“Can This Even Be Called Music?” is our new series of music recommendation articles, brought to you by Dave Tremblay of the titular site, Can This Even Be Called Music! Dave covers a variety of unique, progressive and experimental music on his site, and we wanted to feature his writing on Heavy Blog to bring you some of the weirder, more curious music that we often tend to miss. This will be Dave’s column where he spreads the love for all the creative bands that he built his site on, so if you enjoy this, be sure to check his site as well!
It’s not often that you can call an artist who has 24 releases an up-and-coming artist. Yet, Peculate manages to be just that. In a little more than two years, the one-man project led by musician and activist Ben Norton has flooded the avant-garde metal scene with his music. In those 24 releases, there are two full-length albums, seven EPs, thirteen singles and covers, and one movie OST. Oh, and that’s notwithstanding all other music he’s been releasing under a different moniker: 32 jazz compositions, 6 classical, and 3 electronic ones, as well as being part of XYAX with me. For this article on a heavy music blog, however, we’ll focus on Peculate, and maybe I’ll write a few words on XYAX as well.
The earliest material I could trace from that project is In Disarray, Pt. I, a one-song preview of a two-part album that was supposed to come out in 2014.
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Unfortunately, it seems that this album was put on hold since. However, we’re left with what Peculate sounded like at its inception. Unlike most of its material, it’s played on a 6-string guitar – later materials use 7- and 8-string guitars, all Carvin. In terms of composition, there’s not much that has changed since, if we exclude the very recent jazz virage. Music is written in a personal, loose form of 12-tone serialism and polymetrics on multiple instruments, repeated as ostinati or developed with many variations of the same riff. The riffs themselves are often staccato, palm-muted, djent-like and very technical. The songs rarely have a fixed structure and seldom reach the 5-minute mark. A feature that truly sets the music apart is the extravagant vocals: high-pitched and intricate melodies stacked to form clustered harmonies, and also a wide variety of harsh vocals. When I hear him sing, I know it; there’s no doubt about it. One of the effects of having such a distinctive voice is that people either love it, or can’t stand it. If you’re one of the latter, I recommend you listen to the instrumental version of the songs.
Here’s another, more mature, example of his early writing, taken from Collateral Damage, Pt. I.
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Now, let’s go deeper into the full-length albums of Peculate.
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In Two (A) is the first side of a two-part album on binaries and dichotomies, and their inherently flawed characteristics. In my own opinion, it’s one of the most easy to listen to compositions from Ben. It’s a great progressive metal album with fewer than usual reliance on dodecaphonic composition and polyrhythmics – that or it’s brought in a way that makes it less apparent – instead focusing more on good ol’ riffs and chord progressions. The album goes through various phases that will delight any fan of prog metal in general: there are almost symphonic passages, heavy djent chugs, electro-influenced sections, cleaner, more atmospheric parts, and even some catchy melodies (!). I think that if I had to choose one album to introduce people to Peculate, it’d be this one. Try it out!
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Here’s a much more experimental album. The Chain Industry – Collateral Damage, Pt. II – was released in the summer of 2014, and features prominent chromaticism, tempo shifts, odd-time signatures, and du-coq-à-l’âne compositions. It also has two of his best, longest songs: the two-part “Imperial Heartbeats”, and “The End of History”. If you’re a fan of the weirder side of prog metal, this is definitely tailor-made for you.
I will now write a few words on some of Peculate’s EPs.
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Fiscal Cliffs came out two years ago, and it’s still one of my favourite releases from Peculate, and in metal generally. “Cut! Cut! Cut!” is the album’s single, and deservedly so: it wildly sways from one genre to another – an example is the woodwind chamber quintet sections right in the midst of math metal chaos. There’s a stronger experimentation on classical influences in metal music, as well as the use of counterpoint on this album, which makes it quite special to my ear.
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Right after the latter, Ben swings a(n anti-)Christmas album our way with the Anti-Chris)(mas) EP. Some parts are loosely based on the classic “Away in a Manger,” like on “From the Manger to the Grave,” but most of it is brand new material. Thus, there is some classical influence on the music, though not as strongly as on some of his other music. If you want a heavy metal album to blast at your family reunions, this is a great suggestion. Plus, I’ve got word that a new Christmas-themed release is on its way, just in time to ruin this year’s festivities! Rejoice!
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Let’s finally talk about that jazz virage. Mines in the Sand is Peculate’s latest full-fledged EP, dating from July of this year. There is a very strong jazz influence in there, much more than previously, and it takes the place of the classical music idolatry somewhat. It’s immediately noticeable with the first song’s introduction on what I believe is marimba. Not too long after the ensuing math metal breakdown or whatever, comes a genuine jazz section. Not one of these half-assed clean guitar sections with a bunch of 7 chords that last about 2 bars, of which some modern so-called “djazz” bands are fond. Nah, some true jazz composition in a metal environment. This EP is full of that, and it’s a breeze of fresh air.
The song that debuted this shift towards jazz music is the three-part, 12-minute Bouazizi.
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A very interesting composition, again full of genre-hopping and eccentricity, but this time revolving more around jazz than metal at all. In fact, metal parts of the song only appear at the end of part II, and part III, which is the core of the composition – parts I and II serving as an extended instrumental introduction.
A few noteworthy singles.
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PARTY!, a 1,000-dollar, 10-second song.
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This Sick Beat™, a protest song on Taylor Swift’s trademarking of the sentence “This Sick Beat” for merchandise. The song surprisingly went viral and was even featured in billboard.
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And, his latest, a jazz-metal reinterpretation of Drake’s Hotline Bling.
Finally, a brief word on XYAX.
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One could label as some form of technical death metal, but I don’t think it would really make it justice. As a project written with the intention of not being played – synthesized instruments were used – it explores the inhuman possibilities of shred, dexterity, and polyrhythmics. There’s also a strong atmospheric part to the Ode to the Universe (In Three Parts) EP, with excerpts from science men like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. Ben here composed and recorded all vocal melodies and harmonies, and produced the entirety of the music. We’re currently working on a sequel, full-length album. There’s also a single song on it that is longer than the whole Ode to the Universe EP. So if you like that kind of stuff, keep an eye out!
In conclusion, Peculate is for fans of heavy, avant-garde music with affinities to the jazz and classical genres. It’s a very prolific band that rarely disappoints – it never occurred to me yet – and you should give a listen to their Bandcamp page, as well as Ben’s solo compositions.
Official website: http://peculate.co/
Ben Norton’s website: http://bennorton.com/
XYAX’s website: http://xyax.net/