Sound — 9
Magna Carta Cartel (MCC) are the Swedish band that I'm most willing to bet you've never heard of. One reason would be that their albums can only be bought from their Swedish distributor. The other reason is the band's odd background. MCC started in 2008 and released their first album in 2009, though they never toured on it. The band more or less disbanded and became a mystery though their lone album did gain a cult following. The reason the band disbanded, and the reason it is relevant now, is that some of the band members (vocalist, guitarist, and bassist) formed Ghost, whose members were meant to remain anonymous.
Now, with the recent news that the lead singer and mastermind of Ghost fired all the band members, there is room for MCC to exist again. Perhaps the most popular and recognizable member of Ghost aside from lead singer Papa Emeritus is the rhythm guitarist, known for his stage presence and the omega sign on his black Gibson RD. Omega, as he was affectionately known by fans, revealed his identity in a YouTube video earlier this year to be Martin Persner. In the same video, he announced that he would be getting MCC back together. Later announcements confirmed that MCC would release this EP, which is a collection of two re-recorded MCC songs, two new originals, and a cover song that is about twenty minutes long.
Persner is well in charge of MCC's current incarnation, playing guitar, writing the music, and singing lead vocals. Instead of his former bandmates, with whom he played in many bands, Persner now only with his brother on rhythm guitar and a drummer who has no relation to Ghost or the earlier version of MCC.
The style of the EP is much closer to Pink Floyd than Ghost. It uses a lot of reverb and echo effects to make a very spacey feel. The EP's, very warm production is also nice. It really feels like you could wrap yourself with this EP as your blanket; that's how soft and warm it is. The echoing electric guitar at the beginning of "Sway" is an especially tasteful sign to the listener that the producer has some tricks up his sleeve.
Even with the open ambiance, the songs are focused like modern rock songs. Come to think of it, one of the EP's coolest features is its ability to lull the listener into thinking they know what is coming, but then have a very short, purposeful shift. One of the most striking examples of this is in "The Demon King" when Persner sings a vocal scale and then hits a dissonant note instead of resolving the scale ("Please find someone…else").
While the general vibe of the EP is its main highlight, there are some other cool things. The guitar playing stands out most. The guitar solo on "Sway" demonstrates Persner's ability to write melodic guitar solos that can sound simplistic or virtuosic depending on your mindset. It is also interesting how he chooses to balance the electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and keyboard synthesizers depending on the song. The EP's melodies sound like one force despite including mixtures of the three instruments. Even still, the ear can easily pick them apart in the mix; it's fun to mentally keep up with one of the instruments at a time before returning to think about the complete sound, with all the instruments included.
The bass and drums are simple; they almost sound like they could fit on an AC/DC album. While the bass is almost non-existent, the drums are pleasant in their simplicity. Just like the drumming on an AC/DC album, I could not imagine how this drumming could be done differently without drawing attention away from the luscious sound of the guitars and synths. The drums are best on "Turn," where the cymbal crash during the main riff highlights how effective a laid-back style can be.
Lyrics — 6
This EP is weakest with the vocals. Persner isn't a terrible singer but, he isn't great either. This hurts the EP because the way the songs are written, the vocals are central to the effectiveness of the songs. His style doesn't seem as developed as it could be, like he isn't a professional singer or he is trying to sound like the vocalist of an indie rock band. There is an endearing aspect to this because his delivery makes it like the listener really gets to know Persner the person instead of Persner the character (for example, Papa Emeritus always sings like he is trying to portray a fictional character).
Nevertheless, the vocals become a drawback as it feels clear that the producer drowned them in effects to mask some sort of weakness. This has the effect of making the lyrics hard to understand though, on the other hand, it adds to the peaceful, spacey vibe of the EP. Sometimes, like on "Sway," the hazy vocals are the perfect fit for the song but other times across like with "Jennifer," it just seems clear that Persner is not a true lead singer yet.
Overall Impression — 8
This EP is very good given the circumstances, but it doesn't scratch the surface of MCC's potential. Their idea to bring Pink Floyd into the modern rock age has the potential to be a winning formula but it needs sharpening.
It would be interesting to hear Persner diversify the song structures, add more guitar riffs and solos, maybe take the vocals out of their cave a little, and let loose the full creative potential of the bass and drums. Perhaps a more collaborative band effort would enable this; MCC seem like a Persner solo project at the moment.
Of course, I'm just one guy with some opinions. But I hope it's clear that anyone who makes suggestions to a band about their next album, is already a big fan. If you haven't heard of MCC before, this EP would be a great introduction to a new band (kind of) with a lot of potential.