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Awen - The Bells Before Dawn

This album was received with a mixture of much expectation and some trepidation. Given that Awen had made a small number of tracks available on their My Space site, one of which was the excellent 'Empire, Night and the Breaker' with its subtle mention of the law according to Lee Enfield. The full LP release, Awen's first, was slightly delayed but eventually made it to the outside world. The Bells Before Dawn itself is presented in pre-Christian imagery, evoking a heritage of ideology and art. Together with a modest inset the vinyl comprises a sunwheel side and a serpent side, Ouroborous and the Externsteine are also present on the album sleeve thereby giving form to the aesthetic ambience. Taking the Sunwheel side first, 'Ode to a Briton' gives an indication as to the albums concept and motive while serving to enshroud the listener within the world of Awen; the sounding of ritual is a prominent feature and on this track a single, melancholic voice ebbs while noise effects cut the background before the sound of winds are introduced. The result is stark, conjuring a barren environment that is quietly reanimated through thoughtful reverence. Thus, with The Bells Before Dawn a number of factors are evident; that of the primordial, both in nature and in man and the ancient, cyclical connection between the two that wheeled in antiquity. Stripped sounds are delivered on a base of solid, single drumming patterns on either bodhran or antique drum. At times additional instrumentation such as on 'Helith's Hill', fill the music out where appropriate, here with double bass working within a managed level of discordant sounds and looped passages. The guiding hand of b9 Invid shows itself through certain compositions, drifting like the ghost of Luftwaffe over proceedings. B9 Invid provides the 12 string guitar work too which applies capable layers to 'Little Edelweiss' a track that flowers with Germanic nuances and restrained string-work, it remains among the highlights of the album. To his credit Erin Powell, Awen's 'soul', keeps the music tightly to his own vision throughout proceedings. The mix of bodhran and antique drum ensures that the music retains a solemn, ritual canvas upon which are splashed votive images of warriors and Gods from a time long past. Ambient noises and decayed frequencies swirl and are used moderately and effectively to distinguish the music from that of mere folkloric reproduction; there is a grim realization of nature's cruel face amongst these tracks.

Moving onto the Serpent side; 'Take Courage' is a simple drum and vocal chant, again reinforcing the undercurrent of ritual that echoes through the LP. The earnest sounds of 'Empire, Night and the Breaker' ring with Edward Woodward's portrayal of Breaker Morant and this track contains Morant's poem, 'A Night Thought'. 'Dream of an Omen' adequately embroils the listener in semiconscious sounds and noise, the closing refrain 'I chase no dead rabbits' almost propelling the track into some pastoral, Lynchian nightmare. But this along with 'Unter den Linden' exhibit the experimentation for a unique pattern of sound despite the musical lineage; shades of Death in June flicker on the edge, even Coil. The vocals on the The Bells Before Dawn are mostly spoken or hushed, reminiscent of both Luftwaffe and Michael Moynihan's forays while those on 'Empire, Night and the Breaker' recall David Tibet of Swastikas for Noddy era Current 93. What Awen have been successful in seeking out and conveying is the primal ritual behind all music and, here, they have transplanted these sounds back to holy compound of their forefathers. The inclusion of skull scraping courtesy of a human skull for instrumentation may seem gimmicky to some but it provides a shiver of tactile reality and rawness to events. The Bells Before Dawn is refreshing in its approach to ritual sounds while developing in terms of musicality this release provides a sound foundation for the future, capturing a faded heritage. For more information go to www.myspace.com/awenmusic or www.daisrecords.com (review by Michael Cunningham)