James Kelly spent six months in a Costa Rica rainforest and came out a different person. After releasing his debut album as WIFE in 2014, the producer and former front man of progressive black metal band Altar of Plagues finished a degree in environmental science and blindly signed up to live and work in a remote campsite with no electricity or running water.
That’s where Standard Nature comes in, an EP of five tracks that tears through unwieldy punk timings and electronic dissonance, swinging violently back toward Kelly’s early metal past, to be released on Profound Lore Records on September 26.
The surprise shift from the extreme tempos and roaring-shrieking of Altar of Plagues into the sentimental EDM epics of What’s Between (released on Tri-Angle) set a precedent for unpredictability in Kelly’s catalogue two years ago. It’s a catalogue that’s been metaphorically hacked through once again — like the Central American wilderness that changed everything. “I wanted to create music that was inspired by that moment,” writes London-based Kelly in an e-mail, referring to his memory of a chainsaw meeting a tree while traveling through an operational Costa Rican logging area. “So with a track like ‘Glass Interruption,’ I intended to have the blown-out bass and drums almost attacking the synths in an effort to stop them.”
“Glass Interruption,” the lead single from Standard Nature, features a video by Kelly, made of found and captured footage of wildfires in 2016. The croaking low end that indiscriminately punctures a shrill ambience accompanies images of ecological destruction, mediated and meddled with by the humans holding the cameras that frame them. “Surprise,” say the words that flash across images of trees crashing and burning under the weight of thick, black smoke, “you let your eyes lie.” These written words act as subtitles to those sung by Kelly himself, so heavily distorted that their audible meaning is easily missed.
The album cover features a photo by fashion photographer Daniel Sannwald — an image of a shiny metal engine from an Ophelia Finke photo shoot. For Kelly, Sannwald transposed an image of nature into its reflection — a border zone between reality and reproduction, blurred into a sort of simulacra of human violation. “The concept of the wild is almost imaginary at this point, and we fetishize nature in so many ways,” writes Kelly, who learned a lot living within the very small community that inhabited the reforestation site in Costa Rica where he worked. “The people are so deeply in tune with the environment they live in, and that is essential when you live in a place where a frog the size of your fingernail can kill you.”