Barely 90 seconds into Arrows it becomes apparent that Magna Carta Cartel are devoted to the overblown pomp of 80s pop-rock – and also that they’re brilliant at it. But for all the comparisons to Simple Minds, the Swedes’ second album The Dying Option might receive, there’s a more obvious touchpoint: Magna Carta Cartel sound a hell of a lot like Ghost. That’s no coincidence – Tobias Forge, Ghost’s mercurial frontman, used to be their bassist.
“We had so many bands at that time,” explains MCC founder Martin Persner, who first crossed paths with Forge in the fertile local music scene of Swedish town Linköping at the tail end of the 2000s. “We didn’t know what to focus on.”
At that point, Forge had recently left the death metal group Repugnant, while Persner was splitting his time between sludgemetal group Tid and a nascent side project he’d tentatively named MCC [Magna Carta Cartel].
“It wasn’t really a band, more an idea of putting together all these pieces that wouldn’t fit anywhere else,” Persner admits. “It sounded like a guitar version of Vangelis.”
Ultra-slick pop-rock was just the palate cleanser Martin needed, and MCC’s debut album Goodmorning Restrained was released in 2009. But a year later their bassist suddenly found himself on a rocket ride to stardom; Ghost’s debut Opus Eponymous was picking up traction in the music industry. Forge now needed a band, and Persner become one of Ghost’s Nameless Ghouls.
That changed in 2016, when an acrimonious split between Forge and some of his former Ghouls revealed his identity to the world, and necessitated a line-up change.
Persner now had time to devote to his longshelved project MCC. Their 2017 EP The Sun & The Rain signalled their re-formation, and he soon got to work on a second album – although as he sees it The Dying Option is more like MCC’s ‘real’ debut after a false start.
“The first album was fun and games. While we had fun with this one, there was a clear idea of what we wanted to do with it,” he explains. “We worked so hard on the production – we wanted it to sound like a lost album from the eighties.”
The Dying Option certainly achieves that. Drawing on the cinematic atmosphere of a band like Simple Minds alongside actual film scores, the album balances the pop cheese of Bonnie Tyler with the driving, dark melodies of Echo & The Bunnymen.
“People want nostalgia, because you don’t have to worry about the future,” Persner says of his decision to embrace rock’s most OTT decade. “I think it’s down to optimism – this whole altar of dreams that came about, this carelessness that was a way of avoiding the Cold War.”
As for where his dreams for MCC lie, after tasting stardom with Ghost “my dreams are limitless”, he says with a sly smile.