Opeth – Still Life


I’ve been somewhat nervous to write this review as Opeth is a band that doesn’t quite lend itself to description in words, but since I am making my first four reviews to point towards what I look for in music, Opeth has a sure spot among them, and Still Life is the first album by them I encountered. ‘They’ have changed members a lot throughout the years, but the two current members who were part of making Still Life are Mikael Åkerfeldt, on vocals, guitar and the writer behind most of the albums, and Martin Mendez on the bass. Their sound has gone towards incorporating more and more acoustic and ‘clean’ parts into their originally very death metal oriented music. Already at the time of Still Life however there were clear influences from acoustic and jazz and the album plays as an art piece, more meant to incite a mood than to be ‘tracks’ on an album.

Let’s start at the vocals, which is usually where any band has to pull me in to begin with as I am a huge fan of song. Mikael Åkerfeldt delivers a stunning performance on more than one level. He handles both growls and ‘clean’ song in a most irregular way. The two nearly become separate entities both originating from Mikael’s vocal cords and the way he gives them life on their own is truly a sight to behold (just you know…with your ears). In a song like Serenity Painted Death (track six out of a total seven on Still Life) the two facets of Mikael’s voice function as a dialogue between two parties and by doing so adds an interesting dimension. Playing the two against eachother helps create an atmosphere to tell a story, rather than feeling like lyrics sung by a singer on stage.

Nicely complementing the dual nature of the vocals is the guitar work. Anything you’d want a guitar to do (other than maybe, I don’t know, fly and make slurpies) you’ll hear it do in most of Opeth’s works. On the one side you have heavy-end segments that feel like they cut into you with every touch of the strings, seemingly dormant with power. On the other appears a chillingly beautiful well of acoustic pieces, each drop sending shivers down the spine.

Both vocals and guitars are accompanied by bass and percussion that are nothing short of brilliant. Their sound often resembling what you would find in jazz, improvisational and off-beat pieces that complete both heavy and gentle segments very nicely. To give you a sense of the overall effect these aspects have together I here provide a link to one of the songs on the album.

Clichéd as the notion may be, Opeth possess a quality which I personally rarely come across in that their music delivers the listener ear first into another world. A world of gothic romanticism and dark poetic beauty. What you find there might be different depending on what you’re looking for, but to me it definitely holds a serene quality that is very appealing.

As it would be expected of an ambient story-telling album such as Still Life there IS an actual basis for the story element, but I feel telling anyone what it is SUPPOSED to depict takes away from what it COULD mean to whoever picks it up so I will not be writing anyone on the nose about what the album is about. I will however state that for my personal enjoyment, the similarities in the dramatic curve to classic tales of star-crossed lovers have been central. The center piece (if such a thing could be established in an album that doesn’t necessarily have strict boundaries) Face of Melinda has an odd classic feel to it and for me gives off a timeless vibe.

Another outstanding segment is the album’s acoustic piece labelled Benighted which has a softer, gentler feel which conveyes an almost sensual experience. Its sound like the caressing hands of a loved one. Partially it derives its beauty from the way it works toward the following part named Moonlapse Vertigo in which the intensity of music and vocals provide the listener with what a cruder man would label an eargasm.

My favourite album by a group of artists I hold in high regard, Still Life is a journey into a world of both wonder and horror. The question you should ask yourself before finding and listening to it isn’t so much if will you enjoy it, as it is if you’re ready to go.


1 Comment

  1. This definitely makes perfect sense to me

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  • "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.
    And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."

    - Frederick Wilhelm Nietzche