suggests that perhaps the Pilgrim is subject to this same cycle of reincarnation as the Horned God. This could explain why the Holy Mountain can be interpreted as his home, for it could’ve been just that in a past life, whilst these feelings of separation from his Lover may have been a part of him for a thousand lives.

“All that is, is all there was and all that shall become;
The language of matter writ large
All that’s written, all that’s heard;
All that’s spoken, all that’s word;
Is known thus inherently through all as papyrus.”

Papyrus is one of the oldest forms of paper, having been in use by the ancient Egyptians as early as the fourth millennium BCE. In their mythology, the papyrus plant was also a symbol for life, and the Pilgrim ascribes a similarly lofty meaning upon it here as he claims it represents all of language. Therefore it must also represent all that is known of history, all of mankind, all of God.

“These papyrus limbs, they teach that these arms, they are my own.
Yet, I lay no claim of ownership to this temporary form.
From thought to pen shall all things be written.
From void to form shall all things be told.

Ordo ab Chao”

And now we find out why this talk of papyrus is relevant, for the Pilgrim has become the song title, he has become The Man of Papyrus Limbs. Through some supernatural force he has gained this new form, and he accepts his duty to act as some kind of scribe, recording all that transpires within his head and the world around him. He will write the word, he will spread the word, and he will bring “Ordo ab Chao”, order from chaos.

“So in flesh is all.
In all we see ourselves
Reflected in the hall of sacred mirrors.”

A hall of mirrors is an apt metaphor at this stage of our journey, as it can represent the fractal divisions present within something, be it someone’s personality, a system of any kind or a relationship. On a first take we can ponder what it is the Pilgrim sees in himself physically, if “flesh is all”, then what do those papyrus limbs look like when he gazes into the mirrors? On a spiritual level, what does he see? Is it the man who lived in Babylon, or the man journeying westward? A hall of mirrors is perfect for exposing such contradictions, and so we can return to our earlier points regarding the religious make-up of this world. Is there only one God, is it a pagan system, or could it somehow, paradoxically be both?

“Who are we to proclaim such division in the working of the One Thing?
Who are we to feed the yawning of the fissures with great work to be done?
So mote it be.
I become the Man of Papyrus Limbs
To do the workings of the one thing.”

The One Thing seems to suggest that we are dealing with a monotheistic religion here, in which case how can we explain the presence of the Horned God? Perhaps, just like the Horned God and the Triple goddess are two sides of the same coin, and just like in Christianity the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are all one essence, here we have the One Thing manifesting in different forms? Whatever the case may be, the Pilgrim has now devoted himself entirely to it, as he bids farewell to his Lover:

“It’s all over, my dear.
I only wish that I could stay, but really, there’s no other way that this could be.

It’s naught but stone and silver.”

Westward Bound I — The Lantern

In which the Pilgrim, beset by loneliness, finds himself with doubts.

 

‘Westward Bound’ opens with mellow acoustic guitars, perhaps representative of the day’s final rays of sunlight. Their wistful melodies lend the piece a sense of lonely tranquility as the Pilgrim’s spoken word once again makes the opening vocal foray. His words are calm, relaxed and reflective as he begins his speech/writings:

“With time’s passage, though, what worth would such things be
Without a pen with which to write,
nor a voice with which to speak
If I found you gazing back at me
As the second night descends?

For time steal us all away one day, does it not?
It robs us of the things we want to hold onto the most.”

The Pilgrim reflects on what he said in the previous song, on the overall message behind ‘Stone and Silver’, in particular the relationship between the material and the spiritual, and his relationship with his Lover. He reinforces his belief that language, be it spoken or written, is one of the greatest gifts man could have. Through his belief he both raises his own importance, for after all he is now the Man of Papyrus Limbs, and he strengthens the power of his God as he will be using language to record and preach the Way. More interesting here is the reference to looking back at his lover as night descends. Night is a very powerful symbol. It can represent peace and tranquility, evident here in the instrumental opening to the track. It can also represent darkness, loneliness, danger, and the conflict and contrast between light and dark. We shall explore each of these themes in due course, but the first hints we get here are those of loneliness, as the Pilgrim thinks back on his lover.

The Pilgrim’s second day of travel had been full of religious undertakings, be it meeting the Horned God, transforming into the Man of Papyrus Limbs, reflecting on the righteousness of the Way or the manner in which he pledged to fully devote himself to God. Thus the light of day was reflected in his actions, which were in accordance with the aims of his holy pilgrimage. He stayed on the right path. He stayed true to God. He stayed within the light. However, now the day’s light is coming to an end as night begins to rule the skies. Suddenly the Pilgrim’s thoughts flicker to his Lover, to his City, to reminders of impurity and sin. Without any activity, such as travelling, with which to occupy his mind, the Pilgrim is inundated by physical and metaphorical darkness, his loneliness coming to the fore as he muses over the fact time takes everything you love away. Just as his choices have taken away all he has loved to this point. The track begins to builds in intensity, the vocals growing more passionate, more maddening in tone. The light of the acoustic guitars is joined by the darkness of their distorted counterparts, night beginning to fall and enwrap our Pilgrim, their sounds ominous and warning of danger.

“Perhaps it is the plot I’ve lost?
Perhaps I’ve lost my Way?
At this point are they not the same?
Am I not treading the One and only Pilgrim’s Westward Way
To do the workings of the One and only Thing?
Have I not come this very way in search of higher things at stake?”

Darkness continues to envelop the Pilgrim, obscuring the Way forward as doubts begin to surface, doubts about his mind, his strength, and his convictions. He leans on his religion for comfort and support, bargaining, persuading and convincing himself that he is indeed on the right path, desperate to keep his doubts at bay. This desperation becomes increasingly apparent in the tone of vocal delivery. If the distorted guitars represent the darkness of his thoughts and doubts, then the lone, melodic line which continues to be looped represents his faith, the light of hope which continues to sustain the Pilgrim in his lonely quest.

“I have seen it manifest, I have seen it ache,
I have been the squander, and I have been the mirth
As their eyes avert from heavens sent to guide them to their birth.
As they foster their impurity and mock the very Way
In which the lurking and the murmuring
Shall speak from night to day
Will they choke upon their poison and speak the poison word
While not manifesting the purity they sought”

The Pilgrim reflects on the workings of the City, how sinful vices were allowed to fester away, corrupting those it came into contact with and turning them against the Way, including himself. How the dark, impious murmurings of the night would find life even during the day’s sunshine. He looks back with disgust and with the benefit of hindsight, realising that their poisonous words, their mocking tones, their blasphemy all came to naught. It granted them no power, no spiritual wealth, nothing which can follow them into the next life. Instead, it fed their pride and their arrogance, to the point where they choked on their own hubris, their world crumbling around them. By the end of this verse the distorted guitars dominate the soundscape, the vocals transitioning into full-blown death growls as the Pilgrim’s regret and loneliness fuels a sorrowful rage.

“O’, what a shame,
O’, what a tragedy it is for these words to fall upon deaf ears
Doomed to never reach their subject.”

There are a couple of ways that we can interpret this verse. The first is that, in a moment of hopelessness, the Pilgrim has doubts over his ability to complete his quest. He may feel that he is doomed to failure, his isolation resulting in unheard words and forgotten writings. Alternatively, it could be seen as despair, not that he will fail, but that he was not able to reach his people with his words in time. That he was not able to follow the Way soon enough, and that he could not save his Lover and City from the vices which gripped them, entangling them and placing them at God’s mercy. The instrumentation reaches a crescendo, guitars roaring alongside Mason’s guttural bellows; however, guitar tapping which is buried in the mix combines with a grandiose synth line to ensure there is some melody, some light, some lantern of hope amidst the overpowering darkness.

“I pray the night might take me.
I pray the night might take me westward bound.
To confront who we are, to confront the shadow self,
I pray the night might take me.”

Earlier we touched upon the fact that night, through its sheer existence, symbolises the conflict between light and darkness. Here this is brought to the fore, the Pilgrim battling the conflicting aspects of his multi-faceted personality, the holy man battling the impious sinner. His greatest obstacle to reaching the Holy Mountain is himself, and he surrenders to the darkness, hoping, praying that it will lend him the strength he needs to overcome his darker self. Yet as our previous forays into the symbology of night and darkness have made clear, this is likely to do more harm than good…

“If I must die a thousand deaths and die a thousand more
As nameless, faceless, restless men
Who nightly reach deaths door
Then pray this lantern lays still lit to adorn my very soul.”

This verse is sung with clean vocals, hinting that the Pilgrim’s thoughts are becoming clearer, more rational and less emotive. Once more we have references to reincarnation and a continuous cycle of life, as well as the first allusion to faceless men since the Horned God warned of them. Whilst their meaning is still unclear, what is clear is that the Pilgrim recognises the darkness and danger of the night. He knows that men reach death’s door at night, and in order to avoid such a fate he needs to keep his lantern lit, he needs to keep his faith in God and continue to follow the Way. The electric guitars then disappear as we hit a clean break, acoustic guitars returning to extend our light metaphor. Just as the opening acoustic guitar signalled the final rays of sunshine, likewise the guitars here represent the light of the Pilgrim’s faith, light which for the moment is able to fend off the swarming darkness, relegating the distorted guitars to the shadows. However, the style of playing here is anything but tranquil, as they exude a near-flamenco approach to playing. There is an urgency about it which highlights the dangers the Pilgrim is facing.

“She told me once…
‘This is what happens in the mountains
Where the light can’t reach.’

So I go westward, westward bound.”

The night continues to enshroud the Pilgrim, his thoughts once again turning to his Lover. Her ominous words, a haunting warning which, at this stage, could well turn out to be prophetic. High pitched, droning guitars pervade the end of the track, emblematic of the perilous position the Pilgrim finds himself in and yet, despite it all, he resolves to continue on in his journey.

slice-the-cake-odyssey-castle-sky

Westward Bound II – The Pilgrim’s Progress

In which the Pilgrim finds his strength

 

‘The Lantern’ ended with a second crescendo and it immediately carries through to the next track. The droning guitars are still there, lending the entire piece an eerie sense of foreboding as the Pilgrim returns with growls:

“Westward bound,
I’ve seen the light of day.
The paintings on the walls of inner caves only appear where the light can’t reach.
O’, what a blessing that my shadow follows me.”

Initially, the Pilgrim is still conflicted. He has seen the light, he has felt God’s presence and he knows which Path he must follow, and yet there is still darkness. Whilst on first glance this verse suggests that the darkness has won and that the Pilgrim is on the verge of forsaking the light for his former place in the shadows, the last line helps us see that this is not the case. The Pilgrim is at a turning point, mentally, where he has started to gain a clearer perspective. It is a blessing that his shadow follows him because a shadow is only visible when in the presence of light. What’s more, it only follows you if you’re moving towards the source of light, in this case, if you’re moving in the right direction. Thus the Pilgrim is still on the right Path, continuing his westward journey and coming to terms with the darkness of his past, cognisant that it will always remain a part of him.

“I choose.
I choose where the light gets in;
An image mirroring my very being upon the canvas”

The “I choose” lines are roared at the listener with a demonic fury, the added emphasis on those words showing the Pilgrim at his most confident in some time. The tone of his harsh vocals is similar to that of the Horned God, the Pilgrim channeling his religion to give him an abnormal strength with which to fight off the darkness. He is in command. He is in control. And he is fighting back with ferocity.

“And would you think me to be wrong as I speak to you?
It’s been too long since I have seen your face.
Would you think me to be wrong as I speak these truths to you?”

Clean vocals return and it’s up for debate as to whom the Pilgrim is addressing. One interpretation is that he is speaking to his Lover with a despairing croon, whilst alternatively it could be seen as dialogue directed at his shadow, the personification of his own past. We will proceed assuming the former, but keep the ‘shadow theory’ in mind as you read the lyrics as it may well fit your interpretation of the album better. Moving on, a part of the Pilgrim still misses his Lover, but he can no longer deny the truth as he asks and pleads for her understanding. What comes next suggests such calls fall on deaf ears:

“Then stay your tongue, lest I cut it where you stand,
O’, vile and sordid lech,
Your tongue so laced with barbs and filth that it could blight the very earth
And sicken us all beyond repair.”

Our personification of his Lover as the Whore of Babylon comes to the fore once more, with the use of the word “lech” solidifying our earlier thoughts. The Pilgrim is absolutely scathing in his verbal assault, launching wave after wave of vicious attacks. His god-like tone is ever-present as he roars, furious that she could be such a plague on an entire populace, corrupting an entire nation.

“O’, Lecherous One!
Stay your tongue lest I cut it where you stand.
Don’t think for a second that you’d be spared!”

The softness with which he once regarded his Lover has dissipated completely, the Pilgrim steeling himself for battle as he cuts ties with his blighted past. He has now truly given himself entirely to God, though it must be said that this is no monologue, the Whore is not a passive agent in this song:

“And this won’t be the last of it.
Heed my words,
O’, Pilgrim.
This won’t be the last of it.”

Whether this voice is real or imagined we do not know. Perhaps it is all in his head? Perhaps this is the “sounds that is not a sound” which the Horned God spoke of? Ultimately all we know at this stage is that the Pilgrim responded with disdain, his condemnation and rejection of her absolute as he continues his journey.

Castle in the Sky II — Pieces of Ruins

In which the Pilgrim reflects on the love he left behind

 

Having seen them at their heaviest in a couple of the songs thus far, we arrive at the album’s piano-driven ballad and the concluding song of Act I, the piano courtesy of Mike Malyan (ex-Monuments, ex-The Algorithm). The song title is a reference to ‘Kow Otani’s Castle in the Sky’, the closing track from their second album Other Slices. The track is a melancholic ode to the Pilgrim’s lover, which is quite the turn from the way in which he belligerently denigrated her in the preceding track. There are three ways we can react to this. Firstly, we can say this makes absolutely no sense, abandon our interpretation of the preceding song and adopt the shadow theory. Alternatively, the Pilgrim might be bipolar, which is really a distinct possibility when you look at the speed with which he charges from one emotional extreme to another throughout the journey. Finally, and this is the approach we will take, you can think of it as the aftermath of the battle. In moments of passion many people say horrible things to their partner that they do not really mean or, if they did, they expressed it in a way which crossed the line. Following such disputes, the aggressor(s) can feel dreadful about the things that they said and reminisce on better times.

“Once, I thought I’d found love,
Hook and tethered to the Siren’s Song,
Even though you were near, I was empty.
It must have been so pain’d to see.”

The Pilgrim thinks back to the beginning of their romance; however, with the benefit of hindsight he can see that he has made the right choice. Like the Sirens of Greek myth, his Lover enticed him with her beauty and song, only to try and tear him apart, spiritually speaking. He now recognises that even when he was with her, he was empty, his soul a void seemingly untouched by God.

The song goes on to explore the hurt he is currently feeling, and the hurt she too must be enduring given their fallout. Still, even then, he thinks back on the positive memories, the feelings of unity they had once shared. It’s like a divorce in that the Pilgrim and his Lover have irreconcilable differences, and whilst he knows they cannot work, he still yearns for the parts of her which he loved.

“This is the Way,
That you can find me near.

This is the Way,
In which it’s clear.

This is the Way
That we can use the pieces of ruins.

This is the Way
To build our Castle in the Sky.”

The song’s chorus represents his hopes; that his Lover will abide by the Way and that she can still be salvaged. That their relationship can still be repaired. It’s his hope that they can pick up the ruins of their shattered city, and use it to construct more than the Tower of Babel, a man-made marvel intended to rival God. Instead, they could construct a Castle and, more than that, they could build it in the Sky, in the heavens, in God’s kingdom, and with his sanction. That they could work together for him, rather than against him. The melancholic, yearning tone of the vocals suggests that the Pilgrim isn’t just upset that the relationship is over, but that he knows the chances of them realising his dream and building a Castle in the Sky are remote, and that despite his thoughts and hopes he may never see his Lover again.

This brings us to the conclusion of Act I and the end of our article. Thank you for reading this far and remember to check back next week for the other half of our journey! In the meantime feel free to ponder some of the questions we’ve raised, and to revisit this album so that the pieces (hopefully) begin to fall further into place.

Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Karlo is an aspiring author in fantasy/historical fiction with a passion for music, literature and history.