METALLICA — S&M 2 (review)

METALLICA — S&M 2 album cover Live album · 2020 · Symphonic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Vim Fuego
21 years ago when “S&M” came out, I eviscerated it.

I was being paid to write album reviews. Well, yeah, they were only a minor part of my job as an underpaid, overworked hack reporter for a small regional daily newspaper, but they got printed in the paper, so it counts! I called Metallica “…bloated rock dinosaurs of the type they once despised.” I said the double live album recorded with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra should have been cut back to a four-song EP, and the rest of the album should have been shelved as a failed experiment.

So much for the power of the poisonous pen. Metallica fans loved “S&M”.

It went at least gold in two countries, platinum in eight more, double platinum in four countries (including my home country of New Zealand), and triple platinum in Canada. And that’s just the audio version. The DVD concert film went gold in Austria, platinum in Brazil, six times platinum in the United States, and seven times platinum in Australia. In short, the whole “S&M” venture sold millions and millions of copies worldwide, and was an outstanding success.

With such a success the first time why not do it again on the 20th anniversary of the first collaboration? So once again, Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performed together on 6 and 8 September 2019, and this album is the record of that occasion.

It’s a bit different to last time though. Personnel-wise, orchestra conductor Michael Kamen had passed away in 2003, with Edwin Outwater now in place. Robert Trujillo had long since replaced Jason Newsted in Metallica. And producer Bob Rock was also long gone, with Greg Fidelman now the man in charge of the mix.

The collaboration between band and orchestra seems more thorough than the original version too. There were times on the original “S&M” where the band just completely drowned out the orchestra, who seemed only to be there for decoration. This time, it seems the orchestra is more integral to the performance.

Metallica’s introduction music, Ennio Morricone’s stirring “The Ecstasy of Gold” is usually played via a tape. This time it gets a full orchestral rendition, and segues into the classically inspired “The Call of Ktulu”. Right from the first few notes, it’s immediately obvious the collaboration between band and orchestra is more thorough than the original “S&M” concerts. There were times on “S&M” where the band just completely drowned out the orchestra, who seemed only to be there for decoration. This time, it seems the orchestra is more integral to the performance.

The extra facets added to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Day That Never Comes” by the orchestra give both of these songs a fresh new sound. The rendition of “The Memory Remains” is beautiful in a heavy yet melancholic way. The audience filling in for Marianne Faithful is particularly moving.

Even the tracks from “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” (another Metallica album I’m not keen on, but the hordes love) work really well here. “Confusion” shines with the orchestration. Lars sounds a bit puffed during “Moth Into Flame” though, lagging slightly behind the beat in the first faster section, but hey, it’s a live performance, so such things are always a possibility. Mr Ulrich gets a free pass on this one.

“The Outlaw Torn” gets it’s full ten-minute airing here, which includes the wonderful jam at the end of the song, which was foolishly trimmed from the studio original. “No Leaf Clover”, the better of two tracks originally written for the first “S&M” gets a repeat performance, with a sparkling new finish. Thankfully, the dire “-Human” doesn’t reappear.

Metal crowds aren’t really used to conductors explaining songs mid-show, but this is a reasonably common occurrence in orchestral performances. The spoken introductions to Prokofiev’s “Scythian Suite” and Mosolov’s “The Iron Foundry” do just this, and gives these pieces some context. It starts with Lars welcoming Metallica fans from dozens of countries attending the performance, and then introducing musical director Michael Tilson Thomas, who shared the background behind “Scythian Suite”. It is performed by the symphony orchestra without Metallica, and fits the program perfectly, proving classical music can be as heavy as metal. Written in 1915, the piece was originally intended for the ballet “Ala i Lolli”, but was rejected.

The collaborative performance of Russian futurist piece “The Iron Foundry” is outstanding, and is possibly the break-out performance of the entire concert. The orchestral/metal/industrial track is unbelievably heavy and mechanical, but still quintessentially organic. It segues into a beautiful introduction and rendition of orchestra and voice arrangement of “Unforgiven III”.

Apparently the late Cliff Burton first floated the idea of Metallica performing with an orchestra. In memory of Cliff, his writhing bass solo “Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” gets an airing here. Principal bassist Scott Pingel had played in metal cover bands in his teenage years and was drawn to “Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth)”, but never did anything more with it. His music interests strayed away from rock and metal, and via R&B, jazz, and fusion, ended up with a career as an orchestral musician. Pingel came up with the idea of playing the song on an upright electric bass with a bow. Initially, the song was to be a duet with Robert Trujillo, but on hearing Pingel play the song to the band, Trujillo insistent Pingel play it solo. It was the right decision. He nails Cliff’s sound and feel, but adds a modern warmth and nuance.

The final few tracks are the old classics you would always expect to hear at a Metallica concert. The orchestral representation of a battlefield at the introduction to “One” are particularly evocative. “Master of Puppets” is far more convincing a collaboration than the 1999 version. “Nothing Else Matters” was written and originally recorded with a string section, and a full orchestra only adds to the emotional depth of the song.

Overall, the orchestra adds a warmth and depth to the Metallica songs here. It seems to be a better mix than the first “S&M” album. The brass and horns add power, the strings emotion, the woodwinds beauty, and the percussion clarity. Another factor in making this the far superior orchestral collaboration is song selection. This time round it is mostly slower songs - there are no total mismatches like the dreadful messes that were “Fuel” and “Battery”. When the band does play fast, the arrangements are such that it doesn’t seem the orchestra are being left behind or just marking time until their next fill.

This could have been a pretentious mess, but it’s not. Metallica is not done as a creative force just yet. Don’t let any hack reviewers try to put you off. This album is incredible.
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Vim Fuego wrote:
6 months ago
Well, there's a double bass player who does Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth), and the Scythian Suite is just the orchestra, and those are pretty good.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
6 months ago
If it's good they must've hired someone else to play then cuz they suck now. I've never been soooooo tired of a band in all my life and i LOOOOOVE the early stuff so much.
Vim Fuego wrote:
6 months ago
This surprised me too. I expected to really hate it, and was lining up what nasty things I could say about it, but I'll have to save them for something else. ;-)
UMUR wrote:
6 months ago
I hated the original S&M, but maybe I´ll give this one a try...
DippoMagoo wrote:
6 months ago
I actually quite liked S&M, though I wasn't too interested in this one, once I saw how underwhelming the tracklist was. I'll probably give it a shot, though, and see if it surprises me. The severe lack of their classic thrash material does worry me, though.
6 months ago
Well, I won't get it. But I'm always glad to read a positive review! The efforts succeeded for someone somewhere.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
6 months ago
I'm so uninterested in this that not even a 5 star rating from every member of this site make me want to check it out. There are just way too many REAL symphonic metal bands that are infinitely more interesting. Metallica just won't go away. I wish they would :D
adg211288 wrote:
6 months ago
5 stars? Didn't expect that given that I know your thoughts on the first S&M. Maybe I'd better not ignore this after all.

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