Review Summary: One of the masterpieces of Opeth, rising to be one of their classics with its smoothness and keeping the top level throughout the album.
Opeth is one of the bands who have actually made their own genre and you really can’t sort them to any genre. I would describe them as a progressive, melodic death metal band. Opeth mixes death metal very well to progressive rock and there’s no doubt they wouldn't be one of the pioneers of progressive metal. And musically, Still Life is Opeth at their best. Still Life is Opeth’s second concept album, the first being My Arms, Your Hearse. As a story, I like Still Life more. It stays interesting from beginning to end and the songs are joined together in a superb way. Åkerfeldt also has a great narrative style in his lyrics.
The album starts with a song that really summarizes the whole album. “The Moor” begins with a mystical acoustic sound which leads to the great acoustic riff. After that, the song becomes fast and aggressive metal, joined by Åkerfeldt’s nice growling vocals. An 11-minute epic contains both acoustic and heavy parts with both clean and growling vocals, staying progressive as well. “The Moor” shows exactly what the whole Opeth is about. What a great start to a great album. Lyrically, “The Moor” tells that the protagonist of the story has been banished from his home village and now he is coming back to take his love, Melinda, with him.
The second song, “Godhead’s Lament”, continues musically as pretty much the same. The climax part here is Åkerfeldt singing “Searching my way to perplexion…” The third track is the only completely acoustic song in the album. “Benighted” is a great ballad with a very good guitar solo. In this part of the story, the protagonist is tempting Melinda to come with him. The fourth track of Still Life, “Moonlapse Vertigo”, is one of the most progressive songs of the album. Lyrics seem to be about the protagonist hiding Melinda. “Face of Melinda” is the only song of the album with no growling vocals, along with “Benighted”. It is also one of the best singular songs of Still Life, being of the lighter tracks here. Lyrically the song tells how Melinda is actually married to another man, though she loves the protagonist. The sixth track, “Serenity Painted Death” may be the most aggressive song of Still Life. It has a crushing metal riff and impressive growling vocals by Åkerfeldt. “Serenity Painted Death” is the turning point of the story while Melinda gets caught and killed by the villagers. In the last part of the story, “White Cluster”, the protagonist himself gets hanged and a sad story gets a sad ending. Musically, “White Cluster” continues at the same line with the whole album and also has a wonderful guitar solo.
In total, Still Life is a very balanced concept album. It has a clear theme, both musically and lyrically, and the quality stays excellent from beginning to the very end. Compared to the other Opeth albums, this is one of my favorites by far. Opeth made a commercial success with the 2001 record Blackwater Park, but I prefer Still Life compared to that. Still Life stays clear and balanced throughout the album and has no weak parts, though the whole Opeth's discography seems to have no weak parts at all! This has made it one of my choices of albums that fulfill the criteria for a “classic”. If I had to recommend especially one track here, it would be the opener, “The Moor”. Otherwise the track list stays quite steadily at top level. Still Life is an album that I recommend to every prog listener and metalhead.