description: the original Enigmatic style, pioneered on Enigma's first album, male Gregorian chants mixed with upbeat rhythms, but for simplicity's sake also includes choral singing and chants by Nuns

Ancient Spirit

Klaus Zundel is responsible for many projects (Sacred Spirit, One Little Creature, b-tribe, Moroccan Spirit and Divine Works), but this is probably the most difficult of all his albums to find. Released in 1998 for a limited run in France only and sub-titled Du Passe Surgit L'Emotion, it sees Zundel re-interpreting a host of serious classical pieces from Bach to Beethoven. The ten tracks mix cataclysmic church organs, washes of synthesiser, rhythms and beats with heavenly male and/or female choirs and some ominous female spoken phrases. You have to hear Zundel's arrangements to believe them, like Bach's Adagio which combines deep chants, space and sea effects, organs and a light beat all with his trademark ambience. If you enjoyed his other projects you will love this! The album is also available in a boxed set called Ancient Spirits for a New Age (published in 2000) which comes with the first two Sacred Spirit albums, Divine Works and One Little Creature all with new cover-artwork. If you are interested in the boxed-set, for a limited time you can try emailing Mitchell Press who may be able to sell one to you.

Delerium Unofficial Website

This project, composed by the Canadian duo Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber, began as a neo-Gothic, alternative band with a host of albums all setting an ominous and dark mood. However, in 1994 they released Semantic Spaces probably the most Enigmatic album you will ever hear. With this album, their style had changed direction (although still retaining the overall dark mood). There were samples from Enigma, Deep Forest and Vangelis, all with a strong dance beat and some of the most powerful bass you could ever hear on an album. What was very different to these other artists, is that the album was completely packed with music (over 77 minutes) and each of the nine songs was longer than six minutes. Yet these lengthy opuses never bored the listener, instead taking one on a dark journey through music. Semantic Spaces also featured the wispy, crystal-clear vocals of Kristy Thirsk from the group, The Rose Chronicles. She would sing very deeply for the verses and then her voice would soar for the chorus, complementing the music perfectly. The lyrics, however, were as enigmatic as the music.

In 1997, Delerium hit back with Karma which thankfully continued the sound of Semantic Spaces, but this time having more female vocalists and making use of a live Gregorian monk choir. The sound of this new album was lighter and less claustrophobic compared to their other works, but it is still a worthy successor to Semantic Spaces. Unfortunately, despite such a promising evolution, Bill and Rhys decided to go their separate ways and will not be working together again on any other projects. This is after many years of collaboration and the two were responsible for a host of various projects such as Front Line Assembly, Synaesthesia and Intermix (which may also be worth a listen for fans of the enigmatic Delerium period). Bill went on to release a new album under the Delerium name in 2000 entitled Poem, as sole composer/producer. The sound has definitely changed, becoming more mainstream with chants featuring very sparsely -- being replaced by a host of featured female vocalists. Overall the new sound is more pop than enigmatic. Meanwhile Rhys is working on a new, as-yet-unnamed project which will have a few tracks similar to Delerium, but will be more Industrial-style. It is tragic that the quality and style of albums like Semantic Spaces and Karma won't be repeated for the foreseeable future from this talented duo.

Divine Works

Another project by Klaus Zundel (along with Sacred Spirit, b-tribe, One Little Creature, Moroccan Spirit and Ancient Spirit), once again credited as "The Brave" on this album entitled Soundtrack to the new Millennium. Mixing the timeless chants of Hildegard von Bingen's Nun chants (similar in concept to the first Vision album and its successor Illumination). The first single is probably one of the best tracks off the album -- Ancient Person of my Heart sets the tone with its ambient washes of synthesisers, electronic basslines, clubby beats interspersed with the beautiful eerie female chants, spoken poetry and Zundel's trademark instrument: the cello (which features prominently throughout the album on almost every track). Gloria Deo Patri is another amazing piece of music with one of Zundel's most memorable cello themes soaring above muted piano, ominous male humming and spine-tingling synth pads. This track is immediately followed by spoken vocals introducing The Graces Naked Dance. A one note affected chant is used throughout, and the Von Bingen chants are answered by a distant theme, with softly bubbling trance-style accompaniment and beat. A beautifully assembled CD-booklet, further conveying the idea of ancient wisdom, rounds out a wonderful musical experience.

Elbosco

Spanish group composed and written by Rojotua, Loxatus and C. Max. What makes this group different from the others is the use of a children's choir for most of the singing on the first album Angelis. This adds a tender touch to the album. What spoils the album is the overemphasis of the pop-sound and some ludicrous singing and pronunciation. The group released a second album entitled Virginal which is difficult to find. It is supposed to be better than the debut, and features more male vocals.

Enchanted

A self-titled album by this group was released under the BMG Music, New York label. All songs are written by MoJoe Nicosia and Dana Nicosia with the latter providing vocals on four songs. Tracks are evenly divided between instrumental interludes and those that feature lengthy samples from an album by the Church Choir of Mt. Angel Abbey. As with many groups in this genre songs are often hit-and-miss in terms of quality and use of samples. The main tracks on the album, the ones featuring the chants, all sound rather similar to one another with strong hip-hop drums and light synthesisers. The album is let down in places by some poor-quality sounds (like the piano) and an overly pop-orientated sound. Considering so few tracks have chants, one never knows whether Enchanted are trying to be a pop band or an Enigmatic one. If you didn't mind the production quality of Gala, you should enjoy this too. Special thanks to Curtis for providing information on this group.

Enigma

Read the biography of this Michael Cretu and Frank Peterson group here.

E-Nomine Official Website

For something completely different, try this project from German duo Sir Fritz and Chris Tentum. Together they created the album Das Testament which was released in 1999 and published by Maxximum Music GmbH. The 14 tracks feature Biblical passages recited by a deep-voiced German man, supported by up-tempo eurodance arrangements and some powerful Latin choral singing by the E-Nomine Choir. The first single Vater Unser sounds almost like an O Fortuna choir mixed with pulsing dance beat and eurodance instruments. Although not every fan of the genre will enjoy this album, it is well worth a listen if you like your music faster and punchier. Their follow-up album is Finsternis released in January 2002 and it sees the group expand their lyrical ideas by covering everything from Dracula to the Seven Deadly Sins. As always, E-Nomine is an acquired taste; the dark, driving ambiences of their songs will either immediately captivate you or scare you to death. The new album consists of 28 tracks of music, although technically there are only 14 true songs: each is followed by a filler/segue track. Thanks to Paul for recommending this group and providing details.

Era Official Website

Era is one of those types of albums where you listen to it the first time and you like two songs. Listen to it a second time and you find you quite enjoy some more tracks. Eventually, you find that you're not skipping any tracks and you're playing it as often as possible.

It is composed, produced and arranged by a French composer named Eric Levi (who composed the soundtrack to the movie "Les Visiteurs"). The album seems to have a very medieval approach to it (from the booklet and arrangement). However this is medieval with dance drums (similar to Sadeness drumbeats sometimes). What really appeals to me is that it uses a very powerful choir on all the tracks. They add an ominous tone to the album and take you through many emotions (sadness, joy and triumph). Although not properly credited in the booklet, the choir is the English Chamber Choir (credited as ECC) which is conducted by Guy Protheroe (who also does some lead-singing and lyrics). People who like Vangelis should recognise the Choir and conductor as they were first featured on a couple of his albums. Their voices are superb! You can visit the English Chamber Choir Website for more information about their current and past projects. The remix of Ameno is still the best song on the album and everyone who likes Enigma must listen to this song (or buy the single if possible). I never thought I'd say that a remix is better than the original but this time the rule is broken. If you like the Vangelis song Conquest of Paradise (title-track to 1492) you will love Ameno .

However, what is disappointing about this Era album is the use of electric guitar and English vocals. I have never personally enjoyed the electric guitar in Enigmatic groups as it is a very harsh instrument, more akin to a rock group. I think Era would have benefited more if the guitar was replaced with a grand piano or cello, playing the same melody. The electric guitar shatters the atmosphere of being in the Dark Ages and monasteries. Also the English vocals are sometimes distracting, and make some of the songs too pop-orientated. However, there are many gems on this album and it has become one of my favourites!

On 15 May 2000, Era's second album simply entitled Era 2 was released. Although it still follows the same formula as before, and still features the English Chamber Choir it is definitely less aggressive and more mainstream than its predecessor. All tracks are once again composed by Eric Levi and overall the songs are more gentle and even more pop-orientated. There are still songs like Divano and Sentence (with some powerful vocals by Lena Jinnegren) which hark back to the epic style displayed in the first album. An old favourite from the first Era album Avemano gets a complete reworking and remixing on this album as Misere Mani with English female vocals (once again by Lena) which makes the song very radio-friendly. Once again a very professionally produced and engineered album which showcases the talents of the ECC. But the slight change in style overall may not be enough to sustain the fans, and if you are longing for the old, bombastic Era style take a listen instead to LesiŽm.

Essence Official Website

Like Ashes, this is an unsigned Enigmatic band. While Ashes is more like Deep Forest and Sacred Spirit, Essence is more similar to Enigma. The group is the project of an Enigma mailing list member Ezra Rabaev and his co-producer . The two have created an album's worth of well-produced songs, some of which feature Gregorian chants, dark music and upbeat rhythms. What makes the group so special is they also ask the public to provide any comments about what they like or do not like. We need good-quality groups like these to keep the genre alive.

Gala

This rather mysterious and little-known project hails from Mexico, to date releasing one album called Gregorian Dance (published in 1994 by Polygram). Featuring seven original songs, the album is another mixture of sampled Gregorian chants mixed with dance beats and ambient instruments. All tracks are composed by Fontana and feature a variety of jazzy and dance instruments as well as some seductive French singing and Enigma-like breathing. Despite lower production values, some of the songs are worth a listen -- such as Cosmos, an eerie song featuring a brief, cropped sample of a Gregorian prayer as well as beautiful female chanting and some flamenco guitar flourishes. Unfortunately the album will not appeal to everyone's tastes as it often comes across as a pale Enigma clone: many songs feature chirpy, affected samples which are overly repeated and occasionally even sound out of place with the backing instrumentation. The overall sound will also be considered slightly out-of-date by today's standards. Also included on the album are 5 remixes of some of the main songs, which are mostly radio versions and contain few surprises when compared to their original versions. Note: do not confuse this project with the Italian dance singer of the same name.

Gregorian Official Website

Read the biography of this Frank Peterson group here.

Illumination

The first Vision album was composed by Richard Souther. The second album used Middle Eastern chants. So it was assumed that the mixing of Hildegard von Bingen chants with modern music was over. However, this album turns out to be the true sequel to the first Vision album and it is composed entirely by Richard Souther - except now it's under the series name "Illumination" and not "Vision". It is still published by Sony and subtitled Hildegard von Bingen: The Fire of the Spirit. It's a great album, although there isn't anything new to the sound. The album does feature Low Whistle and Uillean Pipes by Davy Spillane, as well as a String quartet named CELLO. Each song is very spiritual and moving. The music is similar to the first Vision album, complementing the chants, not overpowering them. There are more drum rhythms on this album, but they too are very gentle. Overall a very pleasant, non-imposing album, not too different from the first Vision album - good for background music.

Industrial Monk Official Website

Ever wanted some heavy-metal/industrial music thrown into the Enigmatic genre? Well the duo of composer/producers Fred Vogler and Takashi Kawai did just that on their debut album Magnificat. Vogler, with his extensive background as a film sound-engineer, and Kawai who runs a music production company called NTI-US, composed songs that combine the secular with dark music and earth-shattering guitars. Five tracks use religious music, while two use secular folk songs. The vocals are provided by Elin Carlson, Brad McMurray and the Los Angeles Chamber Singers. It is a very different type of entry into this genre of music, and will only appeal to those who enjoy industrial or edgier music. However it does allow us to hear these beautiful chants and voices within a new soundscape and it is well produced. In 2001 they released a follow-up album entitled Prophecies.

LesiŽm Official Website

If you're looking for an Era replacement, definitely take a listen to this German group's album Mystic Spirit Voices. They are a 12-man choir from Berlin who sing original Latin lyrics with dramatic and modern music accompaniment. The album is produced, composed, arranged and keyboards played by German producer Alex '89 Wende. It is co-produced by Thomas Pflanz, who wrote all the original Latin lyrics. The project LesiŽm is this combination of musicians, producers and composers and the choir itself (known as Carl Maria von Weber, which has been operating for 50 years). The choir is not actual monks, although in the booklet and music videos they are dressed to look the part. Interspersed with the Latin singing on a couple tracks are some English vocals (both male and female), as well as some African chants and choirs and Irish Tin Whistle on the second last track. Quite superb! The booklet features all the lyrics as well as very detailed comments about each song (the comments are all in German, and unfortunately do not have any translations). The first track to take a listen to is the first single off the album (and the music video) entitled Fundamentum which deals with the creation and glory of the Roman Empire. In April 2001, the project released their second album, simply entitled Chapter 2 (although in some territories it has the accompanying or alternate title Agnus Dei). Featuring 13 tracks of music that continues the mood and ambience that we have come to expect from the first album. Alex Wende composed 6 of the tracks on the album, with Henning Westland composing the remainder. The usual assortment of guest lead vocals features along with a smattering of new elements such as duduk-playing, Persian singing and even some vocoder and Klingon (!) speech. The booklet is as per usual beautifully designed and detailed (this time thankfully featuring English translations). Overall the new album is enjoyable (albeit much shorter) and all the ingredients are still there: high production, dark instrumentation, ominous vocals -- but the album simply does not impress as much as the debut. The group started work on their third album Times in March 2002 and finished recording at the end of July. The album is due for release later this year.

Libera

Robert Prizeman conceived this project with its self-titled debut featuring the eerie vocals of a boys' choir performing parts of a liturgical mass with some original lyrics interwoven. All this is supported by dreamy synthesisers and gentle beats. Thanks to Alyssum for recommending this group.

Magna Canta

Nowadays, it seems there are more and more 'replacements' appearing for bands like Era. If you miss that group's style of bombastic choirs with modern music, you can consider LesiŽm and equally this group, Magna Canta with their 10-track album Deep Spirits released in 2000 and published by Chart Beat Music GmbH. Composed and produced by Junior Deros, Ray Frederico and Sascha DŁcker, the ten tracks feature a small choir performing Latin lyrics set atop modern music and beats. Nothing particularly original about the project, but exceptionally well-produced and performed by this German team. Note: the group's name is not Magna Carta as had originally been listed on this site. Thanks to Paul for providing info on this group.

Mike Oldfield Official Website

Out of all guitarist/composer Mike Oldfield's albums, only one is truly Enigmatic namely The Songs of Distant Earth. But with this one album Oldfield captures all the emotions of Enigmatic music perfectly. Almost a soundtrack to the Arthur C. Clarke science-fiction novel of the same name, the album makes great use of ethnic chants, boy-soprano solos, Gregorian choirs and self-hypnosis instructions. It all starts, appropriately enough with In the Beginning which sets an ominous mood of indistinct synth pads, whale cries and the now-famous sample of astronaut Bill Anders quoting from the Book of Genesis. Let there be Light was the first single off the album featuring a catchy guitar riff, driving drumloops and beautiful quasi-operatic vocals supported by the rousing voices of The Tallis Scholars. Lament for Atlantis features Vangelis-style throbbing bassline and spine-tingling piano theme. To choose a favourite song from this album is difficult, but Hibernaculum must surely be it with its male-choir humming which soon develops into Gregorian-style chanting, interjected by African tribal calls, light beat and eerie background synths that float in and out of the arrangement. Ascension climaxes with a medley of vocal and thematic samples from the album's more memorable tracks, before returning us to the simplicity of A New Beginning which is an unedited song by the Vahine Taihara traditional choir. A truly fantastic concept-album where every track is instantly listenable, but the album should be taken altogether to create a dramatic journey of music and discovery that belongs in your collection! Oldfield has released many other albums, mostly more rock or folk orientated and none of which scale the same heights as this work, but some may be of interest -- like Voyager (with its gentler, more acoustic Celtic mood) and Tubular Bells 3 (which is probably my second-favourite album by him even though there aren't any chants and it is very guitar-orientated, there are earth-shattering modern dance interpretations of his famous Tubular Bells theme on tracks like Far Above the Clouds, the gut-wrenching female vocals as on The Inner Child and the infectious pop-ballad Man in the Rain). His latest album, Tres Lunas (or tr3s Lunas) is described as 'chill-out' music, with more instrumental-orientated tracks.

Terry Oldfield Official Website

Terry has composed a wide variety of albums, some more Enigmatic than others. In my opinion if you like Enigma, you must try and get his album entitled Icon, published in 1995 by New World Music. Terry Oldfield is the brother of Sally and Mike Oldfield. Most of Terry's albums feature very long, epic songs. Each song will have a short central melody which is always very hummable and infectious. The longer songs contain sometimes up to four different segments, where the melody is repeated on various instruments (flute, classical guitar etc) or voice. Icon has three tracks: the epic Resurrection (25:57 minutes long), then there's Eyes of the Goddess (11:28 minutes long) and Majesty (11:20 minutes long). All three songs feature original monastic chants, similar to the Gregorian chants of Enigma, which are sung by a relatively small group of people but producing a powerful sound. On top of this is an often-driving bouncy rhythm (as the booklet describes it "a near Native American pulsating rhythm") as well as synthesiser strings and effects, piano, flute, pan flute and the shakuhachi (the Japanese flute that we all know from Enigma), harp and some Spanish guitar flourishes (giving a b-Tribe type atmosphere). Some may find the arrangement not as layered as Enigma and these songs definitely take longer to get to the point, but I think it is an inspiring and beautiful album. Truly worth a listen. Icon is to date Terry's best album, and the first you should try and listen to, which is why he is classified under the Gregorian Dance category. The other albums are often more New Age, and are more hit-or-miss in terms of interest for Enigmatic fans, but a handful fall into the Traditional Cross-over style which are also worth a listen, namely Spirit of Africa, Spirit of India, Spirit of the Rainforest and Australia.

Pilgrimage Publisher's Website: POINT Music

As opposed to most other groups in this category, the Pilgrimage album 9 Songs of Ecstasy is more ambient/trip-hop than dance. Released in 1998 the music is composed, arranged and produced by French duo Simon Cloquet (keyboards, piano, programming) and Eric Calvi (guitar, programming). Catherine Bott provides the original quasi-Von Bingen performances, along with a variety of religious vocal-samples sourced from various libraries and collections. The sparse, sometimes experimental, sometimes jazzy sound will not appeal to everyone. From the laid-back beat and piano ad-libs of Pilgrimage to the simplistic new-age qualities of Ceremony. Best track would be Rain or Shine with its steady beat, gentle female refrains and light, funky backing-instrumentation. One of the executive producers on the album is the famous avant-garde, minimalist composer Phillip Glass whose influence can be heard on some tracks.

Solyma

Another worthwhile, though hard-to-find, addition to your collection of choral singing and bombastic music! Composed by Alain Pewzner and Patrick Leger, Solyma are a group of six male soloists and a mixed backing chorus (including eight children) who sing in four languages: Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Arabic. The style is similar to ERA and LesiŽm with original lyrics by Serge and Fabrice Talian and the choir has some very powerful voices which suit the music perfectly. Along with the voices, synthesiser backings and sampled rhythms and drumloops are a variety of traditional Middle Eastern instruments such as the oud, the Hebrew chofar (horn of ram) and the Arabic nai. The album was released in France with the sub-title Les Chant Des Hombres, and an alternate issue of this CD was released more widely in Europe without the French sub-title, but rather a label of International Version.

Vangelis Unofficial Website

One would require pages and pages to fully document the work of this prolific and awe-inspiring Greek composer who now lives in France. Although starting out in a rock/experimental band in his birth-place of Greece, Vangelis eventually went solo in 1975 with an album that is easily the greatest concept album ever. Heaven and Hell takes us through the divine beauty of heaven into the very depths of decadent hell. Vangelis was one of the first composers ever to use synthesisers to such a great and original extent. The album features the powerful voices of the English Chamber Choir, female vocals by Vena Veroutis and a song with Jon Anderson (from the group YES and with whom Vangelis collaborated more on later albums). The other main album for fans of this Enigmatic category, is Vangelis's soundtrack for the Ridley Scott epic 1492: Conquest of Paradise which is probably my favourite album of his and is possibly the most perfect soundtrack album. Every track is worthwhile and not to be appreciated merely as background music, something that afflicts many film music albums. Featuring the ultimate song Conquest of Paradise with its infectious theme and emotive humming provided by the English Chamber Choir again (they also feature on Era's albums). The album also contains ethnic vocals, as on Hispanola. Voices was the follow-up to that album, and does feature a seven minute long title-track to rival Conquest of Paradise, but the rest of the album is far softer and more relaxing which also features vocals by three guest artists. Vangelis won an Academy Award for his soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire, the title-track of which is probably his most famous theme of all time -- who can forget the lilting piano theme atop the thrusting synth bassline and distant horn calling? In 2001, Vangelis along with his new publisher Sony released his modern-opera Mythodea featuring two sopranos, full orchestra, choir and a number of timpanists making it more appropriate for the Technological Opera sub-category. Although less synth-orientated than previous albums, it is a welcome return to Vangelis's bombastic style of music with crashing percussion, military-style strings and rousing staccato choruses -- ideal for the official music for NASA's 2001 Mars mission. He also composed the opening theme for the 2002 Japan-Korea Soccer World Cup, entitled Anthem. The man never rests, it seems, as he has been currently busy writing music for the next Olympic Games to be staged in Greece in 2004. There are just too many albums by Vangelis to fully list here, from television nature-documentary soundtracks to scores for large-scale Hollywood blockbusters like "Bladerunner" and "Mutiny on the Bounty" to solo works, even to music for an art exhibition! Vangelis has done it all, and they range from the superb (like Albedo 0.39) to the downright weird (like Beauborg). One word of caution to the uninitiated: he does not have a formula, so do not buy an album expecting it to be like one of his previous releases. However after more than a quarter-century career of producing high-quality solo music, one thing is for sure -- Vangelis will never disappoint.

Vision

Set to be a series of soothing and Enigmatic albums, the Vision albums are published by Angel Records. The first album in the series is The Music of Hildegard von Bingen and is composed by Richard Souther. After Gregorian chants, the chants of the abbess Von Bingen have also achieved popularity especially amongst some of the new Enigmatic groups. This album, the first to use these chants with modern music, is a respectful interpretation of the Nun's chants. The second Vision album, Spirit of Rumi took a completely different direction and featured all-new producers and was composed by the New Zealand producer and musician Graeme Revell (known for his film scores). The music was based around Sufi and Middle Eastern music and chants. Souther did continue his modernisation of Von Bingen's music, but under a new project name: Illumination