Music / Enigma

Enigma is a New Age / chillout musical project created by Michael Cretu in 1990. Cretu has remained the only consistent member of the project for its entire existence, with his wife Sandra providing many of Enigma's vocals. Enigma is primarily known for its singles "Sadeness" and "Return to Innocence", which combined Gregorian chanting, aboriginal folk song, ambient music and hip hop beats into a unique sound.

The debut album MCMXC a.D created great controversy in Europe for combining breathy vocals about the Marquis de Sade, bondage and Gnosticism, alongside its extensive sampling itself a hot button issue at the time in North America. Cretu credited himself as Curly M.C. on the album to maintain anonymity, but the subsequent lawsuits revealed Cretu's identity, alongside his wife's. Nonetheless, MCMXC a.D. and its followup the CROSS of Changes were large successes for fans of worldbeat and ethnic electronica. Enigma's greatest critical success was The Screen behind the Mirror, showcasing a mature and distinctive musical palette, but did not sell as well as his first two albums. Enigma has been on hiatus since their seventh album, 2008's Seven Lives Many Faces.


  • MCMXC a.D. (1990)
  • the CROSS of Changes (1993)
  • Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (1996)
  • The Screen behind the Mirror (2000)
  • Voyageur (2003)
  • a Posteriori (2006)
  • Seven Lives Many Faces (2008)

Tropes that apply to Enigma:

  • Arc Words: As each album follows a unified concept, this is bound to occur:
    • the CROSS of Changes: "The eyes of truth are always watching you", "The Cross of Changes"
    • The Screen behind the Mirror: "The experience of survival", "O fortuna, velut lunanote "
    • a Posteriori: The latin verse that closes "Eppur si muove" is repeated throughout the album in various guises, including as an ambient haze linking "Dreaming of Andromeda" and "Dancing with Mephisto".
    • Seven Lives Many Faces: The lyrics for "Encounters" appear throughout the album in a manner similar to a Posteriori's verse.
  • Call Back: Several sonic and lyrical elements of previous works are referenced in each subsequent album (see Leitmotif and Sampling.) The bridge of "Gravity of Love" even recites the William Blake quote printed in the booklet of MCMXC a.D.: "The path of excess leads to the tower of wisdom."
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Probably the biggest reason for the first album's success. Most of Cretu's subsequent lyrics have been in English though.
  • Follow the Leader: Frank Peterson, a member of Enigma for the first album, left to create Era and Gregorian, two other bands that attempted to replicate Enigma's success. Other bands haven't been as lucky as Peterson's projects.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The title of the 2001 greatest hits collection, Love, Sensuality, Devotion. The typeface used on the cover makes this explicit.
  • Genre-Busting: Although Enigma is usually considered New Age music, it really defies being pinned down to any genre. It might be considered closer to chill-out, if Cretu's later work didn't tend to incorporate hard rock influences to a greater degree.
  • Genre Shift: Their albums in the 90s are focused on Gregorian chants and religious/dance hybrids. Come 2000s and their songs geared toward "sophisticated pop/dance".
  • Gratuitous French
  • Guilty Pleasures: Professional reviews of Enigma's albums often read as if the critic likes the music but is deeply ashamed to admit it.
  • I Am the Band: Probably why Cretu refers to it as a "project" rather than a band.
  • Intercourse with You: Played with. The lyrics are seldom explicit, but Sandra Cretu's vocals on the early albums involve a lot of sampled suggestive, heavy breathing and bedroom voice.
  • Leitmotif: The quiet, spacey brass lick that opens and closes almost all of the albums tells you that you're listening to an Enigma album.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: "Mea Culpa" is a monologue by a submissive woman giving herself up very aggressively to her master. (If you don't know much about BDSM, no, this is not a contradiction.) And "Sadeness", the song that started it all, is about Marquis de Sade.
  • Sampling: Enigma gained a certain notoriety for doing this at a time when it was a major controversy in the hiphop world; though the ensuing lawsuits led to the producers of the samples being properly compensated, Cretu lost his anonymity as a result. The first album contains samples as diverse as Maria Callas, Black Sabbath, an extremely obscure Mike + the Mechanics song, Aphrodite's Child and the infamous Gregorian chant.
    • Another infamous sample is Difang's Jubilant Drinking Song, a Taiwanese aboriginal chant used in "Return to Innocence" that was often mistaken as Native American origin by critics and listeners alike.
    • Certain samples, such as a distinctive horn motif, Irene Papas' distinctive heavy breathing from Aphrodite's Child's song "∞", drumming from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" and several guitar licks, have become an intricate part of Enigma's sound palette. When these sounds disappeared altogether from A posteriori, there was a sizable amount of concern from fans.
    • The Screen Behind the Mirror received negative critical reaction for sampling Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" from his work Carmina Burana across four separate songs, to thematically unite the album. The same wasn't said for MCMXC a.D., which featured the same drum beat for half of the album's runtime.
  • Shout-Out: Apart from all the sampling, Cretu has included shout outs to hard rock and metal bands of the 1970s, as well as pop music from the 1980s ("Look of Today" reuses the chorus from ABC's "The Look of Love", for example.)
  • Title Drop: Turn Around features the successive mentions of several Enigma songs released beforehand.
  • X Meets Y: Combining church music with techno and sex was a big deal in 1991.
  • Yandere: What else could "I Love You  I'll Kill You" possibly be about? It seems to be sung in second person as a warning to the victim; much Sanity Slippage applies.