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Peculate – The Chain Industry

Peculate‘s Ben Norton stays busy. Since 2012, the year he started flying solo under the Peculate name, he has cut three full-lengths and four EPs. And that’s just the progressive metal stuff. His homepage tags him as a “writer, artist, & activist.” He composes accomplished jazz and modern classical, he has been internet-published, he was a co-founder of an NPO, and he’s probably clearing his schedule right now to make room for another life-defining pursuit. Not that it needs reiterating, but yeah: busy.

Busy is also a fair way to describe Peculate. The project’s most recognizable trait is its lack of one. The mathy groove of djent makes up the largest slice of the pie chart, but you wouldn’t lump Peculate in with that style’s athletic pursuit of peak shredosity. Not that Norton is beyond earning your awe. The utilization of twelve-tone technique, the Zappa jazz fusion tangents, and the Devin Townsend-esque attention to production details are impressive and designed to be so. It’s also not unusual for a Peculate song to traverse five genres in a minute in the interest of eliciting ‘wow’s. But Norton’s compositions, lately at least, aren’t meant to be entertainingly ephemeral side-shows. The quick fix of wild juxtaposition is no longer the end goal because the songs need to last. They need to deliver their lyrical payload.

The Chain Industry is Peculate’s newest album, due out on July 31. Like most of Norton’s work, it’ll be available for free via his Bandcamp. At its heart, The Chain Industry is a protest album, damning the economic devastation that first world politics forces upon the third world. It takes on the Borg hivemind voice of a multinational corporation, spitting lines like, “You need chains/You just haven’t developed the skills to see it yet/Chains of freedom.” That’s both chillingly Bernaysian and sort of absurd. The music follows suit, pairing quietly ominous dissonance with deafening chugs, complex Ephel Duath excursions with winking smooth jazz, and throat-searing growls/howls with the plaintive wails of indie pop. Ben Norton has the ability to do all of these things, so The Chain Industry tries all of these things. When the blender approach works, you get something akin to the spontaneity of a wickedly inventive DJ set. When it doesn’t, you wish Norton would occasionally affix his attention on a single style in service of songs over segments.

And that’s where the busyness of Ben Norton comes back around. The Chain Industry isn’t dissimilar from his breakout In Two (A) which was released in March. That’s an insanely quick turn-around, even in the internet age, especially without a label breathing down his neck. You have to wonder if The Chain Industry could’ve been better if it sat longer in the oven. Lyrics could’ve been tweaked, transitions could’ve been smoothed, the scope could’ve been focused. That said, Ben Norton’s talent and potential are unquestioned, his drive and creativity are admirable. The odds are strongly in his favor that he’ll deliver something masterful in the future. Here’s hoping he finds the time for it.

— Ian Chainey

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