Named after a mythical flower that never fades, the theme of Amarantine centres around enduring spiritual love – how we yearn for it and strive towards it. Enya’s trademark signatures are all here, with threads from hymnal, classical, rock and Celtic mystic traditions woven together into a complex musical tapestry. The strands may be various but they form a thematic whole, that resonates with atmosphere, accumulating an expansiveness that positively surges with power. Enya’s angelic voice is utilised superbly to create sublime multi-tracked melodies and steep banks of backing vocals, with instruments like piano, cello, and synthesised strings conjuring a sense of majesty and, at its most intense, untrammelled emotion.

While Enya’s sensual/emotional/spiritual outpourings can inspire awe in the hearts of those who admire her, there are those for whom her music and the myth that surrounds it provoke extreme irritation. Each to their own. Yet, if they come to it with an open mind, Enya might just win new converts with Amarantine, even from among this band of the disaffected. Because, despite the similarity to its predecessors, the album manages to shimmer with an extra brilliance. Here, musical arranger/producer Nicky Ryan – who has worked with Enya since her precocious teenage days – has managed to pare back the production without losing any of the characteristic layered sumptuousness and the allied celestial power. Throughout, Enya’s voice seems more embodied, giving rise to a greater sense of intimacy than in her previous records.

We’re used to hearing Enya sing in different languages – Irish, Welsh, Latin, Spanish, Japanese – but with three beautiful tracks on Amarantine, ‘Less Than A Pearl’, ‘The River Sings’ and ‘Water Shows The Hidden Heart’, Enya’s taken a leaf from Sigur Ros’s book and utilised a language (complete with its own bizarre alphabet, font and historical background) invented specifically for the album by her longtime lyricist, Roma Ryan (who is also wife to producer Nicky). She’s not new to imaginary dialects, having contributed a song in Elvish on the 2001 Lord of the Ringssoundtrack, and it was this experience that inspired her to sing in ‘Loxian’ – “a futuristic language from another planet” – on Amarantine.

While I love all twelve tracks, some are special: give yourself to them and ‘Long, Long Journey’, ‘It’s In The Rain’, ‘If I Could Be Where You Are’, ‘The River Sings’ (a galloping Loxian spiritual hunting-song), ‘A Moment Lost’ and ‘Amid The Falling Snow’ in particular really do transport the listener. Powerful visual imagery – blue moonlight on snow, rain and wind in Decembral trees, dreaming and hibernation, cold stars in the night-sky – conjure up an all-pervading sense of death and re-birth against a backdrop of winter.

Listen to it in the dark, wrapped up in your bed before you sleep…

Rating: 9 / 10

HotPress: Adrienne Murphy | December 5, 2005