At first sight, this album is a terrifying 48 tracks long. However, 36 of those tracks are audio commentaries (in three languages) telling the story of each of the 12 tracks, rather like chapters of a story. Add to that the fact that two of the tracks are a mere two minutes long, and all of a sudden it’s far more manageable proposition. The album is accompanied by rather stunning artwork by Wolfgang Beltracchi, who also composed 12 individual pictures to go with each chapter.
The concept of the album, put together by Enigma’s founder, Michael Cretu and German lyricist Michael Kunze, is that of the Rebel Angel’s journey from dull nothingness to a more enlightened and fulfilled life. The album benefits from the explicit telling of the tale, as it’s not obvious to the punter what it’s all about just from listening to the songs.
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During the journey, there is an encounter with The Marquis De Sade in the track ‘Sadeness Part II’. ‘Sadeness Part I’ was Enigma’s tour de force – the ultimate sultry chill-out song, putting Gregorian chants to the forefront as had never been done in a populist way. Part II heavily samples The Phantom of the Opera, which is a real shame as it somehow detracts from the originality of the ‘Sadeness’ idea.
The work as a whole is suffused with a moody atmosphere, operatic and religious undertones and space to think. There aren’t stand out tracks as such, but worth mentioning are ‘The Omega Point’, which introduces a note sequence which crops up throughout the album, almost as an anchor point. From a gentle start, it builds atmospherically, introducing a sound like a naughty child repeatedly squeaking a rusty door hinge (once you hear it, you can’t un-hear it!). There are vocal distortions and after a pause for tweeting birds and some swirly stuff, it finishes strongly with more intriguing creaky sounds. Also, ‘Amen’, the closing track, which has an utterly beautiful vocal from Aquilo, and is played straight rather than resorting to too many gimmicky tinkerings.
This album is admirably ambitious and attempts to give something bigger than the sum of 12 individual parts. There’s a little too much breathlessness and ethereal filler at times, but it’s a good album to switch off to and leave the world behind.