Purest of Pain – Approaching Solipsis

Tuesday, 20th February 2018

Despite an existence that is a about a decade old, Dutch act Purest of Pain are now on the way towards releasing their first full length. There’s plenty of reasons for this of course, as main songwriter and guitarist Merel Bechtold has joined a number of prominent metal acts in that time (Delain, MaYan, and The Gentle Storm). Not to mention some line-up changes that have occurred along the way, leaving only Bechtold and bassist Frank van Leeuwen from the original roster.

Nonetheless the act are now approaching the release of Solipsis, with a little help from their fans. They launched a successful Indiegogo campaign that saw them shoot way past their goal – ensuring the independent release of the album (to be released March 1, 2018). In terms of the music itself, Purest of Pain incorporates a bit of the old and the new. Melodic death metal, modern grooves, and a dark atmosphere all play their part in the material (admittedly something a bit heavier overall compared to Bechtold’s other acts). We caught up with Bechtold over Skype one afternoon to talk about the details of Solipsis as well as some wide-ranging topics like her endorsements, future projects, and even what she enjoys spending her free time doing.

Dead Rhetoric: Does it feel a little more special to have Purest of Pain putting out their first full-length, as it’s ‘your band,’ as opposed to simply providing the guitar for one of the other bands you are involved with?

Merel Bechtold: It’s a big difference. Not only because it’s my first album – probably every album I will make in the future will be special. But it’s ‘yours’ – you made it yourself. You made it with your own band/project, it’s different than just being a guitar player [in a band]. You put much more time, effort, and energy into it. It feels different in every way.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that the band has progressed since your 2011 EP?

Bechtold: Seven years is a long time, and we have three different band members. Only Frank [van Leeuwen] and I are original members. I think that is a big difference. We were also really young. We saved money to record the EP, but we had no idea what we were doing, and I don’t think the guy we had record it for us was a perfect fit. I didn’t know that I needed to change my guitar strings – nobody told me. That’s just a small example of something that could affect the sound…basic stuff when you are recording something. There were a lot of those type of examples.

So there is a big difference there compared with [Solipsis]. Let alone creating a sound. We didn’t create a sound on our EP. We had no idea. But on this album, I thought about it a lot and experimented with it as well. With general skills, we have grown as musicians. The first guys we had in the band were selected by friendship. The new guys were selected based on motivation as well as musical ability/skills. So the album is a big step forward.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve worked with a number of bands in between starting Purest of Pain – have you applied what you have learned with other bands towards your own?

Bechtold: Not really – of course I have grown as a musician and a performer. But in terms of recording albums, I didn’t do that with the other bands. Not really in that specific way.

Dead Rhetoric: With you as the main songwriter, I imagine this took quite a bit of time to complete given your busy schedule. When was much of the album written?

Bechtold: A lot of the music is pretty old. I wrote most of it was when I was 21. Some of it goes back to 2011 – “Tidebreaker,” “The Sleep of Reason,” and “Momentum.” So I was 18 when I wrote those. I wrote them shortly after the EP recordings. “Noctambulist,” “Terra Nil,” and “Truth Seeker” were done around 2013. “Noctabulist” and “Terra Nil” were actually finished in the studio in 2018, but they were mostly done [in 2013]. A year or two after that, the others came around. Michael [van Eck] added one song, “E.D.M.R.”

But I think that the songs in general, the whole album, came together in the studio. When I started adding additional guitars, it made a big difference in how the album would sound. We worked with Mantis Audio, who are really great guys and understand metal, they like the same type of bands that I like as well. They are probably even more modern and extreme – they understand what I mean. They advised me that we needed more layers to create this huge wall of sound. I didn’t have any experience with this before, so I picked up my guitar and played through every song and started adding and recording things immediately. It was super natural and easy to do it, and a lot of fun. I also noticed what worked and what didn’t. At one point I was sending over like 50 guitar tracks to them! They were like, “Whoa, we didn’t expect this!” But it was fun, because when we were doing re-amping, we were evaluating where to put everything in the mix. Even though the songs were pretty old, it really evolved into the final result that you can hear now. I think it sounds pretty huge.

Dead Rhetoric: You’d never know that the songs were written so far apart, because it does flow really well.

Bechtold: I think that’s because, with the exception of “E.D.M.R.” it is all written by me. I have a typical sound, so it makes sense. Even if there was a lot of time in between. There are specific chords that I really like that are in every song. And I don’t like happy melodies, so that’s something else that is consistent.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you find challenges in playing with a number of different bands playing different styles? Or does it keep things fresh for you?

Bechtold: Both actually. There was a certain point in my life where I had to learn MaYan again because we didn’t play for a year. I had joined that band and we only did 4-5 shows, so I had almost forgotten everything. So I had to relearn [the songs]. Then I joined The Gentle Storm, which is a prog/folk/rock project, with super great musicians. It was a lot of fun, but it was challenging to remember everything because it’s prog music, so it’s never the same. But it came very naturally. Then I joined Delain before their tour with Sabaton and I had exams from school.

So I had all these things in the same month, which was totally crazy! I had to study everything for school and do my exams in two weeks, then I left right after to go on the biggest tour that I had done. That was really tough, but it was a lot of fun as well. What I really liked about it, and still enjoy…for instance, when I play with MaYan, it’s really nice because there are different people. It’s kind of nice to recharge the system – it’s really refreshing to see everybody again and play different music with different people. I see it as a positive thing, but sometimes it can be a little bit crazy.

Dead Rhetoric: Obviously some people are aware of you through bigger bands – despite this, what’s the challenge of pushing an unsigned and independent band in today’s scene?

Bechtold: The Indiegogo campaign actually surprised me. There were a lot of people who know me from Delain, or wherever, who actually supported me with the campaign. They like bands like Delain, for instance, which is very different music, but they still might like it…or they just support me, which is super cool. I think the most challenging thing is that this music is not the same – it’s not the same subgenre or audience as the symphonic scene. I play with so many symphonic bands – this music really does not match that [audience]. But some people may still like it, which is cool. I think the challenge is to find the audience for this music.

Dead Rhetoric: Agreed – it gives you that foot in the door, but the music is clearly quite different from what people have heard you play previously.

Bechtold: From a positive side, the symphonic metal fanbase is super hardcore. When we [Purest of Pain] played with Delain back in 2012 or2013, before I joined [Delain], we sold the most merch in our entire existence to that point. It was pretty overwhelming. It’s not that crazy, but for us it was. It tells more about the fanbase, and their loyalty, than about the band. Which is interesting and quite cool. What I hope for the fanbase…I’m playing 95% of what is on this album. All the guitar solos are mostly mine – you won’t find that on any other album [I’m on]. I hope they find that it’s pretty cool.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the Indiegogo campaign, which was very successful. Do you feel that it has opened up some options for the band, financially?

Bechtold: Yes, it did. We were able to do more. We were actually able to hire a PR company. Those types of things really helped.

Dead Rhetoric: Which is a bigger piece than many might think. There’s so much out there now, that without someone to push it, it can easily get lost in the mix.

Bechtold: Yeah – it’s a big pond with all these bands. With labels these days, why would they give their best on a small band that doesn’t make any money? Why would they invest on something like that? I think that the Indiegogo campaign really opened my eyes as well. For the future, we can work it the other way around – instead of playing for six years to get a budget together and record it. Perhaps we can do an Indiegogo first and then maybe set a budget to do more in the studio.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently started a mailing list. What made you decide to go in this direction, on top of the social media angle that you already do?

Bechtold: I think social media this year has changed, and it’s gotten really messed up. Take Facebook. If someone likes your page, if you are a band/brand/magazine, they may click the like button but it doesn’t mean that they will actually see you in their newsfeed because the algorithms are changing. Instagram is doing the same thing at the moment too. As a consumer of social media, if I say I like that band, I’m not the one who decides if I see it, Facebook does. You can change that, but you aren’t totally in control of it like Myspace times. That’s one of the reasons I started the mailing list. I think it’s important.

People like to follow me, so it allows me to get more intimate contact with them. It’s a cool thing to do because I keep them updated. They will be the first to know everything. They are the die-hard followers, so they really want to know everything. I will send information, new music, or things that are going on with touring or whatever. That’s the idea. I want to better connect with everybody. I really enjoyed the Indiegogo campaign and felt it was super inspiring. It was really fun to be in contact with everyone and hear their opinions about merch and things like that. I would like to continue that, so this gives me a way to do so.

Dead Rhetoric: I think one of the reasons that you were so successful with the campaign is that it wasn’t like you put it out there and said, “Here it is!” There was a lot of interaction as it progressed, which isn’t typical for one of those campaigns.

Bechtold: I’m just a guitar player – that’s how I see it with all the bands that I play with. I’m more than that – I write music. But I don’t have a voice on stage. I can look at somebody and give them a guitar pick, but that’s about it. If there is the possibility, I can talk to people at the merch booth, which I do as much as I can to meet people. But I don’t have a voice as a guitar player. The first video I made for the campaign felt really awkward, but I enjoyed the interaction and to be able to say thanks for everything instead of just writing it down. I felt it was important.

Dead Rhetoric: Coming into Delain later on, what’s your perspective on the band, and your role within it?

Bechtold: So far, as I mentioned, I’m just a guitar player. That’s what I do. I’m getting involved with the next album and trying to put some heavy riffs on there. I’m going to do my best [to write] some material for it. I want to be more involved with the writing process. We’ll see what happens, if anything turns out – but the process has just started. I did write a song, and I know that they worked with something off of that. In the end, there has one been one writing session with Charlotte [Wessels], Martijn [Westerholt], and Guus [Eikens]. They write everything together, the three of them. I like writing music, and I’d like to learn, so I’d like to see if I can do something. But of course, there’s no guarantee.

Dead Rhetoric: Right – they have a very established sound. I think it would be awesome if you could add that heavier input though. That could be pretty cool.

Bechtold: Personally, I think it would be nice to hear something heavier, not blastbeats or something like that, but some cool [heavy] riffs. Not too much, but a bit. It would be healthy. I don’t know what way they want to go with the album – my personal favorite is We Are the Others, but it’s more of a rock album. But I really like the sound of it. The last two albums have a different sound, but are similar in a sense. So I expect it might go that way again, but we’ll see. Hopefully it will have some more catchy stuff and some cool riffs.

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