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Review

Look back at a mysterious age

Era 2 recalls the Cathartic dissent, and mixes medieval chants with rock and pop harmonies

Era 2
Universal/Mercury
Eric Levi (featuring Lena Linnegren)
Rs 125

If you are one of those who go ga-ga over Enigma, here's something you'll like. French composer and guitarist Eric Levi's Era 2 comes as a follow-up to his Era. He specialises in mixing medieval chants with rock and pop harmonies.

The inlay card of Era carries these lines:

When the children of Montsegur came down from the pog
The sun had not yet returned day to the world
On their pale faces could be seen their grief and sadness
Without faith they went

Time had passed, the children have grown with great hope
And sometimes, when they look up to the mountains
They can hear those strong and beautiful voices
Beating on the sound of a rhythm, the Cathar rhythm

These lines provide the clue to what Eric is trying to communicate. During the 13th century, when Catholicism reigned all over Europe, a large number of smaller Christian diversions slowly became popular. Catholicism came to be associated more with the Roman empire than with the Christian faith itself, thanks mainly to Pope Innocentius III. This eventually led to many groups branching out. The most prominent, Catharism, struck roots in southern France.

The Catholics wanted to take control over such dissenting faiths. The Cathars became their first target. The dissenters were nearly extinguished, but a few survived in their last bastion, the Montsegur (meaning 'safe mountain'). After a 10-month struggle, the bastion gave way. The Cathars were given 14 days to deny their faith or be killed. Almost everyone chose to keep their faith, and about 205 men and women were burnt alive on March 15, 1244.

There is still a lot of mystery about the Montsegur tragedy. History notes that on March 21, a week after the killing, the sun's rays entered and left the castle, now in ruins, through four openings. Does this signify that the Cathars followed some Solarian rites? It is also believed that just before the surrender, a secret party hid the enormous Cathartic treasure somewhere. The treasure hasn't been found so far. The song Cathar rhythm in Era tries to represent the mystery of this 13th century event.

This may come as a jolt to his fans, but the Latin in Eric Levi's Gregorian-style chants is fake! It's possible that he is trying to poke fun at Latin, the language of Rome. On the other hand, the Cathars were believed to have had their own secret script. This could be his effort to bring that script back!

There are sweeping inspirations from a whole set of musicians in Era -- Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, Mike Oldfield's earlier works, Enigma's MCMXC A.D., Karl Jenkins' Adiemus and so on.

In fact, Era may be summed up as a neo-classical fusion of Enigma and Adiemus.

The pick of Era 2 is Infaniti, which is highly impressive in its use of chants and rhythms. At least two tracks, Sentence and Miseri mani, bear the Enigma stamp. Miseri mani is nothing but a complete reworking of Avemano, featured in the first album. The wailing electric guitar may seem grossly out of place in Devore amante -- you would be pardoned if you thought you'd switched on Pink Floyd! All the same, it brings in an element of the modern into an atmosphere of monastries dark with magic rites.

English lyrics feature in some tracks like Sentence, Hymne and Miseri mani, sung by Lena Linnegren. Hymne has a charming countermelody based on a harpsichord sound. Mesmerizing chants are the hallmark of Madona, while a violin virtuoso takes you by surprise in In fine. The opening track Omen sore could very easily be passed off as a Sting song. Ghost finale gives the album a spooky ending.

The chants, often not credited in cassette versions, are by the English Chamber Choir, who are known for their work with Vangelis.

Eric Levi is hugely popular in France and his popularity soared to new heights when his track Enae volare was used in a Mastercard commercial during the summer '98 World Cup soccer event.

Eric Levi has also worked on the soundtracks of some French films. Era 2 saw its world release in June 2000 and the Indian release was in August 2000. Needless to say, the success of Enigma's work is the inspiration for Era 2's Indian release -- so quickly after its global launch. Enigma's fans might love Eric Levi, and find Era 2 far less dense than Enigma's latest album.

Karthik S


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