Released: 1999, Peaceville
Reviewer: Nathan Robinson
If I had to sum up this album in one word, it would be “brilliant”. What else can you expect from this greatest of melodic death metal bands? After three albums of musical excellence, I knew this album would rule. And it does.
Opeth has shifted more towards the songwriting approach taken on their second album Morningrise. Songs are long, anywhere from five to eleven and a half minutes; with only seven songs, the album cranks in at 62 minutes! Every song is filled with different moods, tempos, transitions, acoustic guitars, and a variety of vocals. But Opeth have not merely created Morningrise part two…hell no! This album is traditional Opeth, but with some new elements and ideas. The obvious is Mikael’s vocals. His phenomenal clean vocals are all over the place on Still Life! Most people get turned off when a death metal band shies away from death vocals in favor of clean vocals. But Mikael just totally kicks ass with his voice, because he can actually sing. His death vocals are different too. Sure he’s got his classic shrill, like typical Swedish melodic death metal, but he uses much more of his lower death growl, ala Bloodbath or “Demon of the Fall” off My Arms, Your Hearse. Overall his performance is better than ever. Acoustic guitars are also in abundance, like the first two albums, yet Opeth manages to make the transitions between heavy and soft more smooth. There is even a touch of lazy jazz in the form of “Face of Melinda”. I don’t mean boring saxophone droning, I’m talking slow, delicate, and emotional acoustics, fretless bass, warm drums played with brushes, and soft vocals. Only Opeth has the daring ability to do this and make it work. And the production on Still Life sounds just like it should. Dan Swano did a perfect job on the first two albums, and Fredrik Nordstrom did his typical work with the third album, which sounded too muddy for Opeth. The band credits themselves with the production of Still Life, yet Fredrik was involved also. But the album came out superb…maybe even the best of the four so far! All instruments sound clear, and the overall feel is very warm and inviting.
This album reminds me of Dan Swano’s Moontower album. Not really from the standpoint of style, because Opeth uses tons of acoustic guitars and clean vocals and does not have all the keyboards. The parallel lies in the moods and sensations the two invoke. Both albums combine harsh, angry vocals with very emotional, uplifting music. I do not know why this contrast works, but it does. Still Life is a very progressive album, sometimes resembling ‘70s classic rock (ok I guess this is another similiarity to Moontower), or perhaps Mike’s Camel-influenced Sorskogen project. Overall, Still Life seems to be a lot more catchy than previous albums. And so many different listening conditions go along perfectly with this album: sitting alone in the dark with a few lit candles, or in the middle of a forest, or while watching the rain or the evening sun fall, or even (now this is going to sound stupid) while exploring a botanical garden. For some reason Opeth and nature just seem to go together…it has nothing to do with the lyrics, just the way the album feels. Maybe because Opeth sounds so fresh and pure. I cannot see myself listening to this album in my car driving in rush hour traffic, that’s for sure!
Some albums make me want to go running down the street thrashing like a madman (Soilwork), and others make me want to deck someone right in the face (Exhorder). But Opeth just leaves me breathless. Their songwriting is astonishing, and should be heard by every metal fan who can tolerate a little bit of death metal. Visit the band’s excellent web page at: http://www.opeth.com/.