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After Enigma - A Guide to Nu Ambient Music
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Era

Supported Artist

Former guitarist-rocker Eric Levi began composing film scores in the early 1990's, and shortly thereafter created Era, a project that fuses Gregorian Chant-style choral singing with rock beats, in the style of Enigma's MCMXC A.D.. Though Era has released three original albums and a compilation, only the debut is available domestically in the U.S. As of this writing, the project's official website is very pretty, and very out of date.


Era

  • New Age: 2
  • Electronica: 2
  • World: 3

  • It's been a while since I last listened to this album. When I put the CD in my player this morning, it was with the intention of finding specific examples to cite as evidence that Era is a shamless rip-off of Enigma's MCMXC A.D., and not worth your time. I failed.

    Don't misunderstand, Era is fairly derivative. I particularly resent the vocal solo in Cathar Rhythm(2), a misguided attempt to imitate Michael Cretu's vocal style. As I criticized Lesiëm, so I criticize Era: Cretu has a unique voice, not a good voice. This particular "homage" aside, Era's sound is more similar to Lesiëm's than to Enigma's debut album, featuring a prominent choir and Rock-influenced electric guitars throughout (a great example is the title track, Era(10)).

    For a very long time, I assumed that Era's choir was singing Gregorian Chants. As it turns out, they're not even singing in a real language , but in one invented by producer Eric Levi (by definition, Gregorian Chant is sung in Latin). I believe the choir is also of mixed gender, which would be somewhat untraditional for true Gregorian Chant. Though the liner notes only list the choir's director as Guy Prothero, various Internet sites claim that the English Chamber Choir (which Prothero also directs, lending this theory credence) provides the voices for all of Era's albums to date. In any case, the choir generally adopts the sound of Plainchant, though they do explore other stylistic territory on tracks like the dark and driven Enae Volare Mezzo(2). A number of guest vocalist provide solos throughout the album, but the English lyrics are somewhat akward. Synthesizers are used sparingly and subtly, yielding their normal place in Nu Ambient music to a live string section. Topped off with strong, downtempo, rock-influenced bass and drum lines, Era's sound ranges from tranquil to energizing.

    As I have explored this genre, I have learned to fear the word "remix." In most electronic music, remixes are interesting new perspectives on songs, often outshining the original songs. In Nu Ambient, I have found that they either ruin the flow of an album (as on Moya's Two Horizons), or needlessley pad its length with subtly different copies of the same songs (see Deep Forest's World Mix). Era is a prime example of the latter. I would have been perfectly content with a single mix of both Ameno(7) and Mother(9), but Eric Levi apparently thought we needed to hear them twice, so he put them both at the front of the album as well (Ameno (Remix)(1) and Mother (Remix)(3)). On top of this, a few listens will begin to reveal distinct similarities between some of the other tracks that aren't labeled as remixes. I begin to wonder if Eric Levi only wrote half an album, then recorded two arrangements of each song to reach a saleable album length...

    Within the small sub-genre of "Nu Ambient music featuring choir and electric guitar," I have to recommend Lesiëm over Era, if only for the fact that Lesiëm actually releases full-length albums of original music. If you like their sound and want more, or simply don't mind a lot of repetition, Era can be a fun listen.



    Era 2

  • New Age: 4
  • Electronica: 3
  • World: 3

  • The core sound of this album, a Chant-influenced choir backed by Rock guitars and drum lines, will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the first Era release. However, there are a number of subtle changes in the balance of the arrangements. Era's producer Eric Levi still makes his guitar sing, but a little less often. I really didn't give Levi's guitar work enough credit in my review of Era's debut, and I'd like to rectify that; the ending of Devore Amante(3) is great example of what he can do. Synthesizers are more prominenet than an on Era, providing a lot of the album's texture. A live string section is still utilized, but is more of an accent than a core component of the sound. The greatest change may be that in place of the five vocal solists credited on the first album, only newcomer Lena Jinnegren is credited here (though there are some uncredited Chant solos). Lena sings powerfully, and with a dance-influenced vocal style that belies the folky solo work that is to be found on her MySpace profile.

    The mood of Era 2 is a bit lighter and more uplifting than that of Era. Madona(7) and Hymne(8) are a particularlly moving pair of tracks that really embody the range of this album. Misere Mani(9) also has tremendous potential, but suffers from melodramatic and akward lyrics. The Era albums are apparently very successful in many European countries, but virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, and I think Eric Levi's use of our language might be the cause. According to his biography on the Era site, Levi has spent significant time touring and living in the U.S., and a lot of Era's production appears to take place in London, so I assume that he is fluent in English. I really wonder, then, how he could possibly think that "Sale your soul to evil, Then you'll be dancing forever...yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" is a good lyric, or that "Don't U" is good song title.

    Despite a few akward lyrics, Era 2 is an excellent album, and easily my favorite Era release. I really don't know why Eric Levi tries to imitate other artists and repeat himself on the other Era albums; this release proves that he's capable of producing top quality original work (well, there is a bit of Ameno from the first album worked into Misere Mani(9), but it's more of a subtle reference than a rehashing). Unfortanately, Era 2 doesn't appear to be distributed in many English-speaking countries, so you may have to buy an imported or used copy, or settle for a download. I know it's easier to find the debut, but if you really want to give Era a shot, track this one down.



    The Mass

  • New Age: 1
  • Electronica: 2
  • World: 1

  • The opening and title track of this album, The Mass(1), neatly encapsulates everything that is wrong with Era. To start, the choruses are simply a rehash of Divano from the previous album; Era's debut was full of repetition, and while the fairly creative sophomore release got my hopes up, The Mass is a return to form. The verses are nothing new either, being pulled directly from the O Fortuna of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana*. Eric Levi's incorporation of this masterpiece into The Mass might have seemed rather clever and creative if Michael Cretu hadn't used samples of O Fortuna extensively, and to much greater effect, throughout the fourth Enigma album, just three years earlier. In this light, I view The Mass as a form of conceptual plagiarism. Finally, Levi's bizzare use of the English language continues to bother me. Perhaps my experience as a choral singer has biased me, but I expect a collection of music called a "Mass" to have something to do with with a Catholic Mass, particularly when a Gregorian Chant-influenced choir is involved. The Carmina Burana, though written mostly in Latin, is in large part a satire of the Church. Since Divano is in Era's invented language, it's impossible to say what it means, though the title seems to imply that it may be more appropriate to bear the name "Mass." I percieve no theme in the rest of this album's tracks that justify its title, either. Having said all this, I must admit that without context, The Mass(1) is really a fine song. However, with all the great music out there, I see no reason to ignore context.

    The next four tracks feature returning vocalist Lena Jinnegren. The lyrics aren't quite as over the top this time around, but they are very repetitive and fairly generic. I'm not sure whether this is an improvement, but I think not. Don't Forget(4) is actually fairly original, in that the sung lyrics are tightly entertwined with spoken dialog by two children (one of whom represents the singer at an early age). If you were listening to mainstream radio in the late 90's, the effect is similar the version Bruce Springsteen's Secret Garden with sound bytes from the film Jerry McGuire. I can find no movie credited, though, and the close connection between dialog and lyrics lead me to belive that everything in this song was written for this song. After track 5, we never hear from Lena again. The songs of The Mass are presented in groups of one type at a time, rather than mixed together, and I have no idea why; It makes the album feel like a conglomeration of singles and EP's.

    Next up are a pair of songs that should be familiar to anyone who's already heard Era's debut album. Apparently, the substantial reptition on Era wasn't enough for Eric Levi, and he's decided to remedy that by providing us with new, slightly modified versions of Avemano (Avemano Orchestral(6)) and Enae Volare Mezzo (Enae Volare(7)). The three closing tracks represent a new direction for Era, starting off with the wholly orchestral Sombre Day(8), and combining the choir with the orchestra for the remainder of the album. The sound is convincingly classical, despite the fact that brass and woodwind sections were apparently synthsized. If only the rest of the album had been original music that really sounded like Era, this orchestral gambit might have been an interesting evolution in the group's sound.

    Despite all its faults, The Mass is not a bad sounding album. It is well-engineered, and none of the songs taken by themselves are half bad. My grievances are with Eric Levi's high-level decisions in putting the album together. Ten songs is a fine length for an album, but not when three are variations (and in two cases, slight variations) on songs from previous albums. Era used to have a signature sound: a Gregorian Chant-influenced choir backed by a rock trio. The choir on The Mass plays a supporting role (except when reliving former glories), and guitars are all but absent. Eric, you're a fine and versatile musician, but you're just not cutting it as a lyricist or executive producer. It's time to acknowledge that.

    * - Even if you don't recognize the Carmina Burana by name, you would certainly know it if you heard it. It has been used in many a movie trailer, and is one of the most well-known pieces of classic music.


    Your Thoughts


    Use this form to post your thoughts, comments, or responses to this page.

    Posted by at 2007-04-30 18:54:35
    Era is the first artist in this 'genre' I really found. I use to write much fantasy and stuff like that and I use Era as my inspiration. I'm mad about the electric guitars and the drums. It's just my feeling
    -anonymous-

    Posted by michael at 2007-07-03 11:57:01
    era its a legend this sound is an inspiration no one can make this better but i wish more albums and traks from era the last album comes 2004 and today its 2007 we need more good music this is my greatest wish
    -anonymous-

    Posted by Wai at 2007-08-21 18:45:47
    Is there any info on who appears on the Era videos? The insert that comes with the "The Very Best of ERA" omits credits for videos. Since I'm in the U.S., it's 2007, and I just found out about Era, place and time is against me; via Google, I'm getting very little info beyond the lyrics for the songs.

    Posted by Derek (After Enigma) at 2007-08-22 14:19:42
    These are all the info sources I know of:

    http://home.clara.net/heureka/music/eric-levi.htm
    http://www.themusicmagazine.com/era2.html
    http://www.era.friko.pl/epi.html
    http://www.era.forall.pl/

    It is, indeed, very difficult to find Era info in English.

    Posted by daniela at 2007-11-08 17:04:27
    Hey! you can look up in youtube.com, i've found lots of era's videos there.. i really didn't know they filmed videos.. so that was a surprise to me.. If you're looking for era's information you can look up in wikipedia, but in the english part.. there you'll find many sites that give much information about it.. good luck!! :D

    Posted by Thiago at 2008-06-15 20:42:19
    First eRa is very good, is the best band in the genre who I alredy see.And this site is great!!

    Posted by ilknur-firstlight/ильк at 2008-09-14 08:34:54
    ERA,has specıal a place in my heart.they are really excellent.Ihave all albums.Their songs always give me peace,and happıness.Espıcıally,the last album''REBORN'' İS GREAT.THEY ALWAYS GOOD MESSAGES TO PEOPLE.ı love you ERA

    Posted by Emrah Omuris at 2009-05-10 21:12:47
    In the Era 2 album, the guitar solo at the end of Devore Amante is a complete steal from Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. David Gilmour, the guitar player of Pink Floyd, is known to have written this solo and it is known as one of his best artworks in Pink Floyd. It is quite sad that ERA gave no credit to Pink Floyd in this album.
    -anonymous-

    Posted by Pradeep Nishantha at 2009-09-29 12:11:05
    I have no words to express. These type of songs are my all time favourites and those gives the rhythem to my heart and soul...I'm dying on it...:)

    Posted by donato.jun at 2010-01-14 00:16:28
    And about the new Era Reborn and Era Classics Albuns? I think the new albun Era Classics(2009) is the true reborn of the groups, comparable only with the original Era debut album. A must-hear album

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