“The main character is kind of banished from his hometown because he hasn’t got the same faith as the rest of the inhabitants there. The album pretty much starts off when he is returning after several years to hook up with his old “babe.” The big bosses of the town know that he’s back… A lot of bad things start happening.”
I suppose I begin this review much alike the character at the start of the story within Still Life’s rustic confines. I am at the start of a long and arduous journey, however this time to accurately define what is my favourite album of all time. With the distant atmosphere that Opeth had made in their first few albums ‘Orchid’, ‘Morningrise’ & ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’; Still Life isn’t too unexpected in its nature. The album ranges from a fantastic sense of nostalgia to harsh and chaotic moments of panic, thanks to the incredibly dynamic members of Opeth pushing their limits to produce what I believe is their best work. Still Life is Opeth’s second concept album, the first being ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’; which displayed the torment of a man who remained a ghost after his death; trying desperately to communicate his undying love to his grieving widow. However, despite the significant level of success that Opeth achieved with ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’; they failed to reach a level of diversity that really created a classic album. The story told in the lyrics required more change, rather than the repeated lamentation that accompanied every song. The riffs and production of the album gave a suitable feel to the concept; but this often led to moments in songs such as ‘April Ethereal’ & ‘Karma’ to be bland and unmemorable outside of the album’s stronger moments.
But in Still Life, Opeth musically portray a strong story; each song having its own theme to put forward a different element. Following this methodical but effective approach, the instrumentation on the songs is absolutely outstanding. A prime example of this is the opening track ‘The Moor’, starting out with some echoing chords that repeat several times to set a very lonely atmosphere for the album; slowly fading away to allow Opeth’s acoustic guitar trade to be introduced for a repetition of two interweaving melodies for a few moments before heavy electric chords come crashing in. And before long, the drums pick up a pace and then carry the rest of the song off at a galloping pace. Even in the introduction to the album, a prominent feature across all songs on the album is made clear – Opeth’s effort to put intricate patterns and melodies into their music, these remaining entirely suitable throughout. Whether this is the gentle acoustic guitar movement in the second half of ‘The Moor’ with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s melodic vocals carrying their own melody on top of the guitar or the combination of both acoustic and electric guitars in ‘Serenity Painted Death’ under a smooth jazz-influenced solo. It all just works so well to give a rustic feel to the music and breathe life into the story, keeping the listener in touch with the protagonist depicted in Åkerfeldt’s lyrics.
Each song displays a stage of a story taking place, ‘The Moor’ displaying the protagonist’s arrival in the setting of Still Life – his return depicted in the lyrics masterfully from the very start: ‘Outcast with dogmas forged below, seared and beaten, banished from where I was born. No mercy would help me on my way, in the pouring rain nothing is the same’, mesmerisingly leading the listener through the character’s serenades to his lover in ‘Benighted’ & ‘Face Of Melinda’ before reaching the fantastic climax of the tale in ‘White Cluster’. From the slow and distant start of ‘The Moor’ to the lonely guitar solo that signs off Still Life in the final few seconds; Opeth set out to push well beyond their limits with their own brand of metal. Progressive elements are in their prime and on show, whether it be the tragic to aggressive riff change in ‘Serenity Painted Death”s intro or the lightning fast solo that thunders through the bridge of ‘White Cluster’ or even the acoustic chorus of ‘Godhead’s Lament’; all members of the band display a prominent mix of influences. ‘Face Of Melinda’ serves a fine example of this with its jazzy and slow beat that creates beautiful foundations for the rest of the band to build the atmosphere of the protagonist’s encounter with his lover. Blues also becomes evident, becoming noticeable in the drum & guitar patterns of songs ‘Moonlapse Vertigo’ & ‘Benighted’, remaining perfectly suitable to the story that Still Life tells. The atmosphere shifts dramatically with the lyrics but the music compensates fantastically, creating a constant sense of danger and furtiveness; but at times beauty and tragedy. Guitar work varies from the purely death metal riffs to the multiple influences on Opeth’s work as a whole, the effort to make these effective as melodies is prominent on every single song and is very impressive. Likewise, the ability to shift genres is also spectacular on the drums, blast beats feature at particularly chaotic moments in songs, as well as quick-fire snare beats on ‘Serenity Painted Death’; but the drummer shows his diversity through the more melodic sections of the album; particularly on ‘Face Of Melinda’ – featuring jazz drum instruments for the most part. These are all fantastic elements of the music that production only assists massively, electric and acoustic guitars are crisp and clear – Mikael’s intense range of growls and melodic vocals intertwines with the rest of the instruments beautifully and even the bass and drums can be heard fine on all fronts. Opeth hit the jackpot with their songs and the studio, the atmosphere is absolutely perfect and I would say that no concept album is able to better the environment that Still Life generates through the 7 tracks.
Still Life never seems to get the attention it truly deserves from newcomers to Opeth’s music, which disappoints me when they bring up ‘Ghost Reveries’ as their favourite album (but if you love it, that’s okay); but it will always hammer home for me the beauty of Opeth’s music. That their musicianship shined spectacularly on this album and that the tale of Still Life is a truly beautiful one with outstanding atmosphere to it. If this review could do one thing, it’d be that you listen to this album from start to finish because I know you would realise that Opeth have hit their stride in the best album they have ever created in their time as a band.
1. The Moor
2. Godhead’s Lament
4. Moonlapse Vertigo
5. Face Of Melinda
6. Serenity Painted Death
7. White Cluster