For a brief span, from Sigillum Militum in 2000 to Deconstruction of the World in 2003, Peter Bjärgö’s Sophia project was one of the most accomplished martial industrial acts around—and then, silence. Other than a re-release of collected works in 2010, the project has been dormant until the release earlier this year of Unclean. Which is not to say that Bjärgö himself has not been active. With his neoclassical band Arcana and his solo work, he has put out a bunch of releases, but the elegant beauty of Arcana is a long way from the grim industrial atmospheres of Sophia. On Unclean, Peter Bjärgö is joined by Stefan Eriksson and Per Åhlund, both of whom have worked on previous Sophia albums, as well as Cecilia Bjärgö, who has been a member of Arcana for many years.
While the first two Sophia albums came to martial industrial from a neoclassical direction, the following two albums took a more abrasive approach, filled with a dirty, industrial menace. It’s to the latter sound that Sophia now returns with Unclean. Though the choirs in the background of the title track hark back to the sounds of Herbstwerk, that track is the exception on this album and most of the material is more reminiscent of Spite and Deconstruction of the World. There’s nothing here of the proud melodies of Herbstwerk or Sigillum Militum. Indeed, there’s very little melody here at all.
Unclean is dominated by harsh, rhythmic tracks punctuated by unsettling ambience. Opening with the title track, the album launches us into a world of pounding martial drums and growling brass instruments against a backdrop of eerie ambient noise. Some tracks take a slower, though not much lighter approach: ‘Quiet Darkness’ mixes sombre drumming, military snares, and Cecilia Bjärgö’s whispered vocals. On ‘Wardrobe’, a deep rumble and a gentle yet unsettling drum rhythm creates a gloomy atmosphere. Towards the end of the album, the pace picks up again. The rhythms on ‘Steel Cathedral’ and ‘Where Steel Meets the Flesh’ are fast-paced and intricate, and the vocals raise themselves up from menacing whispers to deep growls.
As you would expect from Peter Bjärgö’s work, the sound design is exceptional: detailed, rich, and subtle. The ambient tracks are thoroughly convincing, with mechanical clacks, creaks, and rumbles evoking the sounds of old factories. On the more rhythmic tracks, the use of harsh, mechanical percussion means that Sophia’s sound has converged somewhat with more recent work by In Slaughter Natives, even though it’s been over a decade since they were Cold Meat Industry label-mates.
If you’re hoping for a return to the Sophia of Herbstwerk or Sigillum Militum then you will be disappointed, but as a successor to Deconstruction of the World, this is a fine album. There aren’t many musicians in the martial industrial genre capable of producing work of this standard, so this is a very welcome return.
03) Quiet Darkness
04) Greed Grin
06) The Drunk
08) Steel Cathedral
10) Nothing There, Nothing Left
11) Where Steel Meets the Flesh
12) Mortus Mantrus