After a promising but somewhat lacking debut (1995's Orchid), a brilliant second album (1996's Morningrise) and a third album that took the band in a slightly new direction (1998's My Arms, Your Hearse), Stockholm's progressive death metal heroes Opeth made their very first bonafide masterpiece. Morningrise came close, but with Still Life everything fell into place and they once and for all found their voice, their personality and the template they still use to this day.
To be honest the term "progressive death metal" can mean anything, but when applied to Opeth it means "death metal that is progressive in the sense that it incorprates elements of 1960s and 70s style progressive rock", which is something that Opeth had done from day one, but on Still Life all the flaws that sometimes littered their first three albums were gone.
For My Arms, Your Hearse the band moved away from the twin guitar harmonies of the first two albums and moved into a different, more brutal realm. Singer/guitarist/main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt also dropped his high, shrieking black metal-styled voice for a more guttural death metal bellow, and lo and behold - the Opeth we know today was born. This also the first album that featured the classic Åkerfeldt/Lindgren/Mendez/Lopez line-up that would do five album together before drummer Martin Lopez left the band for health reasons in 2006.
Rumor has it the band only rehearsed twice preparing for this album and that Åkerfeldt only had rough notes of the arrangements scribbled down for the band to play by. If that's true it's absolutely staggering, as Still Life is arguably Opeth's most complex album songwriting wise where each song veers off in a dozen different directions and very few riffs and parts are repeated.
Still Life is a concept album about a man returning to his deeply religious home town fifteen years after being banished for not being religious (I guess) to seek out Melinda, the woman he left behind and the love of his life. I'm not gonna ruin the ending for you, but they both die.
Interpretations of what each track means usually run wild on various metal message boards and the official Opeth board in particular, but Åkerfeldt has to my knowledge never explained the story in any great detail. On the Opeth board there's been speculations whether Still Life would make a good basis for a movie. I doubt it though, since (although it's a good story) not only would they probably cast Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston in the lead roles, but it would never be as good as the movie you see in your head when you listen to the album.
If you give a shit, in my mind Melinda looks like Mary Magdalene as played by Monica Bellucci in The Passion Of The Christ:
There's also been discussions about whether the title of the opening track The Moor doesn't actually refer to a moor, but rather a Moor. Is it possible the nameless main character is a Moor? Could he be one of the people who Dennis Hopper described in True Romance as doing "so much fucking with Sicilian women that they changed the whole bloodline forever"? I guess we'll never know.
While this may not be Opeth's best album (their best is of course 2001's Blackwater Park), this is an undoubted masterpiece that will forever stand the test of time and maintain a big chunk of my heart.
(mp3) Opeth - Moonlapse vertigo
(mp3) Opeth - White cluster (recommended!)
Buy Still Life @ Amazon.com.
The Moor live in 2004: