Still Life

Another anniversary.

Still Life released on October 18th, 1999.

Below write-up is eleven years old, and slightly edited for my present sensibilities. But the album is still timeless.

Opeth’s ‘Still Life’ – that perfect arrangement of death, progression and blues. Always listen to this record uninterrupted from “The Moor” to “White Cluster”, the band simply extends the boundaries of progressive death. There is always that one album which defines the artist and forms the cornerstone of their whole music. But with “Still Life”, Opeth has pushed their own creativity to insane heights — of near impossible emulation.

Here the band actually transcend the normal decorum of mathematics, high (means progressive) and low (means death metal) mixed together isn’t a big nothing. Akerfeldt must have been simultaneously strung up on Alcohol and grass when he wrote ‘Still Life’. Mind you, the record doesn’t hit you hard, instead it methodically seeps into every iota of musical nerve and gets ingrained there. Been listening to this band for over fifteen years and can convincingly claim this is the pinnacle of their prog death years.

“Still Life” has an ambiance which perfectly blends contrasting elements — those dank deathly growls, progressive riffs, bluesy folk acoustic melody, and clean vocals. It’s a sort of a real life musical analogy to Speedball – in other words, these songs simultaneously stimulates and depresses your brain. The beauty of this torment is simply beyond comprehension.

Lyrics are mostly grim, and when combined with the growls create an ambiance of a cold winter morning – probably spent in retrospection about lost life. It might be illegal to make music this inscrutable; it’s not easy when you are unable to comprehend how melancholy “Benighted” can effortlessly transition into the aggressive “Moonlapse Vertigo”, and end in a mournfully poetic “Face Of Melinda”. When the guitar slowly fades, you wonder if it can get any better.

Traces of early black metal are still felt in the last two tracks; otherwise the record sticks to good progressive death and progressive metal. One of the high points is the sheer quality of riffs that literally form the backbone. Compared to their early works, Still Life has lot more clean vocals and acoustic guitar, and integrates even more of a number of transitions between the textures they usually exhibit. This was also a quantum leap in terms of production quality and can perfectly satiate the musical appetite of any progressive metal fanatic.

Could never confront the idea of reviewing ‘Still Life’; no vocabulary prowess can do justice to such a complex form of musical expression. A rather obvious infatuation with this music might just heave me into a cavalcade of clichés, which I have hopefully refrained from ’til now.

 

By Grywnn [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Blackwater Park

Recently a fellow metal-head shared Opeths’s Blackwater Park; it’s been ages since I heard this album. Music has this uncanny ability to bring back memories. In this case, decade old vivid images from heavy metal pubs, long distance motorcycling and even longer days dedicated to embedded engineering.

Had once motorcycled six hours straight to see Opeth live, to this college town in a little known part of the world. Crowd simply exploded to the opening riffs of “Bleak”, ferocity matched only by Åkerfeldt’s own growls.

Blackwater Park is that one album which conveniently illustrates Opeth’s early years. Everything from gothic atmosphere to death metal riffs, all packed into one funereal epic! Wide range of actual genres fit into that melancholic sound, but weaved into one cohesive symphony. Album seamlessly illustrates meandering proggy passages resembling Camel, to Tom Warrior like curt grunts. With blankets of blues, prog and folksy lament built straight into that vital progressive death framework, Opeth eclipses all genre boundaries.

After all these years, listening to them again made me realize, these Swedes sort of orchestrate all those vibrant influences more elegantly than most genre specialists themselves do.

By deep ghosh [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Death – The Sound of Perseverance

Whether it’s songs like “Cosmic Sea” or “Trapped In A Corner”, Death always traversed a unique musical terrain. Deriving from intricate thrash structures, they took Celtic Frost like blueprint to unprecedented heights – made it more threatening and bleak. But, instead of the more gruesome death metal attributes like blast beats, atonality and deeper growls — Death emphasized coherent structural progression and melody.

‘The Sound of Perseverance’ (1998) is a genuinely dazzling confluence of these early influences and more. It’s well-tailored to quickly envelop a progressive metal disciple or a death metal-head. The record straddles this beautifully complex ground between progressive musical sensibilities and sheer sonic savagery of extreme metal. At the margins of these two demanding genres, Death successfully crafts this exquisite bridge from a Dream Theater to a Morbid Angel. This overall immersive experience can be elegantly summarized in Chuck Schuldiner’s own lyrics: “touch, taste, breathe, consumed”.

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Widely varying transitions are graceful and numerous. Baffling how an At The Gates like guitar imprint runs into a razor steel Priestly guitars, finally exploding into an Obituary like mid-paced chugging. The good old signature riff-drum pattern of Death is also omnipresent. ‘The Sound of Perseverance’ acknowledges the progressive side to Death, and does that without significant deviations from their death metal roots. Essentially the same old harsh melodic guitar tones, screaming vocals and scathing leads interleaved with intricate passages — but now restructured into a progressive death symphony.

While firmly grounded in thrash roots, over the years, Death pursued a guided musical trajectory of progressive refinement. Emphasizing that crucial New Wave of British Heavy Metal artistry and sophistication – it’s essentially Iron Maiden’s melody reconciled with Hellhammer like brutal force. This constant duality in Death’s composition was always shifting in a progressive direction. So, for the longtime fans, ‘The Sound of Perseverance’ must have been a lot like the very last song from the record – “Open my eyes wide to see a moment of clarity”.

By A Sniper (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons