Eduardo Rivadavia of Allmusic called Still Life a "formidable splicing of harsh, often jagged guitar riffs with graceful melodies".
Like most of the band's albums, Still Life features the combination of death metal and progressive rock elements that is characteristic of Opeth's music style. With this album, vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt's death growl began to deepen considerably relative to the band's earlier albums. Still Life continues the band's experimentation with dynamics, and most songs contain at least two drastic dynamic shifts. The song "Benighted" is the only acoustic track, containing a blues-influenced guitar solo. This is also one of the band's few songs that follow a linear song structure, containing verses and a chorus.
"Face of Melinda" is, for the most part, another ballad; while it does not contain death metal vocals, it does contain guitar riffs that are typical of the band's heavier songs. A fretless bass guitar along with brushes in place of conventional drumsticks were used in "Face of Melinda" to give it a jazzier sound.
Like its predecessor, My Arms, Your Hearse, Still Life is a concept album. Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt explains: "Still Life was not Satanic but an anti-Christian theme. It sounds pretty naive when I explain it like this. It kind of takes place a long time ago when Christianity had a bigger importance than it has today. The main character is kind of banished from his hometown because he hasn't got the same faith as the rest of the inhabitants there. The album pretty much starts off when he is returning after several years to hook up with his old 'babe'. Obviously a lot of bad things start happening with, as I call it on the album, 'the council.' The big bosses of the town know that he's back. A lot of bad things start happening. They see him as a hypocrite in a way. It's almost like a devil's advocate or whatever it's called."
Due to time constraints, the band was able to rehearse only twice before entering the studio. Delays with the album's artwork pushed the release back an additional month, and the album was released in Europe under the Peaceville/Snapper label on 18 October 1999. Due to problems with the band's new distribution network, the album was not released in American stores until 27 February 2001.
Still Life was the first album recorded with bassist Martín Méndez and the first Opeth album to bear their logo or any kind of caption on the front cover upon its initial release.
The album was re-released by Peaceville Records in 2000 as a slipcase version and again as a digipak version in 2003. A third re-release came out on 31 March 2008, with reworked album artwork by original artist Travis Smith. This new edition has two discs, the first one being a remastered stereo mix of the album on Audio CD and the second one being an Audio DVD containing a 5.1 surround sound mix. The DVD also contains a live video for the album track "Face of Melinda" from The Roundhouse Tapes live performance in London. The remastered and remixed versions of the original recordings were done by Jens Bogren.