Whenever I start to discuss the discography of Robin Proper-Sheppard and his respective bands, the noise rock/prog metal ensemble The God Machine, and later on the introvert acoustic-like Sophia, the risk exists that I can talk for a really long time. Robin’s haunting lyrics which are so recognisable for many people and so poetic, have been inspiring to some, healing to others, comforting for some, or maybe all at once. Fact is the man wrote so many epic songs that to discuss it in-depth would take a few pages long at least, especially because the story behind it all is as unique as the songs are. I hence decided that the God Machine will get its own article on my site soon enough, because this band for sure deserves its own article. However, a few songs such as Purity (God Machine), So Slow (Sophia) etc are so good they deserve a place in the spotlight of their own. So while awaiting the God Machine article which I promise will come, I will already put a first song in the limelight: So Slow.
This song cannot be separated from The God Machine entirely though. While the unique history of that band will be described in detail in the future God Machine article, let me summarise it a bit: the God Machine was formed by Robin Proper-Sheppard (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Fernandez (bass) and Ron Austin (drums). The threesome had their roots in San Diego, in the southwestern corner of the USA. However, Robin, unsatisfied with life in San Diego, decided to leave for New York where he practised intensively on guitar. On his proposal the three other band members of what was still called Society Line at that time, moved with him to NYC with the exception of one who prefered to stay behind to finish his education. It was the start of a long wandering which took them via Texas to New York and finally to Connecticut. There, in a very impulsive moment, they decided to leave the States behind and fly to England with their last bit of dollars they had. There was a guy in the British music industry who was interested in their work, and offered them to come to England. With the last dollars spent on flight tickets, The God Machine left to London. When they could not find the person they were after, and after some busking in the streets of Amsterdam, the band –with no money to pay return flights– decided to live in the uncertainty of a squat in Camden, London. The uncertainty of surviving in a small unheated room in a squat lasted about a year, until they were given the chance to release their debut album.
That debut album, Scenes From The Second Storey, was monumental. Epic songs, varying from 5 to 9 minutes in length (and the song "Seven" even lasting 15 minutes) with extremely complex structures, complex noise structures and sound collages, and a wall of extremely loud drums and screaming guitars… This was not your everyday rock record, but a highly experimental and for most people hard to swallow output (hard to swallow because of the very loud songs, the complex structures and the lengthy songs). In the very uncertain situation they were in, this was a very risky choice to come up with a record as inaccessible as this. But with "Purity" (a paralysing 9 minutes of perfection which quickly became a favourite of mine), "Home", "I’ve Seen The Man", the claustrophobic "Out", "Ego", … the record can only be described as epic, and ahead of its time.
The band then recorded the follow-up during a stay in Prague, then to return to London to make the final edits. It was then that fate stroke: Jimmy, the bass player, got into a coma and died only few days later due to what appeared to be cancer. While the record was still released ("Last Laugh in a Place of Dying" was dedicated entirely to Jimmy) the band decided to disband as, after all they’ve been through, they found it impossible to replace Jimmy by a random new bassist.
Out of the ashes of the God Machine rose Sophia. Robin had already launched his own record label, the Flower Shop, and after about a year after the God Machine ceased to exist, he began recording as Sophia. While sharing the bleak and sad lyrics with the God Machine, the sound was totally different. The numbing wall of sounds was replaced by acoustic-like low-key introspective music. Sophia to date have released 4 studio albums + a highly recommendable live record "De Nachten" with a real orchestra. Most of the Sophia records can be described as lyrically sad and heartbroken ("Swept Back", "Where Are You Now", "Directionless" being some examples) although there is some hope from time to time as well (the line "I’m a f… up and a nightmare / No you’re a dreamer, I can see the light there" from the song "Something" being an example, the song "Portugal" at the end of a heartbroken record stating "I decided I’m gonna be a better person, no it’s never too late to change" being another example, the entire "If a Change is Gonna Come" …). While the lyrics tend to be sad, some would maybe consider them romantic as well.
But in this article I will praise the, in my opinion, absolute highlight of Sophia, for which we return to their debut album "Fixed Water". The spirit of the late God Machine bass player Jimmy is still very present on this album, and So Slow basically sounds like the presence of Jimmy is still lingering:
"I turn off the lights but leave the television talking
No tonight I don’t want to be alone
I try to close my eyes but I’m afraid of the dark
I see you everywhere… I see you everywhere…
But death comes so slow, when you’re waiting to be taken
Death comes so slow, when it’s all you want… and it takes the ones that don’t"
While one can interpretate the lyrics as he/she wishes, it sounds like Jimmy for sure was in the mind of Robin when writing this song, although this is mainly guessing from my side. Despite the sadness the song is so beautiful it is impossible to even feel sad when hearing it: the introspective acoustic guitars and piano guiding Robin during this mourning song create a very intimite feeling that just suits these lyrics to perfection. A trademark of Sophia which would be repeated numerous times (see earlier cited titles as example).
"So Slow" was one of the first songs Sophia released but where God Machine ended with an epic, Sophia immediately started with one. It would become one of Robin’s many songs that deserve the tag "epic", but for sure this one just had to get its own article praising the song. An honour which the God Machine song "Purity" will get later on and as promised there will be a God Machine article in the future.
But summarising this article, few songs manage to describe the feeling of people when just being emotionally exhausted and sick of it all. "So Slow" does, with only a few lines: "Death comes so slow when you’re waiting to be taken".
To rate the song with 100% quality in fact is an understatement.
The song can be found on the Sophia debut album "Fixed Water" and a live version with orchestra can be found on their live album "De Nachten".