After a decade of false starts, line-up changes and cancelled tours, frontman Jens C Mortensen tells us why Carnal Forge’s sixth album marks a new beginning.
Formed in 1997 by In Thy Dreams members Stefan Westerberg and Jari Kuusisto, Carnal Forge combine thrash metal with death metal and hardcore to create truly abrasive music; hard, fast and violent. Since the start the band’s work ethic has been much the same, seeing them release five albums and a live DVD between 1998 and 2004.
Despite such proliferation, the band have always suffered from what they refer to as ‘the curse of Carnal Forge’, which has always kept wider exposure just out of their grasp. The most notable case of this was the 2003 Metal Gods Tour, which should have seen the band join Rob Halford, Testament, Primal Fear, Immortal and Amon Amarth for 34 shows around the US but was cancelled after just seven.
Shortly after the release of the band’s fifth album, “Aren’t You Dead Yet?”, vocalist Jonas Kjellgren decided to leave. Enter former member of Slapdash and Revolver, Jens C Mortensen, who with three week’s notice took on frontman duties for a European tour with Pro Pain.
‘That was baptism by fire,’ says Mortensen, two weeks after the release of Carnal Forge’s latest album, “Testify For My Victims”. ‘The first couple of gigs were kinda so-so but come day three it felt like I’d been doing it forever. The hard part was learning who’s the alpha male and all that shit, you know, the politics of the band. That took some time but that was over with during the rehearsals. We bonded in a good way from the start, so there were never any problems.’
Three years on and the singer is an established member of Carnal Forge. However, “Testify For My Victims” is only his first album with the band. Mortensen points out that this does not mean the band were resting on their laurels, ‘We never saw those three years pass. We saw it as: we started, we took a break, we toured, we played, life got in the way and we’re here today and it feels like yesterday we started. We’ve been working our asses off,’ he concludes with a laugh.
After such a fast-paced beginning to their career, though, why did the band choose now to slow things down?
‘It could have ended up like any other Carnal Forge album, you know. A rush job, more or less,’ explains the singer. ‘But this time, we sat down and we looked at the history and we looked at ourselves and we decided to not release anything until everybody gave it a double thumbs up and went like, yeah, this is the best we can do right now, and we experimented with everything.’
Experimenting included changing the way the band worked entirely. ‘The biggest difference was everybody being involved from day one. Before they would record the music and then send it to Jonas and he would record his vocals, almost like a separate act. This time around, we all sat down from the early demo stage of every song and looked through it and everybody had a say.’
But with such a gap between albums, was it frustrating for Jens not to have a record of his contribution to the band?
‘Yes and no,’ he says. ‘Jonas did a handful of live shows on “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” and then he left. So, that kinda became my album anyway, because people had no reference. Whatever I did was the right way to do it.’
But, he continues, the speed with which he came into the band did mean that, at least at first, a large part of his job was trying to emulate his predecessor. It is only more recently that he’s been able to put his mark on the music. ‘The first two years of Carnal Forge was like playing in a Carnal Forge tribute band, only I had the original members backing me up,’ he says. ‘Jonas did such a scary good job, especially live, I mean he’s scary live. I was going, hey can I do this and am I good enough and what will the old fans say? But a couple of months down the road I’d already performed more live than Jonas had during his seven years in Carnal. I just stepped in, tried to emulate him and take what I understood of his technique and mix it up with mine
During this time, Carnal Forge also parted company with Century Media, the record label that released four of their albums, signing a new deal with Candlelight Records in January this year. This is a further change that the band feel marks a new beginning for them.
‘There was never a fight, there’s no bad blood, no animosity, nothing like that. It was a side effect of just stepping back and looking at the history and having that time to reflect and go, okay, we’ve been on this label for so long, is it time to have this new start – new singer, new label, new album – and really put everything to rest.
‘I think Century Media were more like, “Hey, where’s the new album? What’s taking you guys so long?” and with Candlelight it was like “Hey! Whatever you guys do, it’s fine” and they just gave us the thumbs up on everything. We got that feeling that they were as enthusiastic about everything as we were. And it just felt like home right from the start.’
Now that the album is finally finished and released, the band are hoping to hit the road later this year. ‘We’re aiming for a good tour of Europe come fall/winter but before that, I don’t know. We’re trying to get over to the UK as soon as possible. One place I really wanna play again is The Underwold in Camden. That place is, ah it rocks. I’ve been there two times and had nosebleeds both times. Fucking awesome. You know, people do get a moshpit at that place, I love it.’
Finally, I wonder what kind of music Mortensen listens to himself. ‘Oh God, that’s a hard question. I’m so simple when it comes to music, I’ll listen to absolutely anything and I divide it up into two genres: It’s good or it’s crap. But it all depends on mood, fuck, it depends on the weather, you know, if I’m hungry or not, how good I slept that night. I’m so into Sikth and their latest album, “The Death Of A Dead Day” That shit just blows my mind, as well as Strapping Young Lad’s latest, “The New Black”, anything Messhuggah ever did, have done or will do, a local band called One Hour Hell fuckin’ kicks my ass every time I hear it. Of course, on the other side you have Emilíana Torrini, whatever, you know, fuck it, it’s just music and if it’s true to itself, I dig it. One thing I don’t fuckin’ stand is bands like fuckin’ Trivium or stuff like that. God! Pull the plug!,’ he laughs.
“Testify For My Victims” is out now on Candlelight Records.
This interview originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Powerplay Magazine