Hailing from the south-eastern French town of Annecy, Mörglbl are one of the vehicles for guitarist Christophe Godin’s considerable talent. With five studio albums under their belt (the first released in 1998 under the band’s original name of Mörglbl Trio), they revisit the time-honoured rock staple of the power trio with dazzling technique and liberal doses of tongue-in-cheek humour. This has earned them a loyal following all over the world, especially in the US, where they have toured frequently in the past few years: in fact, they were one of the headliners of the 2011 edition of ProgDay, and managed to energize the crowd in spite of the relentless heat and humidity.
The absurdist, pun-laden titles of the 11 tracks featured on Brutal Romance are so entertaining that almost make you regret the absence of vocals (which are instead present on Godin’s excellent 2011 album with Gnô, Cannibal Tango). The music, however, is definitely nothing to laugh at, combining often unrelenting heaviness in the shape of dense, crunchy riffs with a laid-back, jazzy feel and even occasional exotic influences like reggae or Latin and Eastern rhythms. While comparisons aplenty have been made with the likes of Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and a host of other guitar luminaries, Mörglbl have their own distinctive approach, which privileges actual composition over empty displays of technical fireworks.
As a band whose output is not easily categorized, the “prog” label never fails to amuse the members of Mörglbl– which is understandable to anyone who is aware of the average prog fan’s seemingly boundless desire to pigeonhole anything they can lay their hands on. While their music is complex and extremely proficient from a technical point of view, Mörglbl do not follow the conventional prog template: they do not use keyboards, and their compositions tend to be rather short. However, even a superficial listen to Brutal Romance will reveal undeniable progressive characteristics, such as eclecticism and unpredictability. Moreover, even if the instrumental format can often lead to rambling, Godin and his cohorts keep a tight rein on the compositional aspect, and avoid an unstructured feel even in those tracks that feature plenty of variation.
Opener “Gnocchis on the Block” introduces both the harder-edged and the jazzy component of Mörglbl’s sound – reminding me somehow of a heavier version of Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow or Wired. Unlike what you might expect by a band featuring a “guitar hero”, Godin’s guitar acrobatics do not overwhelm the contributions of his bandmates: indeed, Aurélien Ouzoulias’ drums and Ivan Rougny’s bass are not just wallpaper for Godin’s fireworks. In that, Mörglbl may bring to mind Rush, whose influence can be detected in quite a few tracks, such as the mid-paced, riff-heavy title-track. The heavy fusion of “Glucids in the Sky” and the funk-metal workout of “Cantal Goyave” rely on Rougny’s nimble, rumbling bass lines and Ouzoulias’ assertive drum patterns as much as on Godin’s dazzling guitar. On the other hand, “Oh P1 Can Not Be” veers squarely into Black Sabbath territory with its deep, harsh riffing only marginally relieved by more melodic guitar passages.
One of three tracks approaching the 7-minute mark, “Le Surfer d’Argentine” – which, as its title suggests, features a nod to a well-known tango tune alongside the driving riffs – offers an intriguing blend of melody and heaviness with a distinctly eclectic bent. “Golden Ribs” and “Fidel Gastro” alternate mellow passages with piercing, shred-like guitar parts – the latter starting out with an almost danceable, upbeat tune. Echoes of King Crimson emerge in the steady, insistent guitar line of “Wig of Change”, which also allows Ivan Rougny’s bass to shine; while “Metal Khartoom”, as the title suggests, blends fast and heavy riffing with a haunting Eastern tinge and jazzy bass-drum interplay. The album is then brought to a close by the lovely mood piece of “Casse”, where Godin’s unusually sensitive guitar brings to mind some of Gary Moore’s slow, emotional compositions.
Though, as hinted in the opening paragraph, Mörglbl are best experienced in a live setting – which allows them to display both their skills and their zany sense of humour – their latest release will satisfy lovers of instrumental music that successfully combines eclecticism, light-heartedness and serious chops. Challenging without being overwrought, hard-edged but eschewing the cerebral excesses of some jazz-metal bands, Mörglbl are one of the few bands of their kind that manage to make instrumental music entertaining. While it can be said that the band stick to a tried-and-true formula, and therefore there are no real surprises in Brutal Romance, they also do it with the right amount of flair, and manage to keep the listener’s attention. The album is highly recommended to fans of guitar-based instrumental progressive rock – though tolerance for some heaviness is a must.
1. Gnocchis On The Block (5:22)
2. Brutal Romance (4:54)
3. Le Surfer d’Argentine (6:42)
4. Golden Ribs (6:47)
5. Fidel Gastro (6:48)
6. Oh P1 Can Not Be (4:54)
7. Cantal Goyave (5:09)
8. Glucids In The Sky (6:12)
9. Wig Of Change (5:24)
10. Metal Khartoom (5:23)
11. 11 Casse (3:49)
* Christophe Godin – guitars
* Ivan Rougny – bass
* Aurélien Ouzoulias – drums and percussion