OPETH — Still Life (review)

OPETH — Still Life album cover Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Negoba
Melodic Progressive Death Metal Concept Album ? Yes!!!

After immersing myself in Opeth over almost 3 years ago, I'd taken a break for awhile. Recently, however, I've been dabbling in harder death and extreme metal, and felt a need to return to some of my old favorites and see what my impression was now. I was completely and totally blown away. Opeth is more harmonically complex, melodically sophisticated, and emotionally expressive than any other metal band of its kind and perhaps ever. STILL LIFE represents the band just reaching full maturity and taking a risk by making a cohesive story / concept album. Though previous albums had consistent themes, STILL LIFE is a death metal tragedy about an exiled man returning home to retrieve his love with typical terrible Greek styled consequences.

In a genre that loves altered minor keys and dissonance, Opeth bandleader Mikael Akerfeldt utilizes harsh harmony like no other. One of Opeth's trademarks is riffing on complex chord shapes rather than power chords and from the brilliant opener "The Moor" on through to the closer "White Cluster" the thick texture of this style puts Opeth's stamp all over the music. Of course the other signature element is the transition from the crushing prog death metal to an acoustic prog with Akerfeldt's ethereal vocals. On this album, the Mikael is really just starting to ramp up the latter part of the Opeth sound. This freshness gives the ballad-y "Benighted" and "Faces of Melinda" a legitimacy that some of the later purely clean Opeth songs lack. In fact, from a songwriting point of view, I don't think any Opeth album is as strong top to bottom as STILL LIFE. I do a lot of mix and match of Opeth tracks on every other album. Not this one.

Of all the labels attached to Opeth, there will arguments against almost all of them except one. This band is clearly prog. Where many Death metal bands use time changes jarringly, few (especially before Opeth's rise in popularity) used seamless changes into complex time with such musical purpose. Opeth also employs epics to great effect, moving the listener through multiple stages of development with completely new musical ideas often appearing seven or eight minutes into a song, as in "Godhead's Lament," "Serenity Painted Death," and most strikingly in "the Moor."

The only criticism I have for this album is that the record is still young. The production has some issues (vocal echoes, etc.) and in fact I like the live version of "Faces of Melinda" a little better. Even more striking is how much Mikael's vocals have improved in the 10 years since this record was released. The Ghost Reveries version of the band would have made the record nearly perfect. Still, this is a minor quibble.

Like it or not, if you want to listen to the cutting edge in metal these days, you have to get used to some harsh vocals. Mikael's are among the best so Opeth is an easy entry point. I still can't say I enjoy them, but after seeing Opeth live, there is no denying their power. Neil Young and Bob Dylan's vocals aren't exactly pleasant either but also have an emotive power once one gets used to them. (Mikael will never be the poet either of these men are, but neither man has produced music 1/10th as complex as Opeth either).

So if you can imagine beautiful death metal alternating multiple time signatures, riffs both crushing and grooving, complex harmony, and medieval balladry all combined into a story- album, you get an idea of the prog-feast that is STILL LIFE. Within metal, this is the definition of 5/5 star album.

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