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Gothtopia: Awen's The Bells Before Dawn

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Awen. After seeing the Dallas goth-folk group play its sole Houston performance in 2006 opening up for Verdandi (the neo-folk side project of Asmodeus X's Paul Fredric), I could only assume that Awen was a pagan-y word meaning "to leave boot prints in the colons of all who witness." There are plenty of goofballs singing into microphones, but then there are the few chosen ones who are so sincerely from outer space that you stand back in awe. John Tyagaraja from Million Year Dance is like that. Trust me, it's not an act. That cat is pathologically, but wonderfully, nuts. But if John is Houston's Jedi, then Erin O'Sullivan, singer and leader of Awen, is Dallas' Sith.

Awen's live performance requires a police permit. Seriously. For their song "Needful Death", blank rounds fired from real revolvers supplement the drums. In the narrow confines of Avant Garden (it was still Helios then), the fire and gunsmoke made for quite an effect. O'Sullivan tells me that his latest compositions use an instrument made of a contact microphone, a wire brush and an antique human skull. Anyone else would be content with a plastic skull from the Spirit store, but not Awen. 

So in keeping with their unconventional conventions, Awen's first full-length album, The Bells Before Dawn, comes out today on vinyl only. "I've always loved the vinyl medium," says O'Sullivan in a digital-only interview. "There really is a ritual involved with the care and playing of the record. There's something in the waves as well."

The title derives from part of a dying phrase of O'Sullivan's father. Whether it was the painkillers talking is something O'Sullivan hasn't decided yet, but he will always remember his father saying, "In France... the bells before dawn were the eeriest sound I've ever heard." The album is dedicated to his memory.

"My father was a major influence on my worldview and my thinking in general," says O'Sullivan. "He was a great supporter of my endeavors. He was a bibliophile and an autodidact, an anarchist, an atheist and an artist in his own right. He would have been in good company with the likes of Arthur Desmond, Bernard Shaw and H.L. Mencken. Perhaps he is now."

It's easy to see how someone like O'Sullivan could become the artist he is today. Talking to him is like talking to Klaatu (Michael Rennie, not Ted "Theodore" Logan), and you would have to be made of non-sacred stone to not feel the menace and power he oozes brandishing his antique fasces (it's a kind of ax) during "Sacrifice." It's been far too long since we've seen him and his merry maniacs in Houston, and Rocks Off begs his readers to barrage Awen's MySpace with requests for their return.

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