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I had this sudden urge to revisit Still Life to hear if it's as good as I used to think it was. I won't bore you with a prolonged history of my life with (and without) Opeth, suffice to say that I discovered them through their third album, My Arms Your Hearse, but it was with this fourth release that Opeth turned my world upside down. It was a pivotal album for sure, in a time when I thought I had heard it all and nothing could surprise me further (only later did My Arms grow on me to become a favorite...and yes I noticed what I did there).
The need to give the album a spin again was of course sparked by the news of the upcoming 'Book of Opeth', which reminded me of how huge this band was for me for many years; they were my absolutely favorite band and I thought they could do no wrong, I was utterly amazed by Mikael Åkerfeldt and his crew. It all came crashing down eventually, but that's another story.
While I may enjoy the three preceding albums just as much, there was just something about Still Life that made it a timeless masterpiece, a milestone in metal if you will, a classic - mind you that this was at a time when metal felt like it was at an all-time low, there was a sense of no boundaries being pushed (I admit that I hadn't gone fully underground at this point in time, and would only later find many quality metal releases from this period).
I don't know how long since I've listened to the album in its entirety for the sake of experiencing it again, but it must be many years. The first thing that strikes me (I'm listening to the original release) is how weak the production sounds; there are some seriously powerful riffs being thrown around here, but they don't sound all that strong. It's not that the production is terrible, either, but the songs would definitely benefit from a little more bassy punch, and the guitars could have used a little more distortion. But hey, in the end it's the music that matters the most, and as it turns out, I find myself falling in love again with most of the material on display.
Now I've seen people whine about Opeth being a boring band, and I imagine they are probably thinking about sections like the intro to the first song out, "The Moor", which takes the standard acousting doodling to new lengths, lasting for almost two minutes before the metal finally kicks in. Well, yeah. If you're here for just the metal, you might get impatient with this fade-in, slow opening. Personally I feel it is perfectly timed, just long enough to really build up to an early climax, so that once the main riff kicks in, accompanied by the bass and the drums, it becomes all the more delightful when you can finally start banging your head. And what a boost the rest of "The Moor" is! To this day, and especially today, "The Moor" remains one of my all-time favorite songs regardless of genre. Everything here is just pure metallic eloquence, combined with some fantastic prog rock-inspired, clean vocal-led sections (can't quite call them choruses) that truly soar. From beginning to end, "The Moor" is a long mosaic, and despite the folk-like acoustic guitars and the prog rock influences, it first and foremost is a death metal song.
Mikael Åkerfeldt was at his absolute best vocal-wise here, perfecting his growl. He goes deeper more often than he did on the previous three albums, where he sounded more desperate; here, he sounds more in control, more in charge if you will. Absolutely devastatingly amazeballs growls. The best ever recorded, I'd argue. Just listen to those dripping lines in "Serenity Painted Death": White face, haggard grin / This serenity painted death / With a halo of bitter disease / Black paragon in lingering breath. Gotta love how he adds a little tail-end growl to the end of the words. As confident as Mikael sounds here, his clean vocals are nowhere near the level of sophistication he later gained on the later albums. And that is fucking good. Up to this album, I was very fond of Mikael's clean vocals. A little unrefined, which makes them sound less soft; he may sound like a pussy these days but '99 he didn't invent too elaborate melodic schemes for his vocal lines, thus making for a much more enjoyable experience - there was never a good reason to lose the raw charm of the early-era clean vocals. That being said, Mikael still sings all other death metal vocalists who attempt clean vocals under the table and beyond, even here.
In many ways, Still Life is a transitional album, an album that moves and looks forward. They are still very much a death metal band at this point, but in hindsight the band's future progression is easy to discern within the seven tracks - more contrast between death metal and somewhat mid-era Katatonia-like metal, the clean vocals are more technical than before, the drumwork takes on additional complexity, as do the riffs.
Unafraid to experiment, Opeth's shining beacon of an album delves into straight groove/thrash ("White Cluster") as easily as it, for the first time in the discography, delivers a track devoid of electrified instruments ("Benighted"). The album is full of interesting details at all levels, giving it immense replay value. To some, it becomes too much of a hodgepodge; I've read more than enough complaints that 'Opeth just string a lot of different parts together and call it a song', but when I listen to this, I am unable to latch onto this argument; yes, the songs do not necessarily follow any obvious structure, but the parts still fit together, sometimes as surprising contrasts (consider the exchanges in a song like "White Cluster" alone), sometimes because the parts follow the same tonal patterns or rhythmic structures (see "Godhead's Lament").
The songs on Still Life are fairly long, which is another argument made by those who think Opeth are boring; but how would you compress all the goodness of "Serenity Painted Death" into a four-minute song? These songs need some length to properly unfold. Of course, if you don't like the style of the riffs or whatever you might get bored because you're not hearing something that makes you passionate about it; but that doesn't make it boring. From a technical perspective, there's a lot of discoveries to be made throughout the album, with one exception. The ballad "Benighted" is, compared to the adventurous material elsewhere, quite simple in terms of structure, and the one example where I'd agree it's a little tedious - the song still shows off a band at their prime. The other ballad, or rather half-ballad, "Face of Melinda", fares better; not only does it build up to a sweet metallic end (though not as good as the end to "To Bid You Farewell" from Morningrise, the album with the funny title), but it has extremely gripping vocal lines, especially the chorus.
The album's highlights are of course the rest of the songs, with "The Moor" being my personal favorite. I'd agree that the songs are somewhat plodding in their pacing, but Opeth have always been a little slow. I don't mind too much in this case; it's heavy and midtempo, with fantastic vocals, a wide range of interesting melodies and riffs, excellent drumwork...it's kind of like Opeth's answer to ...And Justice for All: longer songs, more intricate patterns, heavier, could have had a better production, the last step before a proper breakthrough (on different scales, though); yeah, after listening to the album again today I can say it still stands strong even if I've lost all interest in the band.
Let's pretend that you don't know anything about Opeth. Would you buy this album based on the cover image, the album name, the song titles, and the song lengths? Maybe you wouldn't, depending on what kind of person you are. However, this album is very accurately summed up by those things: inside the booklet, the lyrics read like a Victorian novel with a bloodthirsty medieval twist towards the end; you realise that this is probably a concept album with a reasonably elaborate story and delicately worded prose. It's still not too late to put the album back in its case, but maybe you just can't help yourself and decide to listen to the first track.
If you remain patient through the two minutes of atmospheric build-up, slowly forgetting what you were supposed to be doing that day, an acoustic guitar will grab your hand and lead you through the album cover and past the weeping maiden to the place where it all began: with a resounding chord, the acoustic halts and a bounding, swirling riff drags you further away from your own life, then a sudden change, a deathly growl, and you are right in the midst of the action. From that moment on, you will either be glued to the lyric booklet, straining to hear every detail, or hastily shoving the album under your bed. However, it shouldn't seem like the storyline is pivotal to enjoying this album, because the drama of the music would be enough to convince the listener that the moods are changing and time is passing, even if Mikael Akerfeldt were singing in Klingon.
Fans of metal currently fretting about whether this is an opera should relax and allow themselves to be soothed by the many, many riffs that Opeth offer on 'Still Life'. This is primarily a guitar album and there are several excellent riffs and movements on every song, barring 'Benighted', which is a wholly acoustic number. The second track, 'Godhead's Lament' is just shy of ten minutes in length and perhaps six or seven minutes of that time is filled with riffs that shudder and groan, that soar and rise, that wander and explore. And maybe that would be forgetting the solo. Opeth's guitar style had become distinctly their own by this point, with very few parts that are reminiscent of traditional melodeath, death, or heavy metal. The signature style is a progressive one, since there is no intention to just be heavy, instead building a few separate parts into frequently circular patterns that may rise, fall, stop, start, stutter, flow, and exude menace, tender emotion, or crushing power. The riffs are frequently long and some, such as the rather conspicuously simple one that kicks off 'Moonlapse Vertigo' will use two guitars, one playing the basic rhythmic part with normal distorted guitar and the other shading that riff with slow lead melodies that have a very smooth, shimmering quality. This lead tone pervades the melodies (not the solos) on 'Still Life' and gives it a particular atmosphere - the aural equivalent of mist on a hilltop at dawn.
It isn't only the guitarists who are illuminated by the spirit of creativity: there are four guys here playing almost out of their skins. The unity and general movement of the band is especially impressive when we consider that Mikael Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren had recently been joined by two Uruguayans, Martin Mendez (who arrived around the time of the previous album) and Martin Lopez, whose Swedish was almost non-existent and whose English was none too good. There's a story in the notes to the re-release that Akerfeldt and Lindgren asked the newcomers to buy groceries for the band and they returned with only ice cream and chocolate sprinkles! Anyhow, their musical communication must have been spot on, because no one misses a beat, and that's not to say that the songwriting is easy to follow. There are a truckload of tempo changes, a lot unusual, even jazzy, rhythms going on with the drums especially, plus the usual Opeth dynamic shifts from electric to acoustic and raging to atmospheric, which are executed far better on this album than previously, aiding the progression of the story and the songs instead of merely changing direction for the sake of it. Akerfeldt sings more convincingly too, with a deeper and more powerful tone to his harsh vocals, as well as sparing use of clean vocals to create a few hooks (not quite choruses) in 'Godhead's Lament' and the elegantly building 'Face of Melinda'.
It would seem a little unfair to pull favourite songs out of an album with such unity, so thankfully the quality is spread evenly across the seven songs, more or less. 'Benighted' comes off slightly dull compared to the more inventive offerings, though it is the shortest song and serves the purpose, along with the softer 'Face of Melinda', of providing respite from the more aggressive, constantly changing longer numbers. My recommendation would be to treat the album as a single unit, under which circumstances it plays best, although individual songs can be satisfying: I would also urge anyone with the facility to use it to pick up the re-release from Peaceville, which includes fantastic artwork and notes, plus the whole album in 5.1 surround sound. 'Still Life' is certainly not the Opeth album I listen to most frequently due to its conceptual nature, though it is perhaps the most complete, detailed, and well-ordered album of all, without any weak songs. Each time I listen there is something new to discover - all in all, a story worth rereading.
When discussing Opeth, there are invariably two albums that get mentioned when discussing their best works: Blackwater Park and Still Life. While the former is an absolute masterpiece in my mind, I will have to argue with opinions of the latter.
Opeth are extremely accomplished musicians and talented composers. To this album’s credit, many of their strengths had been polished up by this fourth outing. The production is clear, but not overdone. There is a layer of haunting echo over everything. The guitars come through strong and with that trademark proggy death tone and “bounce” if you will.
Another strength is the lyrics. For those who have been living under a rock, this is a concept album. I am not a particular fan of these. They tend to become stilted, preachy, and unpleasant. The restrictions of this style of writing can really chain the music down. However, the story here works better than on any of their other albums and is delivered in an earnest manner.
So what is wrong with this album being lauded as one of their master works? Simple. It’s boring. I’m sure hundreds of people could argue with me about why I am wrong, but I don’t care. I have tried. My friend got me into these guys in high school. I have seen them live. I totally dig their music and have listened to every album. I WANTED to love this like my peers. I have listened to it dozens of times at different points in my life hoping one day the light that it seems to shine on everyone would appear to me. It hasn’t.
Godhead’s Lament starts off pretty good, but tapers off. Benighted, Moonlapse Vertigo, and Face of Melinda…skip. As a rule, I don’t like to skip songs, but I just can’t make it through the snorefest anymore (and don’t misunderstand me, each honest attempt at this album I listened to every second of it). Serenity Painted Death and White Cluster have their strengths. A few catchy riffs, some great vocals, good progression. With the squealing guitars and guttural vocals, Serenity has some sections that are probably the most “death metal” of anything they have written. But these songs still pale in comparison to Opeth’s lengthy catalog.
There is one saving grace here: The Moor. This is an excellent song in every way. It eludes to many of the ideas that will happen on the next album while opening up the story on a strong note. Again, there are the “bouncy” prog metal guitars, plenty of changing movements, a variety of beats, and seamless changes in atmosphere. If it were not for this song, I would ignore the album altogether.
At this point, some might argue that I just don’t like their acoustic stuff. This is not so either. They have written quite a few solely acoustic songs I dig. More importantly, I think that their second best album is My Arms, Your Hearse. That is an excellent album with plenty of softer parts that just strike me as being better orchestrated and more interesting. The concept in the lyrics is not as accomplished, but I will sacrifice that for better musicianship any day of the week.
If you find yourself bored listening to this, you are not alone. Just don’t let it turn you off the band. Instead, I highly recommend Blackwater Park, My Arms Your Hearse, and for the later stuff Watershed.
This is where Opeth started developing their sound to the one we know and love. The guitars sound clearer on this album. The bass is at the perfect volume, so you can hear it clearly without it drowning out the electric guitars. The drum sound is excellent, possibly my favourite drum sound ever and all the members play brilliantly. Very precise and complex music and all pulled off perfectly. Sounds perfect.
Opeth breaks the mold unlike any other band out there. Their transitions between acoustic guitars and electric guitars are smooth and flawless, and the singing style is unmatched. Nobody can do what Mikael Akerfeldt does as good as he does it. Looking at it from another musician's point of view, it is genius. The usage of odd scales and chords inspires and captivates the mind.
The lyrics are written with a concept behind them. From what I've managed to gather, it is the story of a man who returns to the village he was exiled from for being an 'ungodly freak' to reunite with his love, Melinda. She is engaged to another man, and meanwhile the people who exiled the man known as the 'council of the cross' find out he has returned. They capture and kill Melinda and in rage the man fights the men, only to be beaten down. He is taken to be executed, but just before he is hung, he sees Melinda waiting for him in the next life. So basically a unhappy storyline with a slight glint of hope. The lyrics are amazing, inspiring and they fit in perfectly. Each line is sung or growled with passions sung just the perfect way to suit the music. Amazing vocal lines compliment the lyrics perfectly. In a few words, ''Face of Melinda'', for me, is the best song ever written in life.
Still Life is Opeth's 4th studio release and the first since the debut to represent a full band rather than a few permanent members playing with studio musicians. The album showcases more complex riffs and more originality due to the fact that the band is made of entirely permanent members. Many of Opeth's songs enter incredibly melodic acoustic passages and give the listener a break from the huge metal riffs that pound eardrums worldwide. Singer Mikael Akerfeldt screams intense, powerful metal growls and still shows his ability to sing clean, beautiful vocals when needed. Martin Lopez never falls into the metal stereotype of relying on double bass. While he does kick the double bass sixteenth in the climatic moments, he knows how to make a great metal drum feel without it. However, he and Martin Mendez serve as background and an undercurrent for the guitar riffing, which is nearly always the instrumental theme.
As far as the death metal section of the Opeth formula goes, the riffing is original, powerful, and tight. Often, the bass will follow the guitar riff if it isn't a chordal riff. Peter Lindgren's lead parts harmonize and create an extremely evil and dissonant aura about them. The harmonizations are mixed much better and often sit on top of the guitar riff, not heard unless the listener tries to find them. Typically, Opeth allows the riff to be heard by itself for a few repetitions with the lead guitar soloing before Akerfeldt enters with his powerful metal growling. When it is time for a full out guitar solo, whoever is soloing lets all hell break loose. He covers the entire fretboard and plays tastefully. Unlike so many metal guitarists, both guitars know how to make an enjoyable solo rather than playing as many notes as possible within 3 seconds. They usually extend the color tones (3rd, 7th, 9th, etc) of the chords and create jazzy melodies, or as close to a jazzy melody that a death metal band can get.
The melodic acoustic side of Opeth is in some ways better than their metal sound, well, in fact, both styles are very good, but I prefer the part acoustic and soft, in my opinion, this is the true face of Opeth. The guitar patterns, again, are the instrumental theme, but the bass often creates a hidden counter melody with the guitar. Martin Mendez makes a much better bassist in this style than the metal, holding his own melodies and never succumbing to the guitar lines. Akerfeldt sings beautifully, and if Opeth produced an album entirely made of these dark, brooding acoustic passages, he would never be expected to be able to scream, let alone scream well. His tone is dark, warm and round, like the perfect euphonium or tuba sound. The chord progressions are often dissonant and dark. The passages are reminiscent of riding horseback in a dark, quiet night. Lindgren or Akerfeldt play very bluesy solos, often on a clean electric guitar. Both in the metal and acoustic sections have influenced my bass soloing as a jazz musician although Opeth is a metal band.
Personally, this is my favorite Opeth album, then it's joint between My Arms, Your Hearse and Blackwater Park. Those 3 albums seemed to capture Opeth when they were at a creative peak, and this one was the best one to come out from them. It's all flawless
This album is kind of similar to other Opeth albums. I own them all and have listened to them all. It is similar in the fact that is the embodiment if greatness itself. I especially like "Godhead's Lament" and the melodic vocal parts in it. If it were stolen, I'd have to do my own version of "Serenity Painted Death". Simply put: all Opeth is great and no music collection is complete without them.
There is a very popular saying regarding the roots of stagnation, whether it be intellectually, economically, culturally or in this particular case, qualitatively. The original quote dates back centuries, but is most famously attributed to the late, renowned Sir Winston Churchill: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Falling very much in line with the similarly well-known “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting things to change”, these words carry with them a universal truth that governs the lives of every living being without fail, and one which Opeth have seemingly elected to ignore in the construction of this album, the first entry in the supposed “golden-age” of the band’s career. Akerfeldt and company have failed to learn that half-assing an established formula is no way to progress a musical legacy, and as such are doomed to once again follow up a career high with another major slump.
It has always struck me as peculiar that the line dividing Opeth’s old from middle eras is almost always drawn between My Arms, Your Hearse and Still Life, despite the core approach and overall sound of the two albums being essentially the same. This more than likely has to do with this album being the first featuring what was to become the “classic” lineup, not to mention the first released on a different label. Nevertheless, when examined in a broader view, it is more than apparent that this release bears a far greater relation to its immediate predecessor than the band’s first two efforts, or to be more specific, it bears THE relation. Just as Morningrise was to Orchid, Still Life is practically a complete regurgitation of the My Arms, Your Hearse approach, but with barely any semblance of the vigorous attitude and varied songwriting that made that album such a success. Even the concept, a romantic tragedy centered around forbidden love and untimely demise, appears to have been largely recycled from the band’s 1998 full-length and repackaged here, albeit with a slightly more prominent religious undertone. Unfortunately, unlike said release, the tracks do not transition into one another seamlessly this time around, which only serves to strip away the album’s intended uniformity and leads to the songs sounding more like individual cuts rather than being part of a collective whole.
It is by this album the chief flaw that would characterize all of this outfit’s less-than-desirable output from here on out comes into full effect. Namely that, while the songs are better compiled than the spastic, “kitchen-sink” formula on the first two albums, very few contain nearly enough ideas to warrant the outrageously long runtimes being advertised. “Godhead’s Lament” features all the trappings of a solid metal song, with some heavy, hook-based rhythm guitar work, as well as a triumphant-sounding cleanly sung chorus and acoustic guitar bridge. Pity that what would make an excellent 4-5 minute track is needlessly stretched out to twice that length, for no discernable reason than that this is supposed to be coming from a prog band, and god forbid should their songs ever dip below the 8 minute mark. “The Moor” and “Moonlapse Vertigo” on the other hand seem to wander about aimlessly at mid-tempo for the entirety of their duration, moving from one musical idea to the next in a fluid enough manner, but never building towards any real sense of climax or resolution, and simply putter out by the end.
Where balladry on this album is concerned, things remain an equally mixed bag, though in this case due to the two instances each representing either extreme of the spectrum. “Benighted” stands as one of the best acoustic pieces Opeth have ever created, and succeeds on the basis that, unlike much of the rest of the material found on Still Life, it is an example of gradual evolution in the most genuine sense. Beginning as a lone finger-picked guitar passage with a heartfelt vocal accompaniment, by the end the song has transformed into a jazzy, more elaborate variation on its most basic form. It also helps that the drums compliment the guitar and vocals in such a way that the overall rhythm and phrasing sound very different, despite in fact being performed no differently than in the first half.
Sadly, the same praise cannot be piled upon “Face of Melinda”, which takes my pick for the worst song on here. Essentially, this is yet another shining example of the overlong, wandering nature of the previous songs, but without any attempt whatsoever at sounding energetic and with even less going on within the song. The track plods along for more than half its duration riding on an uninteresting clean guitar passage, with an equally uninspired, tired-sounding vocal performance backing it up. Never once does the band deviate from this dull, utterly lifeless display, or make any attempt at an epic moment. Even when they finally decide to kick on the distortion after four and a half minutes of this dreck, the riff that follows is just a variation on the same chord progression, played with no more spirit than before, and continues on at the same dithering pace until the song eventually fades out. It’s frankly hard for me to believe that a band can bring themselves to release a song as legitimately boring as this one, with nary an ounce of effort made at sounding enthusiastic about their craft. Considering the state of almost everything preceding it however, it’s hardly a surprise. From the drudging riff-work, to the seemingly never-ending repetition that plagues these tracks, the atmosphere and sense of energy remain about as dead as Melinda is by the end of the album (whoops, spoilers!).
After nearly 45 minutes of meandering pseudo-prog, when this album at long last decides to pick its ass up off the ground and do something with itself, the result is a pair of genuinely solid tracks that prove that the magic of My Arms, Your Hearse is still very much intact. “Serenity Painted Death” features a fantastic set of infectious riffs not too far removed from “The Amen Corner”, and thankfully does not spend the majority of its time confined to one single monotonous rhythm. Instead, this song seems organized in a manner more befitting of this album’s predecessor, meshing together a series of varied but strongly cemented ideas in a way that sounds both cohesive and adventurous. The aggressive nature of the track is perfectly balanced out with several well-executed progressive moments (and even one vaguely psychedelic section) that this album has been in dire need of for some time, and at a couple points the guitars are actually given their first real opportunity to cut loose. Closer “White Cluster” is a similarly up-beat affair that manages to keep the listener’s attention through focusing on riffs that are actually worth being repeated, as well as featuring one of the best choruses on the album. But the real clincher occurs halfway through the track when everything goes quiet save for a single faint acoustic guitar line, after which the tempo suddenly kicks up to what comes close to being a record high for this band. From there, Opeth shifts into almost power metal territory with one of the most energetic displays of riffing in the band’s history, and lo and behold, Akerfeldt and Lindgren come out shredding balls with the most magnificent solo duel they have ever recorded. And so arises the perplexing twist of the single greatest moment in the entire Opeth discography being included on one of their weaker efforts. That Akerfeldt can’t bring himself to write a full album in this vein is equal parts baffling and depressing at once.
While not being a release devoid of any worthwhile material, a few scant traces of its far superior predecessor at work can’t save Still Life from amounting to another bad rehash. As with the first instance of this shameful practice on Opeth’s part, it is hard to look at this album in any other way than as a cheap knock-off rushed out barely a year later to capitalize on a successful venture. With the sole exceptions of “Benighted” and the aforementioned solo in “White Cluster”, there is nothing on this album that was not accomplished with equal or (more often than not) better results on My Arms, Your Hearse. Insofar as the state of the band during this time period, Opeth have yet to learn from their mistakes, that it takes time and proper inspiration to create a successful follow-up, and as long as this fact of life would continue to elude them, so too would they be condemned to forever run in circles in an endless fluctuation of quality and lack thereof.
Opeth, what can I say? They're well known for their technical skill, and this album displays that very well, but in terms of composition, it's very lacking. Like most progressive albums, this centers itself around a single story, each song being parts of a whole. But where this album falls short of all their other early albums in terms of the lyrics and music lining up in a single unit. And not mention, this lacks the power of My Arms, Your Hearse and Orchid, and in many ways is like a continuation of Morningrise.
The album starts off with the longest track, The Moor, almost twelve minutes of meandering between jazzy acoustic sections and blackened death metal riffage. This track really is a reflection of the album as a whole, good ideas just glued together at random with no respect to the story or general musical cohesion. It could have been easily cut down to six, seven, or eight minutes and been sufficient and helped the story move along quicker. Godhead's Lament is a nice heavy track with less meandering, but still fairly overlong and could be cut down by a few minutes. And I could never figure out what part of the story this is, as the protagonist's return is sufficiently described in The Moor.
Now Benighted is, to me at least, one of the stronger points of the album. Giving a nice description of the protagonist's escape with his lover into the night, the music here actually lines up with the imagery of the lyrics, a calm prog rock piece serving as a backdrop to an escape into a calm summer night. Moonlapse Vertigo is were the story takes a dark and drastic turn, the protagonists are captured by the authorities and imprisoned, but the music makes no reference to that, and instead takes on the character of a typical Opeth filler, just meandering between soft jazzy sections and heavier, distorted prog rock riffs. Face of Melinda gets my vote for best track on the album, showing a sense of direction and appropriate coupling of music and lyrics. To me, the lyrics here seem to be about the protagonist dreaming about being with his love again, and the soft, hypnotic music is indicative of the overall feeling of what it's like to be in an altered state of consciousness.
Serenity Painted Death takes us, presumably, to the next day when Melinda is executed and the lyrics give the audience insight into the narrator's feelings of rage and despair, but the music, much like with Moonlapse Vertigo, fails to really portray those emotions. White Cluster brings us to the day of our hero's execution, but instead of inspiring dread, fear, or panic, it does what Moonlapse Vertigo and Serenity Painted Death do, just meanders and fails to really convey extreme emotions.
I don't have the contempt that other critics have for this album, but I don't get what's so special about it. Yeah, Akerfeldt has good vocals, the overall sound is unique and creative, the lyrics are vivid, the story is kinda touching, the production is clean and heavy, but the composition is bland and meandering and the band as a whole is incredibly robotic, the only member conveying any emotion at all being Mikael. I really only recommend this to rabid Opeth fans, and based on what I've seen, most Opeth fans are pretty crazy. For those looking to get into Opeth, start with Orchid and My Arms, Your Hearse.
Opeth has always been one of my favorite bands of all time. What I love about them is the diverse and dynamic nature of their songs, with exceptional musicianship. But I’ll admit, as much as I like this band, they are not without their flaws. Some of their songs can be structured in a disjointed manner, have little progression, or even become tedious at times (for example, the song, ‘Wreath’ from the Deliverance album drags on unnecessarily).
But in the case of their fourth opus, Still Life, Opeth has taken all the elements that defined them and perfected them. This is one of the best albums that I have ever heard in a while. And from the backstory I heard, these pretentious musicians had very little time to prepare before recording it; according to the foreword in the booklet, they never rehearsed or even heard of any of the songs.
Like My Arms, Your Hearse, Still Life is a concept album that follows a man that was banished from his town for fifteen years. He has returned to have Melinda come with him. He is so devoted to her that he would join her in death, which eventually, they do. While the story is not the most complex, it is well told and to the point without any convolutions or unnecessary complexities (see. Metropolis Pt. 2 by Dream Theater).
Still Life flows as smoothly as an ocean. Every single riff blends together very naturally without any contrivance. The songs progress evenly and even when the majority of the songs average at 9 minutes, you'll never get bored of them. But what especially impressed me was how the dynamics were executed beautifully. Take the opening track, 'The Moor', for example; around the seven minute mark, the track goes from very heavy and dissonant, then it transitions into a 6/8 as the song slowly breaks down into softer territory, then a couple of moments later, builds back up. Another example would be the song, 'Moonlapse Vertigo'; during the first few verses, where they play around with their dynamics in a sort of verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure.
Mikael Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren's guitar work help portray the atmosphere throughout the album. The riffs have obvious influences from other progressive rock and heavy metal bands as well as folk and Latin influences in the acoustic sections. The emotions brought from the guitar work range from sorrowful to disturbingly dissonant with convincing execution. Bassist Martin Mendez and drummer Martin Lopez do not shine as much, but they provide a solid backbone.
Mikael's vocals get their own paragraph. His growls are some of the most convincing in his career, even more so than in My Arms, Your Hearse and Katatonia's Brave Murder Day. At one point, in the song, 'Serenity Painted Death', he pulls off a very angry; almost guttural performance that would make Frank Mullen and George Fisher shit their pants. His clean vocals are more prevalent than in the first three Opeth records and he releases jazzy emotion in every single line.
Since this is a concept album, the lyrics are in need of mentioning. Mikael's lyrics match that of Edgar Allen Poe's poetry with a lot of thought put into them. Even if Still Life would be made a screenplay or a novel, they would hardly do justice to what Mikael writes. Here is an excerpt from Face of Melinda:
I took her by the hand to say
All faith forever has been washed away
I returned for you in great dismay
Come with me, far away to stay
Endlessly gazing in nocturnal prime
She spoke of her vices and broke the rhyme
But baffled herself with the final line
My promise is made but my heart is thine
While Opeth has been consistent throughout their career, I don't think they'll top Still Life. But maybe they don't even need to with the direction they have recently taken with Watershed and Heritage. Opeth's musicianship and songwriting in Still Life is so masterful, it deserved the 100%.
'Still Life' is an amazing arrangement, a perfect symphony of death, progression and blues. Ideally you might want to listen to this album uninterrupted from “The Moor” to “White Cluster”, as always Opeth extend the boundaries of progressive death metal. There is always an album in the career of every artist which defines them and forms the cornerstone of their whole music. With "Still Life" Opeth has pushed their own creativity to insane heights of near impossible emulation.
Here the band actually transcend the normal decorum of mathematics, high (means progressive) and low (means death) mixed together isn't a NULL, Akerfeldt must have been simultaneously strung up on Alcohol and grass when he wrote and composed Still Life. Mind you, “Still Life” does not have the *I got struck by lightning* kind of an effect (check out "A Celebration of Guilt” by Arsis or "Chaosphere" by Meshuggah to know more about that). Opeth's creation methodically seeps into every iota of musical nerve inside your human body and gets ingrained there - been listening to this band for over six years and can convincingly claim that 'Still Life' is indeed the high point while 'Ghost Reveries' occupy the trough of their discography.
These guys got progressively refined with each record and the pinnacle of that evolution is a sound like "Still Life". It has an immense feel to it which melts and perfectly blends the dark, deathly growls, deathly progressive riffs, bluesy folk acoustic melody, and clean vocals. "Still Life" is a real musical analogy to Speedball, which is a deadly cocktail of heroin and cocaine. In other words, the songs simultaneously stimulate and depress your brain.
The beauty of "Still Life" torment is beyond comprehension as the lyrics are mostly grim, and when combined with the vocals creates an ambiance of a cold winter morning spent retrospecting about a lost life. It might be illegal to make music this inscrutable; it's painful when you cannot comprehend how melancholy "Benighted" can effortlessly transition into the aggressive "Moonlapse Vertigo", and ending in the mournfully poetic "Face Of Melinda". When the guitar slowly fades, you wonder if it can get any better, just like how Akerfeldt says in "Serinity Painted Death". I can feel there is a beautiful pain in "Still Life".
Traces of early black metal influences are still felt in the last two tracks, otherwise the record mostly sticks to good progressive death and progressive metal. One of the high points is the sheer quality of riffs that literally form the backbone of the more heavier tracks. Here they have truly improvised enough to totally come out of the shadows of NWOBHM-inspired music. Compared to their early works, Still Life has lot more clean vocals and acoustic guitar and integrates even more of a number of transitions between the multitude of textures they usually exhibit. This was also a quantum leap in terms of production quality and can perfectly satiate the musical appetite of any progressive metal fanatic.
I could never confront the idea of reviewing 'Still Life'; probably my vocabulary prowess can never do justice to such a complex form of musical expression. A rather obvious infatuation with this music might heave me into a cavalcade of clichés which I have hopefully refrained from 'til now.
There are only four or five other albums in the world of music that move me as much as Still Life. Music (not just metal) cannot get more perfect than this in my opinion. Everything for Akerfeldt's beautiful, emotional vocals (not just in his clean parts, but in the death growls as well), to the consistently jaw-dropping lyrical poetry, and if I had the chance I would change nothing on this album.
Still Life wastes none of our time by immediately opening up with the horrifying, saddening, and actually gorgeous "The Moor." This song successfully prepares us for the masterpiece of what is to come. It contains some death metal, progressive metal, blues, folk. It also introduces us to our main character who was tortured and then shunned from his village for being an atheist, wh has come to return for his love; Melinda.
Yes, this is a concept album, and I know how some people hate concept albums, but bare with it because this one actually works extraordinarily well. In fact, it is not even the story itself where the beauty lies. Yes, the story is full of beauty and importance but it really is the actual poetic lyrics themselves. "White faced, haggard grin, This serenity painted death, With a halo of bitter disease, Black paragon in lingering breath" See what I mean? There is not one line in the entire album that is contrite or out of place. I wouldn't want to ruin the story for you, nor would I want to feed you more out of place lines. All I have to say is listen/read for yourself and be amazed.
Even though this is a concept album, it is absolutely stunning how perfect each song flows into the next with the various amount of genres mixed into the album. Every song serves it's purpose and mixes very well with the lyrical content. Every member has their chance to shine on this album. Mendez rules on "Face Of Melinda," with his jazzy bass lines, Lindgren kicks ass through "Serenity Painted Death" with some face melting soloing and some of the most deadly riffs ever, Lopez kicks ass on "White Cluster" and Mikael Akerfeldt is always shining on almost every part of every song. This kind of perfection doesn't happen every day, folks. The production is actually pretty great, so I don't see the point of the rerecording, but if you get a chance check it out because it is a lot better.
Only through the albums of The Court of the Crimson King, Wish You Were Here, Images and Words, Catch Thirtythree and Ten have I felt such raw power and pure emotion, enough so to actually change my mood when I am listening to it. There is not much else to say other than this album is fucking flawless and moves me, which is what music as a whole is meant to do. If you enjoy death metal, folk, jazz, prog, or just music in general check this album out as soon as you get the chance.
This was where I turned away from Opeth, and never bought an album by them again. My Arms, Your Hearse was an exciting change of pace, so I was eager to hear where Opeth would go after that, and luckily, they became more progressive, but not much to my liking.
Let me get this off my chest: this album sounds wimpy. And I don't mean that more clean guitars make it sound that way, but rather, the actual riffs, scales, and notes all sound kind of "happy." I don't know if they were feeling jollier, after all, they finally cemented their line up with a new bass player, but the whole thing just doesn't do it for me.
Amazingly, the song structures here flow better than ever. "The Moor" builds, and builds, but sadly goes no where really interesting. "Godhead's Lament" sounds like a left over from Morningrise, but doesn't blow me away. "White Cluster" just plain blows, with goofy clean vocal melodies that have more in common with Tracy Chapman than anything metal, and most things progressive rock.
My two favourite tracks on here are, quite surprisingly, the ballad-esque "Benighted" and "Face of Melinda," which both really show off Opeth's vintage progressive rock fixation, and add something new. I'd be tempted to say that if they made the album more focused around these types of minor key, quieter songs, I would have enjoyed it more.
Probably part of it is the production, which sounds a bit too synthetic. It could be that this is allegedly a concept album, which quite paradoxically doesn't flow from song to song. But another part of me says that this is just too damn experiemental and goofy to fully enjoy.
Remember Queensryche's Promised Land? I loved that album, even though it was mostly subdued, acoustic based stuff. That album was dark as hell, no real hits, and no light hearted fun. Still Life is essentially Promised Land gone bad. The ghostly feel that Opeth used to have is gone, and it comes across as less mysterious. You can listen to simple songs from this album, rather than enjoying it as a whole, because the songs themselves don't seem to have anything to do with one another (even though, apparently, this is a concept album).
I can see why a lot of metal fans hate Opeth, and I base that solely upon this album.
Usually, I can accept other people’s opinions of music to an extent. However, the previous reviewer tended to criticise (and generalise) people who appreciate this album simply because he did not like it. No, you are not stupid for liking Opeth.
Look, I know MAYH was an awesome album and Opeth were never able to recreate the atmosphere and the same level of greatness on that album. This album however, is still an awesome album.
Mikael Åkerfeldt is a good vocalist. He has good death metal vocals and is probably one of the best in the business. As for his singing abilities, I don't think he is that great. Personally, I've never liked his singing vocals much on albums but they still get the job done and they are by no means awful. It is interesting to note that he sounds very nice when he sings live; the contrary usually applies to many artists.
Mikael is talented when it comes to song writing, I wouldn't say a musical genius ala Jon Nödtveidt but he is still very good nonetheless. Opeth use the formula they always use in most songs, that is, long songs mixed with both heavy and soft parts. Usually, this works quite well and here is no exception. It provides a nice mix of aggression, peace and sometimes even beauty. There is one easy listening song to be found here: Benighted. This is one of their best easy listening songs.
The album is a concept album and the concept isn't as abstract or difficult to follow as the previous album. It is quite clear and reading the lyrics will give you a general idea of what is going on. The downside is, the concept isn't as cool as the previous release.
The concept of this album helps generate the sad atmosphere on this album. It is one of despair and melancholy and also hope at some points. Overall the atmosphere is great.
Admittedly, Opeth did go downhill after this album. Blackwater Park in my opinion was a stumbling block for the band (much like NeChrist was for Nokturnal Mortum) and they were never able to recapture the essence of this album until Watershed.
If you don't like/understand this album, then it's your loss and if you like it then no, you are not stupid.
Conclusion: The above is recommended for download or purchase
I feel this album is the culmination of Opeth moving toward their extreme progressive pinnacle. This band has pushed the envelope in so many different ways, and they maximized their efforts in this release. This newest opus (at least at the time) is of epic proportions on the whole as a release, and as a genre-bridging, and monumental song diversity.
Their releases to date consistantly became more progressive, from strictly dualing guitars and death metal vocals, to the release before, where Opeth seemed to try incorporating more speeds, song-length variation, and a movement of speed, heaviness of songs, and comes around full-circle to the epilogue.
This release begins much as others have, an 11 minute song, but it starts off with a slow, droning electric guitar fuzz, followed shortly thereafter with acoustic guitars, then acoustic/electric guitars and death metal vocals, then moves into death metal with clean vocals, they incorporate bridges of varying speeds, and different moods, and did it all better and more often than in their previous releases.
This band had outdone itself in this release, where their melodic efforts, teamed with the excellent voice of Mike, and the perfection of his death metal sound, makes this album a must have for any prog-metal fan.
Songs like Benighted, and Face of Melinda can be appreciated by so many types of people...even my mother likes those songs, to the heaviness of Godhead's Lament that has one of the best endings that I have ever heard in a song, with a crescendo of heavy death metal, and a very expansive vocal showing by Mike just proves how well this band has done in expanding their musical horizons.
This album showcases amazing utilization of clean and death metal vocals, acoustic songs progressing into heavy and doom laden death metal, speed variations along with crescendos and diminuendos that reflect the lyrical content of the songs, and an excellent use of bridges that have different sounds than the rest of the song...it's all there.
This band has continued to amaze me, and is a chameleon in it's own genre, where each album sounds different from the other, and each band member shows different sides of themselves that are characterized by their musical culpabilities, and performances.
All in all, this album is their best. It always will be for me. I can listen to this from start to finish, never skipping forward, sometimes skipping backwards to hear the song again, and seemingly finding a different element of the music that I didn't hear the last time. I enjoy the drastic differences in songs, different parts of songs, and the amazing range of musicianship that all these members express in this diverse album. This is much enjoyable, and I am not bored during this album like I had been at times in their previous efforts.
With Still Life, Opeth has released the greatest work of their entire career. It combines all the elements of their previous albums and hones them to perfection. Although Still Life is a concept album, this fact does not hurt the music, and in many cases it greatly enhances it. Interesting lyrics are present throughout each song, and they form an appropriate complement to Opeth's progressive musical structures. The result is a solid album that gives the listener the signature, powerful death/progressive sound of the band.
A strong opener is key to getting the listener's attention, and The Moor does this quite well. This song begins with a dreamlike passage (that forms the opening and closing theme of the album itself), and transitions into a melodic acoustic part. Suddenly, you are hit with blasting guitars and a galloping rhythm that gives you a taste of the death metal side of Opeth, similar to their previous work My Arms Your Hearse. This song includes some of the best lyrics of the album and transitions between softer and harder passages in the middle.
I will avoid a song-by-song review, but I must give a passing mention to my favorite Opeth song of all time: Godhead's Lament. The second song of Still Life includes everything that makes Opeth a unique band, with transitions between heavy death grunts and Akerfeldt's clean vocals, long and repetitive atmospheric rhythm sections, and good transitions. The best moment is in the middle of the song, directly after the clean vocal/acoustic passage: a melodic riff section brings a perfect feeling of melancholy and power to the song. Then the song ends with more heavy guitars and death grunting, and some pretty wicked screaming.
The middle of the album is also great as well, with the balance of heavier and lighter songs that Opeth has eventually become known for. Still Life seems to form the basis for their later album's song structures: the lines between heavy and soft parts become more distinct with completely soft songs such as Benighted, heavier ones such as Serenity Painted Death and mixed songs such as Moonlapse Vertigo and Face of Melinda. This is in contrast to their previous albums such as Morningrise which incorporated less straightforward structures and more progressive elements. Not to say Still Life is simple, but it has less of the sometimes confusing complexity of the aforementioned album. Still Life has a lot of changes, but the changes have much clearer transitions than in previous Opeth works.
However there are a few issues that keep me from giving this great album a perfect score. Production problems can be heard in a few songs such as The Moor which make one stereo channel seem a lot quieter than the other (these are short and rare though, and do little to detract from the song). My least favorite song is White Cluster, the album closer. This one is good, but definitely not on par with the quality of the previous ones. It tends to meander and not really get interesting. I guess it is included for story continuity, but it does have some good parts. I usually skip it however. Opeth tends to be a band that (in my opinion) has better songs in the first halves of their albums. Still Life has great songs all around, basically 6/7 are awesome and 1 is merely okay. Therefore I rate their finest album as 95%. Any Opeth fan cannot miss this album, as it encompasses everything that makes Opeth worth listening to.
Personally, Still Life is my favourite Opeth album and, I believe, their best creation yet. Whilst I garner nothing but praise for all of Opeth's releases, Still Life is a step above them all and really showcases Opeth's talent as musical composers, technical proficiency and overall quality output.
Still Life, like the greater majority of Opeth albums, is dominated by minor keys, scales and chords, giving the music a rather dark and sorrowful appeal. This works for both the mellow and heavy areas, lending the harsh parts more crunch and aggression because of the flattened nature of some of the scale's intervals, but also adds a haunting element to their soft parts. This, coupled with Mikael Akerfeldt's talented vocals, creates very powerful and energized music.
Many parts of the tracks from Still Life feature moody melody lines played over driving harmony and chord progressions and work well to emphasize the gloomy, saddened feeling that is portrayed by the concept of the lyrics. The rhythmic chord riffs also have alot more depth than generic power chords, and although Opeth do make use of the almighty power chord, the chords presented in Still Life maintain the brutality and also add that signature Opeth depressive sound.
Although some new listeners may be drawn straight to Mikael's superb growls and clean, mellow singing, his (and Peter's) work on the guitar is just as deserving of praise. The columns of minor and suspended chords played by both guitars create passion and atmospheric quality. The addition of simple lead parts by Mike over Peter's chord progressions, carried on into Blackwater Park, have great effect in shadowing the tone of the bar or piece being played. Opeth lead and solo areas are not known for being extremely technical, but the jazz and blues-rock influences really shine through beautifully, and are executed at the best moments in the songs to create that climax feel. Intricate acoustic passages and mournful arpeggios create that folky tone that is evident in all the tracks from Still Life, especially a nice guitar fill midway through Serenity Painted Death. The Martins add a particular latin feel to many of the interludes in Still Life, with Lopez's cymbal claves and latin rhythms changing up the pace and giving a respite from the overdone pounding double-bass of death metal.
Musically, Still Life is a very progressive album, containing a fair number of time and key signature changes throughout each song and long tracks prevail, with Benighted clocking in at 5 minutes as the shortest track. The combination of soft and heavy is really a standout feature for this album. The tracks, whilst individually fantastic, bond together as an album greater than the sum of it's parts, with each piece doing it's bit to progress the story. The track Benighted in particular, is one of the best composed songs I have ever witnessed, and whilst it is a soft song with no growls, each note played is perfect and anything added, deducted or replaced would only be detrimental to the song. The track is laced with typical Opeth melancholy and is truly a masterpiece.
Great production, composition and performance, theres not alot of bad things I can say about the album. I feel that the harsh vocals, a step up from the Orchid/Morningrise era, is still inferior to those in Blackwater Park, but nevertheless are top quality. There are some areas in a couple of the songs that could have been better, mainly the ambient/soft section before the pre-solo in White Cluster, which was a bit repetitive, but other than that a great track.
A magnificant effort.
Opeth is a very creative band. When a band shifts its focus, this action can be met with bad results. Not here. The band's idea of changing their sound on the amazing "My Arms, Your Hearse" record was probably their best yet: from the unfocused, cut-and-paste feeling that "Orchid" and "Morningrise" spawned, they went to actual storytelling through a series of progressive tunes that could sound brutal in one second and totally soft and soothing the next. This trend of course continues in "Still Life", which is by far the band's best effort.
Still Life, just like its predecessor, is very much a concept album. It's plot, told entirely in first-person, tells the tale of a man who was expelled from his town for his prophet-like abilities, a sickness in the eyes of its Christian denizens. He now returns for his love Melinda (and to avenge this traumatic event),only to find out she's now a nun and it'd be that much harder to reach her. He does his best to reach her, and once he manages to do so, all hell breaks loose. Melinda is killed, and the main character, now enraged, goes on a killing spree and only succumbs to exhaustion. He is then executed and finally reaches serenity. Each song concentrates on different events, and they're all transmitted very well through the songs themselves. The beauty of the story actually lies in the lyrics. Mikael Akerfeldt's metaphor-heavy lyrics describe scenes and events in a way that is unprecedented. His description of the tragic scene is chilling.
"Ripped from my embrace
Melinda reflected in shafts
Red line round her neck
Met the earth in silence
White face, haggard grin, this serenity painted death
With a halo of bitter disease, black paragon in lingering breath"
This is just one example from an album full of thought-provoking lyrics. It's amazing to think that all these lyrics were written by a man whose native language isn't English.
The songs, musically, are just a chain of masterpieces. There isn't one song on this album that isn't downright spectacular. The opening track, The Moor, is intense and destructive, followed by the mysterious Godhead's Lament. Then comes Benighted, which is the first all-acoustic song on this album. This mostly-acoustic beauty doesn't even have any drumming in it until quite a way into it, complimenting a very melodic bluesy solo by Mr. A. The album then breaks into Moonlapse Vertigo, which is the album's representative to the songwriting hall of fame. The beauty of the lyrics and melodies is indescribable, and the the heavy parts are backdropped by such groove you'll be hard-pressed not to move your head. Face of Melinda is the album's great ballad, but is also very different from Benighted, feeling jazzier and getting pretty damn heavy near the end. Then it's time to take a step forward. Serenity Painted Death is the band's heaviest song ever, and its lyrics move from beautiful to downright disturbing. The main character's little kill-run is portrayed by such sadly powerful lyrics it's just impressive. The album closes with the half-aggressive-half-melodic White Cluster, closing the album on a very interesting note (and an awesome live song!).
The music is very challenging, both to listen to and to play. That's some technical stuff. Guitar work often includes long riffs that have the hand move very freely and intricately on the fretboard and play with some on-and-off palm-muting. Solos are very melodic and showcase some of Akerfeldt's and Lindgren's best work. Martin Mendez's bass is good, though it can sometimes be hard to hear. That's a shame, because the other instruments are very well-balanced on this record. Of course, expectations would be high from the drumming, and thankfully Martin Lopez doesn't disappoint, once again proving that he's one of the most creative drummers in metal today.
What characterizes Opeth's music is its transitions between heavy death-metal sections to soft, melodic segments, and this is very true of Still Life. I'd like to state that this album is perfect in its balance between the two, and the fact that the two are so individually amazing only makes it better. The melodic stuff here can be moving. An acoustic break in Godhead's Lament transmits such despair and sadness, and the way the main character relaxes when he thinks of Melinda on The Moor is inspiring. This beauty is accented by Mikael Akerfeldt's sensational voice, but he also delivers some spectacular growls. Probably my only gripe with "My Arms, Your Hearse" is that his vocals are sometimes drowned out by the instruments, but thankfully that's been fixed on Still Life. He moves his growl from a deep grunt to a high scream very smoothly and uses his ability to do that often as to not make the sound of the songs repetitive. It also helps that you can understand every word he's saying if you actually listen.
Still Life is my favorite album ever. It's 62 minutes of brutality, beauty, sadness, anger and all kinds of other emotions, a wonderful trip to an imaginary world telling a fascinating tale of love, religion, vengeance and death. The music has to be heard to be fully appreciated and words can't help sell it, you'll just have to listen to it for yourself. If you don't like Opeth, Still Life won't convert you. But if you can appreciate their greatness, and are looking for a moving album that will stir countless emotions in you and completely immerse you into an hour of escape to music heaven, you really can't go wrong with Still Life.
Opeth are now a massive band. Since 2000’s ‘Blackwater Park’ they’ve gained a huge cult following and with Ghost Reveries (and promotion from Roadrunner), they’re a huge player in the metal world. When you ask a group of Opeth fans what their favourite album is, quite often they will point to the aforementioned ‘Blackwater Park’ or it’s predecessor, 1999’s ‘Still Life’, which is the subject of my review. This album is the first to feature Martin Mendez on bass and the second to feature drummer Martin Lopez.
‘My Arms, Your Hearse’ is my personal favourite Opeth album. I was hoping its successor would be an improvement; however I have come to find massive disappointment in this release. Exactly why it is considered Opeth’s finest moment is beyond me. I was filled with promise when first listening to it as opener ‘The Moor’ is one of the finest Opeth tracks to date (and there have been 4 albums since then); with beautiful acoustic passages which don’t linger and riffs that stay crisp throughout. However, the rest of the album doesn’t continue in this fashion.
There’s nothing that immediately shoots out as me as being ‘bad’ (in fact, there’s some parts in ‘Moonlapse Vertigo’ which rooted my jaw firmly to the floor) but I think the arrangement of some of the songs leaves a lot to be desired. The brilliance of melodies such as you would find in the middle sections of ‘Godhead’s Lament’ are thrown away by sections and riffs which, when I listen to them, could be improved in many ways and I get the feeling Mikael Åkerfeldt was slightly careless about it (I mean ‘Still Life’ was released just over a year after ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’, which only convinces me more that Mikael and co didn’t really check over everything and perfect it).
Don’t get me wrong though, this album has quality, and heaps of it. There are a couple of songs which are pretty much immaculate, and worthy of the term ‘masterpiece’ (I’m referring mainly to ‘The Moor’, ‘Face Of Melinda’ and ‘Moonlapse Vertigo’), however there are some songs which are just very dull, especially when you listen to the whole album in one go. I bought this album at an airport before going to New York on holiday, and I listened to it about 10 times on that holiday, but for at least 6 months I wouldn’t have been able to recognise a part of a song and name the song it was from, I would only be able to say it was from Opeth’s ‘Still Life’. That’s because, folks, most of the death metal riffs on the album are VERY samey. I think the production is definitely a factor here, as the riffs on their future albums are often in this style, but they can be distinguished easily by the fantastic production of Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree). On ‘Still Life’ however, all the tones are very much the same and every riff was pasted with the same EQ.
Now, that’s about all of my complaints out of the way, now onto the best part; recognising where Opeth excel. Mikael Åkerfeldt has an amazing voice, and always has, but on ‘Still Life’, he stepped up another level. His growls have got a whole new level to them, and they are filled with confidence (whereas some of the vocals on ‘Orchid’ in particular really sounded awkward). His cleans are better than ever (particularly on ‘Godhead’s Lament’ and ‘Benighted’, holy crap) and his harsh vocals have finally separated themselves into what would become Mikael’s signature sounds. He’s got his barks, for high paced riffs and an urgent sound, very low growls for the more doom-esque riffs (a new element to his vocal performance) and a piercing scream which will always give you the urge to headbang furiously, even if the riff stays the same before and after. However, where his deliverance (no pun intended) excels, his lyrics falter slightly. Like its predecessor, ‘Still Life’ is a concept album, told in the first person. The story is set in the Middle Ages, and is a tragic romance. I won’t go into depth, but it is about an unnamed outcast (the narrator) and his love, Melinda. The narrator was exiled from the land years ago, but returns in the hope that Melinda would run away with him. Melinda is murdered by ‘The Council Of The Cross’ (presumably the authority in the area, and also a little dig at religion from Mikael, remember that Opeth’s original logo had an inverted cross on it). Overwhelmed with grief, the man enters a wild rage and slaughters Melinda’s killers. He is then tried and hanged. When he is about to drop, he sees Melinda in the crowd. It’s very tragic, and a wonderful story, however the way it is written is a bit too self-indulgent for my liking, written more to show off Mikael’s artistic writing than to really tell the story (though I suppose that compromises had to be made to fit them for lyrics). Of course it’s not a reason to dislike the album, just something which irritates me slightly as normally Opeth’s lyrics are excellent.
The two relatively new members of Opeth, Martin Lopez and Martin Mendez (the latter was introduced to the band by the former), perform impeccably on ‘Still Life’. Johan DeFarfalla had a very distinctive style on Opeth’s first two albums, and I’m sure many of his fans will be disappointed by the new guy, as he doesn’t stand out from the guitars as much as Johan did (though I’m sure that’s as much the producer’s fault as Mendez’), but he has some wonderful basslines (particularly in ‘White Cluster’) which counterbalance the often aggressive guitar riffing wonderfully. Of course, Mikael writes a large amount of the bass parts (and he played bass on ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’) so any changes in style will be as much down to him as to the bassist. Solid performance from him, but it’s the other Martin that really impresses me. When he replaced Anders Nordin in 1997 he was being ridiculed and nobody expected him to live up to his predecessor (I think we can see history repeating itself now with Martin Axenrot) but he exceeded everyone’s expectations on ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’ and has improved even more for ‘Still Life’. While his beats in the death metal sections are always varied, they can sometimes be a little flat (though I must say the riffs themselves contribute a fair amount to that), but it’s his drumming in the quiet sections which astounds me. He has so much taste with flams and cymbal touches, and he can play incredibly technical lines while staying in the background if needs be. He compliments those parts perfectly, and he only got better at this as time went on. I’m sad to see him go but I’m sure Axenrot will be just as good.
‘Still Life’ is considered one of the best Opeth albums, and quite honestly I’m not sure why. It was indeed the first album to feature the ‘classic’ Opeth lineup (Åkerfeldt, Lindgren, Mendez, Lopez), but there’s 3 other albums with this lineup (and another with added keyboardist Per Wiberg) and in my opinion they all beat ‘Still Life’. The album contains moments of pure genius which, if they could be maintained for a full length album, would have made it one of Opeth's best. However, these moments are not as frequent as I have come to expect from Opeth, and overall I think that ‘Still Life’ had a lot of wasted potential which could and should have been crafted into one of the best metal albums ever.
Still Life marked a great change in Opeth, basically era two of their career. From the more melodic death oriented work of old, to something much more original and of their own. Taking the basics of their past, complex long songs, acoustic intervals, they make everything into a great flowing piece of artwork that takes a few listens to get into, but once you grasp hold of it, you realise what a fantastic work of music it is.
Opeth are above all unafraid of pushing the boundaries of death metal. Combining jazz like chord progressions with death metal instrumentation and vocals, acoustic guitar pieces worked into the actualy song with drums and clean singing, complex flowing and progressive elements, all in minutes of each other, each second of this album presents a new challenge, a new dimension of their sound. Never boring, and never repetitive, it requires an open mind to digest everything they throw at the listener. Despite this, this album is also above all their most constructed album, an album that from beginning to end is fully together and realised, and easily my favorite of theirs.
The album is also fully constructed in that it presents a story line of a man who returns to his home town to return to his lover, but he has been cast out from the town a prodigal son, that as the horrific end of the story presents, the town does not want to return. Using this framework, the band presents a seires of scetches and thoughts and some story telling. Very few bands can pull off this format and make it work, and to my amazement Opeth makes this very prog rock concept album work wonders, much more then the albums they were probably inspired by to create.. This is because like a good movie or book, the album tells a story and also an emotion. Each song, particuarly the acoustic tracks manage to capture the feeling they desire to, the feeling of the story, story telling at its best, its conjures up what it needs to, even if you're not really paying attention to the lyrics each time you listen.
To sum up this album, if you like progressive death metal, buy this album, it requires an open mind, but it is well worth the work. I have owned it almost three years now and have yet to totally unlock it, but above all I know this album made me a fan of Opeth, and still does to this day each time I listen to it. It is perhaps Opeth's true masterpiece, a work that contains everything that is the best of them, and is what they will stand for in the future. Everything about it is near perfect, although not everyone will like it.
One thing you have to understand, if you don’t already love Opeth for their music or hate them for their fan base, is that an Opeth album, and this one in particular, is more accurately described as a “complete sensory experience” than an “album.” After spending the first two minutes meandering through a low, chilling, eerie discordant melody, the opening riff of “The Moor” comes into focus, and the ride begins.
What follows is an hour of twists, turns, ups, and downs, working as a cohesive unit to create a surreal soundscape with complex riffs and melodies that sometimes fit the mood so perfectly that you don’t even notice them on the first pass through. And while a couple of tracks like “Godhead’s Lament” and “Serenity Painted Death” are able to stand on their own, the real power of “Still Life” is in the way it works as a whole. For example, the acoustic number “Benighted” is a good track, but it becomes 100 times more effective when combined with the dramatic coda to “Godhead’s Lament” and the cacophonous intro on “Moonlapse Vertigo.”
It’s hard to pick out any real stand out moments, simply because almost every moment is a standout moment. Eschewing anything along the lines of bombast or brutality (there are distorted guitars and growled vocals, but there’s not a whole lot of force behind any of it) in order to make room for more subtlety and complexity, the result is something that can completely pull the listener in.
"Still Life" is not much of a metal album. In fact, the only track that really has much of an "edge" to it is “Serenity Painted Death.” But anyone who sees that as a fault is missing the point. Opeth, and especially “Still Life,” is classy, intelligent, “thinking man’s” metal; meant to be listened to while sitting back and getting absorbed into it.
Opeth's 4th full length album completely blew away any expectations I had after beginning with the impressive Blackwater Park. This is without a doubt my favorite album of all time because this is when I felt the band began clicking on all cylinders. Beginning with Still Life and aided by some of the best production I have ever heard, they have created an album beyond epic proportions. This album contains the perfect mix of acoustic, electric guitars and distorted fury which the previous albums didn't have. Technically speaking maybe not their best album but it is certainly up there. Simply put, the cleaner, better produced guitars either give the sound a more atmospheric, ethereal feel. This either makes the epic guitar harmonies feel much better than previous efforts or that they are just that amazing.
The slight change of heavy vocals has Mikael going to a cleaner, more epic low death growl which seemed to alienate but I consider his most controlled, well rounded guttural vocals. His clean vocals have also noticably improved(possibly production aided) and without a doubt the best part is there is a much more varied alternation between the harsh and clean vocal styles. Lyrically speaking, I couldnt think of a better concept and the lyrics are some of the best I have ever had the privilege of hearing.
In rhythm aspects, The Moor is a shining example that shows Mendez is still an excellent drummer that provides more than an adequate contribution to stabilize a rhythm section in Opeth that rarely utilizes impressive basswork. Its almost a shame Martin Mendez in continually overlooked but that is the price of greatness in his case. Choice cuts? You're funny! From the atmospheric, acoustic/electric intro and chaotic opening of The Moor to the crushing end of White Cluster there are no weak tracks. Godheads Lament contains phenominal lead guitar melodies and one of their most memorable softer acoustic parts ever. Benighted is an excellent, solely acoustic beauty which is unique for them considering its a fairly long song with which turned out very well. Moonlapse Vertigo has the best contrast of clean vocal parts and harsh parts on the album as well as outstanding rhythm guitar. One of my favorites. Face of Melinda is just breathtaking. One of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard without a doubt. Once the distortion hits its just pure bliss(even before as well). Serenity Painted Death is another favorite of mine as well(pretty well like the entire album). I consider this to be the climax to the entire album, two unbelievably basic yet enchanting guitar solo's(interludes) and just overall lyrically, vocally and musically a testament to what make Still Life amazing. The violent closer White Cluster is also superb. A very fitting end to such a tragic story and incredible dare I say still godly album! This album may alienate many old-school Opeth fans and still not be accessible enough to people who cannot tolerate any guttural style vocals but Opeth have created an album worth ranting and raving over. Highest possible recommendation of this undoubtable masterpiece.
Ok, I'll begin first by saying that I'm not a fan of Opeth but I'm gonna try and review it with all previous assumptions I had about the band being thrown out the window for now.
I'd heard from many that Still Life was THE album to try getting into Opeth with. So I thought I'd give it a shot. One of the first things that I noticed was that the music is incredibly dreary and doomy. Fair enough, Opeth are the kind of band you listen to when you're in the mood for something a little low-key, but heck how could they keep on doing this sort of thing album after album? This band must possibly be the most depressed band ever this side of Radiohead. But as things went on I did realise that the band has immense talent, and they walk the line between sadness and anger very well throughout the album, and it never feels particularly disjointed. The acoustic moments, "Benighted" in particular, were impressive, despite that song just seeming to never want to end. I understand this band are very progressive and needs an attentive mind to fully appreciate what's going on, but in my opinion the joy of listening to music is that you can just take your mind off things and relax without having to "digest" what's going on or whatever. Other people, most definitely, have different opinions to me considering this albums somewhat legendary status.
The riffs on the album are all over the place, definitely not very "traditional" metal riffing here. Serenity Painted Death does have some nice riffs in. The odd time signatures add something interesting to the songs and the blend of heavy and soft is something which many praise the band for doing. But personally I think the songs tend to last too long and just don't jump out with enough energy in places to totally grab my attention and the constant barrage of "sorrowful" and "beautiful" music just isn't what I look for in a band. It just seems awfully romantic and pretentious to be constantly enigmatic and meaningful. Opeth are pretty much musical poets, with heavy doses of a romanticised-era influence, and I just find it boring I guess.
I can see why people would like this band, they're quite dynamic, talented, pretty original and definitely have enough/too much emotion in their playing to keep people in a mood for it. But I just don't like it.
Well, this is Yet Another Blopeth Album. What the world sees in this band is completely beyond me: their song constructions are incoherent, their guitar work forgettable, their vocals either misplaced death growls or horrible whining. There is no emotion to be found here - no stirring odes to battle, no banging one's head as if up from the dead, no connection to be made with the listener. It's just... there. It is perfect background music - harmless and unaffecting.
So we start with "The Moor", which does just about absolutely nothing for about 1 minute and 45 seconds, before finally launching into some (relatively) heavy-as-a-motherfuck ... acoustic guitar! Actually, this isn't all that bad, and this would have served as a great intro, especially into the electric part that starts around 2.30. Holy crap, this is, while being about twice as long as it should be, is a solid buildup - add another layer at around 2.40, and some solid riffs... this actually isn't bad. Then we get some death growls - so are we trying to be brutal or atmospheric here? The dichotomy is terrifying. Then, some decent riffage at around 4:15 in, but something seems missing - maybe it's a bit of destruction, or a bit of rockage value - somehow this band seems too mellow and out of it for its own good. Even when they are trying to be heavy-as-hell death metal, they sound like they have been knocked into a coma. Throw in a little break at the six minute mark, then more death-metal stuff, before going into a little interlude later in the song. Nothiing happens for about two minutes, until for no reason the heavy part comes back. What a schizophrenic little song! It's nearly 12 minutes long too - somewhere in there is a decent 4 minute intro piece. The vocal passages sound forced and weak, and the interludes are too silly.
That right there sums up all there is to know about Opeth - too many dumb musical ideas. The riffage is just not powerful, sounding like bad Arch Enemy riffs, being played by a guitarist who has been shot in the ass by a tranquiliser dart. "Godhead's Lament" is more of the same stuff - including the obligatory clean vocals and acoustic guitar passage in the middle. Even when it is kinda heavy, the album is slow and plodding and boring. Black Sabbath, this is not. Also, the clean vocals seem to lack passion and delivery. The verse around 8:50 in is just so going-through-the-motions.
Benighted is a total riff monster. Well, it's not, but I felt that I should delude myself slightly in order to maintain some semblance of sanity, as this passage is totally and completely boring. It's a little acoustic piece, and it provides no rousing sense of importance. No overwhelming emotional value like a "Waiting for a Savior" or "Man of Sorrows" - this one just wants to drug you into a coma.
"Moonlapse Vertigo" brings back the electric guitar, but again it's the clean vocals that dominate, with a lot of random acoustic passages too. Typical Opeth. No real riffs to be found here, just some meandering soloing... oh yes, there's the death vocals later in the song too, but make no mistake, there is nothing "death metal" about this band. Even the metalness is questionable at times - somewhere I could've sworn that metal was not about boring acoustic passages.
"Face of Melinda" starts off with a silly passage dominated by the drums - of course, the guitars are so powerful that they could be dominated by a feather, but that is irrelevant. This sounds like bad lounge music - something I'd expect to hear at the dentist's office, or in the elevator. About 4 minutes in, the song crashes into recognition, and finally shows some signs of life. However, not too many - it is still boring as fuck, unfortunately. There is no definition to the songs on the guitar-composition level. No solid heavy metal riffs, in other words.
"Serenity Painted Death" blazes forward at breakneck speed... well, for these guys anyway. I hope they didn't break too many bones playing at over 110 beats per minute. Again, it's not the slowness that bothers me (see: Saint Vitus for slow music done right), but the lack of inspiring me to act in any way. It leaves me flat out bored. It is unclear what they are attempting to accomplish here - the passages lack atmosphere, the solos lack clarity, and the guitar work lacks memorableness. There is no catchy riff that I can point out - no Kreator "People of the Lie" immediate headbanging frenzy, or an Iron Maiden "Seventh Son" six minute solo that is remembered note for note when it ends. Nothing. Just misplaced death vocals. Only at the end does the song pick up finally - around the 7:40 mark. That part is a bit discernable, but when the random faceless acoustic passage kicks in, you know they're done with that idea.
Finally, White Cluster. Death vocals in this one, over guitars that, again, lack any sort of force to them. The passage at around 0:41 is repeated several times, and none of those times does it appeal to me. Then that is lost, and the clean vocalist comes back to yell a few times - his voice is very horrible, very bleating. I just imagine a sheep being speared. The song nearly falls silent at around 5:10 - yes, kids, this is the modern heavy metal here. Useless acoustic passages ist krieg!!! The rest of the song does nothing of concern.
And I have managed to suffer through yet another album. It's mildly better than Blackwater Park, but still quite terrible. So many BAD ideas thrown into this one - not a single memorable riff. All hail the new metal!