The Making of Opeth’s Still Life
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl, but when boy meets girl’s family and friends, they definitely don’t love him. So, boy and girl try to run away, hijinks ensue, yadda yadda yadda, people wind up dead. It’s a tale as old as time, one that’s been interpolated by storytelling masters like William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet), Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers), and also Opeth singer and guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt, who spun star-crossed lovers meeting their gruesome demise into prog metal gold with 1999’s Still Life.
Still Life marks the beginning of Opeth as most of their listeners have come to know them. It’s their first record with bassist Martín Méndez, whose addition solidified Opeth’s classic lineup. It’s also their first collaboration with Travis Smith, who has produced all their album covers since.
At the same time, it captures a band undergoing a transition both musically and commercially. Disparate songs like the utterly moshable “Serenity Painted Death” and the romantic ballad “Face of Melinda” expand on both the dark and light pieces of the chiaroscuro style the band innovated with their Hall of Fame-inducted debut Orchid. Opeth haven’t utterly committed to both extremes on the same record since. It’s also their first and only release with Peaceville Records; their swift entry-then-exit from that roster is as harrowing as Still Life’s plot.
With Still Life, Opeth entered their imperial phase. It’s also the album that elevated them from European curiosities to a global phenomenon. Opeth’s first show in the United States, a simultaneously fraught and triumphant set at Milwaukee Metalfest, came after Still Life dropped. Thereafter, Åkerfeldt, Méndez, guitarist Peter Lindgren and drummer Martin Lopez became critical and commercial successes. Without Still Life, they never would have made its beloved immediate follow-up Blackwater Park (also a Hall of Fame inductee).
Moreover, if Still Life hadn’t bloomed, Opeth probably never would have made anything else. The band created it while at the end of their collective rope, with their future in doubt and virtually without rehearsals—or any finished songs, for that matter. To hear them tell it, the album was a Hail Mary at making something—anything—work for them. Its tumultuous production was a hazy nightmare.
Still Life tells a love story, but making the album was a horror story, one they’re proud to tell as we induct this classic into the Hall of Fame.
Need more classic Opeth? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with the members who performed on Still Life, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.