MCMXC a.D. Review

[MCMXC a.D Cover]

by Rob Berry

Ambient Dance
10 of 10
Strongest Tracks
Principles Of Lust, Back To The Rivers Of Belief
Weakest Tracks

Brief Description

Ambient dance existed before Enigma, but Enigma does it best. MCMXC a.D combines both sexuality (in the form of hip-hop grooves, breathy female vocals, and musings on the Marquis de Sade) and spirituality (in the form of flowing strings, Gregorian chants and biblical quotations) to forge a new kind of music equally suitable for dancing or meditating. Recommended for anybody who loves ambient dance.


"Good evening. This is The Voice Of Enigma. In the next hour, we will take you with us into another world, into the world of music, spirit, and meditation. Turn off the light, take a deep breath, and relax. Start to move slowly - very slowly. Let the rhythm be your guiding light."

That invocation, gently intoned by Sandra "The Voice Of Enigma" Cretu, opens MCMXC a.D., the first album by Enigma. A fusion of the sacred and the sexy, MCMXC a.D. employs a unique combination of chants, strings, flute, female vocals, and hip-hop drumbeats to create music that disturbs, relaxes, saddens, frightens, and uplifts.

According to Michael Cretu, the album was composed as a single extended song. As such, there are several motifs that appear throughout the album, such as Gregorian chants, flowing strings, and Sandra Cretu's vocals. Also prominent is a vibrant flute sample that is unquestionably the most passionate synthetic flute I have ever heard. Other aspects of the album also reflect the extended song approach. The key changes sound similar from song to song, and Back To The Rivers Of Belief and Principles Of Lust use identical drumbeats. Lastly, the same motif that starts the album also ends it; put your CD player on "Repeat", and the album becomes a single infinite song.

Following the opening invocation, Gregorian chants lead in to Principles Of Lust as a groovy drumbeat sets the pace. The first section, Sadeness, alternates among a chanted melody, solo flute, a lecture in French on the Marquis de Sade, and Sandra Cretu's breathy French vocals. Find Love features Sandra Cretu preaching about "the principles of lust". Sadeness (Reprise) opens with a one-note piano solo before launching into a section of solo flute. The song ends with both Sandra Cretu's vocals and the Gregorian chants fading into the sound of chirping birds.

The downbeat Callas Went Away opens with a one-note piano solo and a child's cry, which forms a recurring motif. A brief interlude leads into the chorus, in which Sandra Cretu tells of how "Callas went away". An operatic theme precedes a second verse; the song then fades to the sound of rain.

Mea Culpa opens with an ominously chiming bell over the sound of rain. Marching drums herald the return of the Gregorian chanters, and after a few bars the heavy drums return in a fast, straight-ahead rhythm. A few measures of flute lead into the song's "verse", made up of Sandra's whispered French vocals. The Gregorian chanters create a "chorus", and the flute provides short interludes. There is also a killer guitar solo. The song ends with the march- ing drums receding into the distance.

The Voice & The Snake consists of ominous chords accompanied by a consortium of male and female chanters. The lyrics are in English, and while not truly bibical, they are clearly based on the book of Revelation.

Knocking On Forbidden Doors fades in with a strange synthetic sound that jumps about the stereo field. The hip-hop drums are back, providing a basis for bits of horn, guitar, female vocals, and flute. These all play short motifs against the lyrical melodies of the Gregorian chanters. The flute motif is particularly affecting here. Though only one note long, that one note is extremely well chosen, resembling either a dying animal or an animal being raised from the dead, depending on your mood.

Back To The Rivers Of Belief opens with the Close Encounters theme below chanting men and women. The hip-hop drums then kick in, and along with an ominous low note provide a foundation for a unique solo of sampled melodic percussion. The solo builds as Sandra once again instructs us to "turn off the lights, take a deep breath, and relax." The solo builds until it finally segues into Arabic chanting. From there, a male begins singing a prayer, imploring some unnamed deity to "take me back to the rivers of belief." A brief pseudo-biblical quotation leads into one final, passionate flute solo. The sung prayer then returns, and the song finally fades into... the same motif that started off the album, thus completing the circle.


Enigma received a great deal of airplay when MCMXC a.D. was first released, leading some to dismiss them as too commercial. It's a pity, because music this passionate, haunting, and just plain good deserves to be listened to. Some will find the overt sexuality of the album disturbing, especially given its religious undertones. But those with no such objections should purchase this album immediately, especially if they are fans of ambient dance. Then turn out the lights, take a deep breath, and relax. Let the rhythm be your guiding light....

  • Look at the MCMXC a.D. video review
  • Look at the MCMXC a.D. "The Limited Edition" review