Purest of Pain is led by guitarist Merel Bechtold, known to many for her work in The Gentle Storm, Delain and MaYaN. Though Purest of Pain is a long-term project for Bechtold, ‘Solipsis’ is the band’s first full-length release. Without a doubt, it’s worth the wait, and is also refreshingly different from Bechtold’s work in her other bands.
The album kicks off with the crunchy, slightly unsettling and mournful The Pragmatic. The track grows into misery-tinged heaviness in the vein of Dark Tranquillity, particularly in guitar tone and somewhat in vocal expression. This leaning towards the Gothenburg sound is something that weaves in and out of the entire album, which then launches into Truth-seeker. This is a very heavy track with a touch of modern Prog vis a vis TesseracT, for example. Bechtold’s intriguing guitar leads the music over a crushing foundation, with Joey de Boer’s fast and precise drums particularly contributing to the Prog elements.
Vessels is a more melodic track that moves back towards hints of the darkest reaches of the Gothenburg sound, but also picks up the “Djent” stylings of Meshuggah. Bechtold’s guitar leads also seem Meshuggah-influenced, though the track is easier to follow than Meshuggah’s later works in terms of its coherence. Vessels is a wonderful piece that features some really enchanting guitar work in the interactions between lead and Michael van Eck’s rhythms towards the end of the track.
With its rousing spoken word intro, Crown of Worms seems designed to get the crowd to lose their minds live. This track is particularly built on the strength of Frank van Leeuwen’s bass-line, moving even further into paths blazed by Meshuggah. Despite drawing heavy influence from that sound, the focus on the overall feel of the album remains strong, and Bechtold’s leads ensure that despite influences worn on the band’s sleeves at times, Purest of Pain remains steadfastly unique.
Momentum is a slightly longer track on this hard-hitting album that takes a little more time to build before unleashing absolute fury. The constant assault of de Boer’s drums makes this an absolute headbanger. Momentum maintains the sense of soulfulness that always swirls through previous tracks, but with the focus more towards sheer heaviness, and builds a sense of lurking darkness throughout.
Very short at only a minute and a half, The Sleep of Reason is nevertheless very powerful – hypnotic, haunting and deeply heavy.
Lead guitars are immediately front and centre in Tidebreaker, setting up a more emotive feel that also carries on the haunting elements of The Sleep of Reason. Tension quickly builds as the track shifts gear into something even faster and heavier. Rapid changes of pace continue throughout the track but never seem out of place, with the tone deftly controlled to carry the listener along the sonic rollercoaster. There is a stronger sense of urgency and desperation as the track builds, and a true feeling of its waves crashing on the shore.
Trial & Error is fast, intense and perfect for a circle pit, though it is perhaps a little less interesting than other tracks on the album in the beginning. The latter part of the track however delves into a tug of war between hope and despair that lends the track some individuality and reveals its place on the album, and this could have been extended to fill out the earlier parts of the track with advantage.
Keys underlying the opening of Terra Nil bring the modern melodic elements to the fore, though these quickly fade back into the guitar driven movements of the band. Terra Nil is perhaps the grooviest track on the album, and despite still being incredibly heavy, it feels a little more laid-back and expansive. De Boer’s drums in particular definitely contribute to the groove. Unlike other tracks on the album, Terra Nil fades with a lengthy outro that gives the listener a moment to breathe and reset.
After that meditative moment, Noctambulist launches immediately into dark heaviness, and almost feels like ‘Blackwater Park’-era Opeth, but with more tortured vocals. The song drops into a rare quiet section mid-track before some very Opeth-like heavy riffing, also with a touch of Steven Wilson’s heaviest moments from Porcupine Tree’s Anaesthetise.
E.M.D.R. tones the heaviness down a little to embrace the more melodic and modern Progressive elements of the band, though it is still very fast-paced. Phantom Limb meanwhile is another very Gothenburg track, continuing the melodic Death Metal feel of the previous song, but still bearing the occasional infusion of lurking insanity a la Meshuggah. Soaring guitar solos return to the fore after some of the more riff-focused tracks, though the heavy riffs certainly continue.
The album culminates with the title track The Solipsist, a dark, despairing, almost overwhelming piece. The Solipsist is deeply heavy in its emotional impact as well as musically. The chorus breaks into a more melodic feeling underlying it, but this is a subtle vein that supports what is overall an absolutely crushing track, particularly in terms of the drums.
The quiet and reflective The End closes the album, with heavy guitars kicking in to create a sense that the whole cycle is beginning again, though there is a degree of hope to the sound that contrasts the darkness of the rest of the album.
Particularly as a first full-length release, ‘Solipsis’ is an amazing album that is guaranteed to turn heads across the spectrum of heavy music. Fans of Merel Bechtold should be prepared for something new and powerful, while Metal lovers in general can anticipate Purest of Pain as another excellent addition to the heavy canon.