MOSTLY AUTUMN – Graveyard Star (2021)
“Graveyard Star” is the powerful and evocative new album from UK melodic prog rock band MOSTLY AUTUMN, documenting their experience of the pandemic over the last year or so. It has all the ingredients of a classic Mostly Autumn album, but soaked with the raw emotion of personal loss, despair and finally hope for the future.
You get all the elements you would expect from a Mostly Autumn album; angelic vocals from Olivia Sparnenn-Josh, consistently strong guitar work from Bryan Josh and a stable line-up of musicians seamlessly blending elements of melodic rock and prog rock with Celtic overtones.
However, add a deep lyrical content and a diverse range of compositional styles and you have one of the most impressive releases in the band’s 26-year history.
The opening epic title track begins atmospherically with Iain Jennings’ keyboards and intimate and haunting vocals from Bryan and Olivia before violin and flute appear. Henry Roger’s drums pick up the strident beat prior to some great ensemble playing by the band. This is a song of loss, even if it dates from January 2020 before the first lockdown. Lyrics of mortality and loss dominate, with Olivia’s yearning vocals emotionally charging lines such as “Goodbye sun from another sun”, “I was the lamp beside your head, I was the diamond in your head” and “A spark in heaven’s crowd”, amongst others, while Bryan’s darker vocals complement the mood. Discordant electric guitar then shifts to a gentle acoustic-led interlude with poignant violin accompaniment from guest artist Chris Leslie (from Fairport Convention), before an expressive guitar solo soars above the heaviness and tiredness of the background tempo. A final rally fails to lift the sadness. It is clear that this journey into the dark has only just begun.
There are Floydian elements to Bryan’s weary vocals on ‘The Plague Bell’ as he states, “It’s a long way home tonight”, the image of death as a “white rag ghost” stepping on board the ship taking us back to the first lockdown in March 2020. It is effectively the introduction to ‘Skin of Mankind’ where Olivia’s dramatic vocals are joined by a deep guitar riff echoing a Western theme with a trotting rhythm from Henry’s drums and Andy Smith’s bass.
‘Shadows’ starts acoustically, but soon develops into a driving, mid-tempo rock song. We are well into isolation at home by now (April 2020) and Bryan’s vocals and lead guitar over Chris Johnson’s rhythm guitar emphasise the monotonous routine of it all.
Written in May 2020, ‘Razor Blade’ is another very personal track. It starts with Olivia’s melancholic vocals over strummed acoustic guitar, as the lyrics hint at wanting to be away from it all. Nice piano from Iain heralds another build-up, with keyboards taking flight and Bryan’s and Olivia’s contrasting vocals intertwining heartbreakingly.
‘This Endless War’ continues the theme of loss and the need for support in those dark times to continue to fight and is a stunning slow burner of a track. Bryan’s closing solo is the best on the album and Olivia’s passionate vocals at the end are scorching.
‘Spirit of Mankind’ takes us to January 2021 and the second lockdown, and that feeling of frustration and sadness as we returned to isolation and the closing of the borders. “We’re on the ropes again”, the days filled with “the best of us” and “the worst of us”. There is a pulsating beat, epic keyboards and some well-pitched electric and acoustic guitar runs, and possibly the most catchy refrain on the album – hinting that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the promise of “a phoenix rising through these flames”.
All of the sudden we are in July 2021 and ‘Back In These Arms’ signals the change from the dark to the light as the final lockdown ends. The subdued keyboards open up into a dynamic slab of anthemic group playing, with optimistic, joyous and defiant lyrics chanted out as life begins to return to normal.
‘The Diamond’ is also a refreshing change, with his acoustic guitar driving the song through as it builds up and his soft vocals, joined by those of Angela Gordon, produce a wonderfully ethereal and hypnotic soundscape.
‘Turn Around Slowly’ is the epic conclusion, bringing all of the strands of the concept together, with repeated themes and lyrics. Starting with gentle musical passages, the first half has a poignancy as the lyric looks back on the long journey we have all taken.
”Graveyard Star” is another great album by Mostly Autumn and adds to the consistent run of quality recent albums. Its topical concept about lockdown and the pandemic is deeply personal but never feels forced. It hits immediately, but also grows with repeated plays.
As a result, the deep lyrics gradually speak more strongly to the listener, as well as documenting what Bryan, Olivia and the band went through themselves. Their prog-infused melodic rock with soaring guitars and evocative vocals is as engaging as ever.
01 – Graveyard Star
02 – The Plague Bell
03 – Skin Of Mankind
04 – Shadows
05 – The Harder That You Hurt
06 – Razor Blade
07 – This Endless War
08 – Spirit Of Mankind
09 – Back In These Arms
10 – Free To Fly
11 – The Diamond
12 – Turn Around Slowly
– Olivia Sparnenn-Josh / vocals
– Bryan Josh / guitars, vocals
– Chris Johnson / guitars
– Iain Jennings / keyboards
– Angela Gordon / flute, keyboards
– Andy Smith / bass
– Henry Rogers / drums