Still is the highly anticipated new album from Sweden's dark prog metallers Wolverine. Actually, the album was recorded in the summer of 2005 and slated for a fall release by Earache/Elitist Records, the band's former label that released their sophomore album. However, when Earache decided to drop the band along with many others on its roster, Wolverine had to seek a new label that would be interested in giving them the promotion they deserve. And luckily, after a long year, Still is out and it rules.
Compared to their heavy and dark The Window Purpose and the more laidback and melancholic Cold Light of Monday, Still seems to achieve a perfect balance between these two albums, falling somewhere in between. It is certainly heavier than its predecessor but not as heavy as their debut, which I still consider their masterpiece. That said, Still is arguably the most diverse Wolverine album. Besides the stuff where the band have married their heavier and atmospheric sides, there are also tracks that see them charting new territories. Tracks two and three, in particular, both present a distinct later day Porcupine Tree feel in the way they incorporate brilliant acoustic passages with synth-driven sounds and excellent vocal melodies. After a rather heavy opening riff, "Bleeding" takes on a dark vibe as Andreas Baglien's keyboards enter the piece. Add to this a very Porcupine Tree-like vocal effect that highlights Stefan Zell's unique phrasing and harmonies. As Zell sings convincingly atop dreamy synths and acoustic guitars, he reminds me of Dan Swano, another awesome singer from Sweden. Losbjer's cymbals splash over great piano work and the song drifts into melancholic passages before Mikael Zell plays a very rock-based guitar solo without sacrificing melody. Both Zell brothers shine endlessly on this album: Mikael plays several leads throughout, displaying his Floydian roots in more than one spot; whilst Stefan's vocals are absolutely emotive. His vocal melody on "Taste of Sand", the other Steven Wilson-inspired number, are sublime, especially between 5:22 and 5:40 - it seems this song was particularly written to bring his vocals to the fore.
However, the most daring song on this disc is the slightly poppy yet equally progressive "Sleepy Town". This track represents everything Wolverine wants to realize, suggesting they are open to all kinds of experimentation. It begins with ethnic percussion, weird sound effects, and picks up a looped drum beat where electronic rhythms are mixed with real drums. The thick, layered soundscape is something we'd more often hear on a Radiohead or even Bjork album, but given the lyrics and seductive melodies put on display, this is an excellent song. The pre-chorus that reads "Is it this sleepy town or is it just me?" is most gripping, considering Stefan Zell has never sung like this before. The song is finalised with a beautiful blues solo by Mikael lending it a powerful coda. "Nothing More", another moody number, has a capella vocals sung over sparse keyboard notes before the band employs a symphonic backdrop and even adds backing vocals. Lyrically, this is the album's darkest cut, dealing with suicide, and the theme is perfectly matched by a Gilmour-like solo that you'll never want to end.
The first song "House of Plague" is also my personal favourite. Shifting in subtle movements, it goes from a calm acoustic intro to a slowly cascading melody and sparkling keyboards, building patiently until the main riff that explodes violently. Zell's vocals are hypnotic and truly heartfelt, even recalling his The Window Purpose days a bit. Towards the second half, the keyboard sounds take a more prominent role and there is even a nice piano solo inserted between clever drum fills and a well-played guitar lead. "Liar on the Mount", a song that begins with a quote of George W. Bush and vague Middle Eastern sounds, finds the band writing lyrics about abusing one's power for political (or religious) motives. A track fans of Pain of Salvation's Remedy Lane might enjoy (because of its wild dynamics), the song concludes with another spoken section by George Bush. He remarks, "Thank you. Goodnight. God bless America!", which is quite ironic given the relentless tone and flow of the song.
The last two tracks, particularly "This Cold Heart of Mine", encompass everything Wolverine stands for musically: huge dynamics shifting from melancholia to guitar-driven sections, a very pronounced rhythm workout where the bass stands out, awesome piano and keyboard work, and excellent vocal melodies. The longest song on the album, the middle part at around 4:40 is well worth your attention if you want to see how powerful the bass line sounds with some subtle synth tinklings, not to mention the great guitar solo.
Still is another essential release of 2006 and highly recommended to prog metal fans that also enjoy newer Anathema, Katatonia, and Novembre.