Since forming Mostly Autumn in 1995, Bryan Josh has become extremely respected in the progressive rock world and his band enjoy a healthy following at home and abroad. Throughout the band's history, many members have come and gone (and come again etc.), but Josh is the sole constant force. He has written (either by himself or with other members of the band) the vast majority of the band's material over the course of 11 studio albums and has been, rightly, described as 'The Heart and Guitar of Mostly Autumn'. His rough but emotive vocal style, that always compliments the polish of his leading ladies, has become a part of the band's trademark style; and his soaring lead guitar style, influenced by David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore, is even more of a staple. Despite his prolific writing skills, the vast majority of his musical life has been (and will continue to be, I am sure) dedicated to Mostly Autumn. During a lull in the band's activities back in 2008 when then frontwoman Heather Findlay was on maternity leave, Josh decided to record his first solo album Through These Eyes under the name 'Josh & Co. Limited'. It was a surprise announcement, with little fanfare, but it was a welcome addition to Josh's excellent collection of work, and an album I still play quite a lot to this day. Sound-wise, the album was not too far away from where Mostly Autumn were at that time. 2008's Glass Shadows was still fairly new, and Through These Eyes had the more restrained, modern feel of that album (apart from the lyrically bizarre title track). It definitely focused more on Josh's guitar skills than Glass Shadows however, with plenty of emotional guitar solos throughout. A few shows were played to support the album in 2009, which were well received, but it was then back to the big ship Mostly Autumn and he has not looked back as the band have gone from strength to strength releasing arguably their best album yet in 2014 (Dressed in Voices, which I reviewed here). Obviously at some point over the past year or so, Josh has been inspired to write and record his second album and the result, quirkily titled Transylvania - Part 1: The Count Demands It, is a very different beast from Through These Eyes. Where that was a soaring, emotional prog rock album; this is a carnival, tongue-in-cheek concept album about Vampires (what is not to like?). This is a very diverse album, covering all from gentle acoustic ballads, to balls-out rock and everything in between. Long bombastic instrumental sections and over-the-top spoken word parts (Hammer films anyone?) punctuate the more traditional songs, to make an album that sounds nothing like Josh has been a part of before. Josh handles the vast majority of the vocals and instruments himself, with the most notable other contributor being current Mostly Autumn drummer Alex Cromarty who plays throughout the album. Other guests add their magic throughout, and their contributions will be detailed further on.
After one of the many cheesy, short spoken word sections on the album gets things underway, the music begins with the bluesy acoustic guitar of The Back Lane. Josh's strange, narrative lyrics have an extremely catchy, bouncy rhythm to them - especially when Cromarty comes in with a heavy-handed drum beat. The song slowly builds up, adding bass, drums, and electric guitars as it goes on. There are plenty of short bursts of lead guitar throughout, which are far bluesier than Josh's usual style. It works well, but lulls the listener into a false sense of security, as the album takes on a vastly different turn towards the end of the song, which is rather spooky and atmospheric and transitions into In for the Bite, the album's next song. Josh's Eastern-tinged electric guitar riff, and Cromarty's percussive drums, have a sinister feel that leads into a soaring song that sees Josh's wife Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (Mostly Autumn; Breathing Space) take the lead for a dynamic and commanding vocal performance. The heavier feel of the song brings Mostly Autumn's 2012 album The Ghost Moon Orchestra to mind in places, and the walls of keyboards create a foreboding atmosphere. Sparnenn-Josh's vocals soar, and show a grittier side than she usually displays with Mostly Autumn. Far Away is more of a narrative track, with Josh's descriptive, spoken vocals working well over a subtle guitar and keyboard backing. The 'chorus' is sung however, with big acoustic guitar chords that sit well beside the fuzzy electric guitar sounds and hollow drums. Sparnenn-Josh also adds some spoken word to this song, and the song ends with a classic-style Josh guitar solo. The Castle of 1000 Dead starts a suite of mostly instrumental music with some spiky, heavy guitar chords and gothic chanting. The gothic theme continues throughout, with plenty of spooky organ sounds that sits really well alongside the heavy guitars. A short spoken section follows, before the epic Carnival of the Rotting Sun starts. Again, this is largely instrumental, and feels like a heavier cousin of all those folky instrumentals found on the early Mostly Autumn albums. It is a collaboration between Josh and Troy Donockley (Iona; Nightwish), and features many of the latter's unique skills. Donockley has been guesting on Mostly Autumn albums for years, but this is the first song the two have written together. Piano and a children's choir get things underway, before the evil folk music starts with uilleann pipes and bouzouki join the mix and whip up a mighty jig! Donockley even sings a little on the song, with his smooth Northern delivery a nice contrast to Josh's rougher voice. Rather unsurprisingly, the song climaxes with another soaring Josh guitar solo, that rises effortlessly above Donockley's folky magic. The Wolves of Kolkon is a more traditional rock song, with bursts of heavy organ and a strange vocal performance from Josh. He has never sounded like this before, and certain sections are even close to sounding like harsh vocals! The verses are quite fast, with a good boogie rhythm, and the choruses slower, with some anthemic drums and funny vocals. The twin-lead guitar section mid-way through is also excellent, which sounds a bit like classic Thin Lizzy.
The Dead Sun, a beautiful ballad featuring the talents of Anna Phoebe on the violin, is probably my favourite song on the album. It really harks back to the Mostly Autumn prog epics of the past like The Night Sky and The Last Climb, and it makes you realise how much violin Mostly Autumn used in their sound back when Bob Faulds was in the band. This song features the best of Josh's voice, and has an extremely emotional vocal delivery, over his strummed acoustic guitar and soaring keyboard backing. Phoebe adds a lot to the song too, with heart-wrenching violin lines throughout, that really add another dimension to the song. She seems to be the latest person to join to the extended Mostly Autumn family, I would not be surprised to see more collaborations together in the future. The song also contains an excellent guitar solo, one of Josh's best, which crams plenty of emotional moments into it. The extended violin outro is the icing on the cake however, and shows what a special player Phoebe is. The two combine again in the shorter Lonely and Cold, which is a lovely little acoustic ballad with Josh's slightly mumbled lead vocals that sound a little like Marillion's Steve Hogarth in places. This leads into a the upbeat acoustic rock of Rainbow, which has shades of the album's bluesy opening number. It comes as a bit of a shock in all the darkness that the album has now descended into, but it works surprisingly well and gives the album a bit of a kick. It is the last uplifting moment on the album, as things soon return to the narrative darkness that characterises the rest of the album with The Old Man which features lots more strange spoken word sections and sparse, atmospheric synth backing. Ulak the Gripper is another narrative song, featuring one of the stranger characters in the story. Once again, big synth sounds form the basis of the song, but this time you can hear lots of soaring guitar leads in the background that cut through at choice moments. The album's last proper song Beyond the Wall is another largely instrumental piece that is based around a huge keyboard riff that is clearly inspired by many of the current crop of melodic metal bands out there. It is a guitar showcase really, and sees Josh cutting loose with many strong guitar leads, including one that seems to deliberately reference something that will be familiar to Mostly Autumn fans! Phoebe's violin returns here too, and the song takes a darker turn when she arrives, with Josh's hard rocking power chords and Cromarty's heavy drumming forming the background for her slightly discordant playing. This leads into another Josh solo, that follows Phoebe's lead, and explodes into a strong, Eastern-tinged guitar work out that showcases all of Josh's skills. The album comes to an end, with the story on a cliffhanger, with another spoken word section. Overall, Transylvania - Part 1: The Count Demands It is an interesting album from Josh which showcases his writing and guitar playing in a different light. It is an album that definitely reveals itself over many listens, and impresses through it's diverse sounds and styles. I assume there will be a sequel at some point, but with Josh's attentions now focused on a new Mostly Autumn album, it may be a while before we return to Transylvania.
The album was released on 29th April 2016 via Mostly Autumn Records.