Opeth

Still Life

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Having taken their oppressive black metal symphonies to their furious zenith with their third effort, My Arms, Your Hearse, Sweden's Opeth began deconstructing their sound on 1999's brilliant Still Life. A logical next step in their evolution, the album finds the band re-examining their unlikely fusion of progressive rock and black metal to highlight the former while staying in touch with the latter. The result is a formidable splicing of harsh, often jagged guitar riffs with graceful melodies, and the increasing use of Mikael Åkerfeldt's "clean" vocals (alternated with his ever-present death growl). This tactic only serves to spotlight the quality of Åkerfeldt's lyrics (a rarity in extreme metal circles) and, in the tradition of prior efforts, Still Life is a full-fledged concept album, which, without going into unnecessary details, centers around a tale of unrequited love for a character called Melinda (a discreet reference to Mercyful Fate's early-'80s classic Melissa, perhaps?). Also new to the mix are a wealth of more dynamic, almost groove-oriented riffs (see "Godhead's Lament" and "Serenity Painted Death") which break away from the Wall of Sound overtures of the past. On the other hand, outstanding, multifaceted epics like "The Moor," "Moonlapse Vertigo," and "White Cluster" carry on in the proud Opeth tradition. The all-acoustic "Benighted" is the album's only one-dimensional track (and a beauty it is, too), while the awesome "Face of Melinda" represents a new career high with its quietly building atmosphere and powerful finale. Ultimately, this is another star turn for the group, and the fact that they somehow managed to outdo themselves with their next work, Blackwater Park, is a testament to Opeth's greatness.

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