1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 103

Bahamut, by Hazmat Modine
Suggested by Matt Smith

Bahamut, by Hazmat Modine… gotta be Death Metal, right?

As far as word choice goes, you can’t get much more Metal than this. “Bahamut” is an Islamic sea monster that underpins the support of the world. “Hazmat” is a portmanteau of Hazardous and Materials. “Modine” is… okay, Modine is a brand of heater, but as Meatloaf says, two outta three ain’t bad. I’m seeing album covers depicting a grey and ashen graveyard, starkly lit and foreboding, with Hazmat Modine written in such a filigreed and spike-strewn font that it’s almost crippling to read.

It’s therefore a massive surprise to discover that Hazmat Modine are a New York Jazz Blues combo sporting a fine brass section and a wonderful characterful vocalist. Never judge a book by its cover, folks.

Bahamut starts strongly with the excellent Yesterday Morning, which sets out Hazmat Modine’s stall with perfect clarity. The music is breathy and lazy, almost slurring from the strings and drumbeats. It’s a Speakeasy sound with a clandestine Prohibition feel. There’s a number of well-travelled styles at play, bringing a worldly, exploratory vibe to the stage. We’re in a Turkish market one minute, then a Louisiana Bayou, then a Chicago nightclub, then a Hawaiian beach, then an Eastern European festival. At one point we’re even in a Mos Eisley Cantina, but I guess we should leave the space travel to Spiritualized.

The tracks feel packed with instruments, and indeed there are a host of sideline cul-de-sacs and boulevards to explore in the open world of each. There’s tuba, sax, harmonica, lute, claviola, saxophone, and many many MANY different guitars. There’s even something called a Cimbalom, which only made me crave a Danish pastry. (A Cimbalom is a type of Chordophone, so… none the wiser.)

Special mention must be made of the vocal performances, because that’s very much what they are: performances. Wade Schuman gurns and churns through each verbal track, cribbing from Tom Waits here and Les Claypool there, with a touch of Screaming Jay Hawkins and a truckload of Cab Calloway to boot. He acts out each song with Jim Carrey overabundance, and when it’s backed with swinging blues and harrumphing brasses it’s pure entertainment. Nowhere is this more apparent in my standout track Who Walks In When I Walk Out? I’d also single out the title track Bahamut for praise, as well as any of the three tracks that are accompanied by the Mongolian Throat Singers Huun-Huur-Tu.

Bahamut is an eclectic charm offensive that drags you through a musical hedge, backwards and by the soles of your feet. It’s played with joy, and with irreverence, and with boundless style. I give it a strong 8/10, overjoyed that it wasn’t a growling cacophony from po-faced, cargo-shorted beardos.

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