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Review: Civilian Zen - 'Tell Lie Vision (Remastered Edition)' (Released February 10, 2016)

Tell Lie Vision is an epic concept album that veers back and forth between dystopian and apocalyptic themes explored through explosive space rock tunes and deep ambient excursions. Originally released in 2014, this newly issued remastered edition contains nine bonus tracks.

UK trio Civilian Zen was formed in 2006, and consists of Keith Hill, also of Signified, Oceanfire, Vert:X and others on vocals, guitars, synths, fx, programming, hammond organ, mellotron, and samples; Mark Andrew Broster on bass, poetry, and vocals and Ralph Woerdenweber on drums and vocals. Their music is clearly influenced by Hawkwind in many ways, and yet, one does not get the feeling of listening to Hawkwind when listening to Civilian Zen. They are their own band. This in no part is due to Keith Hill’s unique guitar style with its mountains of delay, but also the rhythm section of Broster and Woerdenweber’s, who are not content to play in Hawkwind’s driving 4/4 style, but instead draw influence from jazz and experimental electronica as well as rock. It all combines to bring a thoroughly modern sheen to a tried and true formula that makes it sound fresh and exciting again.

The album covers a lot of ground, musically. After the dreamy, almost soothing sounds of the album’s intro, Switch On, the proceedings take on a darker edge with the mid-tempo rocker Sea Change, which tells the story of some kind of weather apocalypse. It zigzags between simpler, heavy riffing and lusher sonic sections with layers of instruments and sound effects. Neon Sun follows, and combines machine-like electronica with heavier, motorik guitar rock. And while the band does not shy away from spacey freakouts and experimental moments, they keep it all still quite accessible, each tune well-crafted to stand out as an individual piece as well as being part of the whole. From the driving, melodic tale of technological breakdown that is Golden Future; to the epic, echo-laden, theatrical space rock of Host; to the electronic, pulsing digital nightmare of Harvest Glitch; to the drifting, Mellotron laden ballad Distance; to the loping and very aptly named Deep Space Blues, Tell Lie Vision is a terrific melding of trippy space rock with great songwriting, all tied together brilliantly with ambient bridges of spoken word poetry, creating a futuristic (or maybe present day?) vision of catastrophe and reckoning.

But for those who don’t wish to be bothered by dark themes or heavy rock and just want to do some cosmic chillin’, this new Remastered Edition comes with 9 bonus tracks, spaced out dub versions of half the songs on the album that are superbly done, and just as enjoyable to listen to as the album proper is.

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