S&M

Metallica

Elektra Records, 1999

http://www.metallica.com

REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/08/2000

Somewhere, in the back of someone's mind, this idea made sense. Take Metallica, a band notorious for epic-styled songs and add a complete symphonic orchestra. Then, allow them to crank out through some of the San Francisco metal demigods' material in front of their hometown crowd. And, if that someone had spoken such things out loud, most of us would have found this person insane. But that's genius for you...insane.

Of course, looking at it now, it does make a great deal of sense. After all, of all the modern bands, Metallica has always had a sense of grandness - of being massive and complex - in their music. They did, after all, start their careers with lenghty opuses (opi?) like "The Four Horsemen," "Creeping Death" and "Master Of Puppets". Unlike some of their contemporaries, Metallica did have the musical chops and the material to stand alongside a large symphonic orchestra and mold their material into a new thing. That is the premise and the result of this two-CD set.

(Quick sidebar: is it just me or has Metallica been releasing nothing but two-CD sets this decade? Sure, there was the "Black Album," but then there was Live Shit: Binge And Purge, the Load/ Re-Load two-fer and the Garage, Inc. pack. How about one album per two years, guys? My wallet is thinning out!)

If the liner notes are correct, this was all composer/conductor Michael Kamen's idea. He had worked with the band on their self-titled release, arranging "Nothing Else Matters." From there, he - who had arranged Aerosmith's "Dream On" so that it could be performed with an orchestra - formed the idea that Metallica with a symphony made sense.

After he convinced the band to do it, he got the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and they all performed two shows out on the West Coast. Taped for eternity, these shows were then arranged to form S&M - which stands for sado-maso...oh wait, it's for Symphony & Metallica. (Whoops!)

Enough rambling, what about the music? Like I stated before, Metallica always possessed this epicness in their music. It was larger and bigger than anything else and the orchestra completely and securely helps bring that out. Starting with the orchestra playing "The Ecstasy Of Gold" (from Ennio Morriconne's score to The Good, The Bad & The Ugly), the orchestra seems ready and willing to give this a try.

From there, the band launches into "The Call Of Ktulu." While I've never been a big fan of their instrumentals - except for "Anasthesia" - here you get to see what I mean. The orchestra adds to the sound and makes "Ktulu" seem large and other-wordly. "Nothing Else Matters" becomes soft and tender - a change from what I was expecting. And "Wherever I May Roam" is just cool as an open and somewhat Middle Eastern quality is mixed with it.

In fact, the orchestra often lifts songs that I thought were only decent from the mud. "The Memory Remains" becomes really cool as both orchestra and audience follow Hetfield's rhythm and vocal leads. "Bleeding Me" becomes the large opus that the studio version hinted at - but here it is far better. "The Outlaw Torn" also follows "Bleeding Me" in becoming a large opus - but, and this is just me, I would have preferred "Fixxxer" to this song.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

At the same time, Hetfield's vocals become somewhat weak in a number of songs. "Of Wolf And Man" has some weak vocals, but band and orchestra lift it and make the song interesting. It is also a welcome change that they played this and not another hit song from Metallica. "Sad But True" can also be counted on that number, as does "Devil's Dance" - which begins cool, but ends up plodding through the end. However, don't think that Hetfield does a bad job. Other tracks like "One" and "Nothing Else Matters" feature stronger performances by Hetfield - who isn't just screaming the lyrics. He's actually singing them!

Along with the old songs, there are two new tracks - "No Leaf Clover" and "- Human." I am still not sure whether these were leftovers from the Metallica or Load sessions or whether they were written specifically for this experiment. While "- Human" does sound right out of Load, I also know that Metallica isn't really a band that writes more material than it knows what to do with. In any case, these songs seem to have been taken by Kamen and reworked, because they sound the closest to the orchestral side. Whereas the other songs rightfully feel like Kamen took parts of the song to highlight, here the songs seem more in tune with the orchestra. They're both good, but I expect "No Leaf Clover" to be the longer lasting.

Now, my main problem is not with the performances - each member does as told and hits their marks rather well. Drummer Lars Ulrich is amazingly subdued. Guitarist Kirk Hammett is able to deliver his solos, while bassist Jason Newsted continues to serve as Hetfield's alter ego on backing vocals. Meanwhile, the orchestra and Kamen follow their leaders quite diligently. Instead, my problem lies with the song selection.

As you can see from the back cover, the majority of the songs are from the "Black Album" and from the Load/ Re-Load sessions. This, of course, brings my biggest bone-to-pick: (*AHEM*) WHERE THE HELL IS "CREEPING DEATH"?????????

You would think that the one song that seems tailor-made for this sort-of event - "Master Of Puppets" notwithstanding - would be found here. In fact, besides "Creeping Death," I would have preferred to have heard "...And Justice For All," "Phantom Lord," "Fade To Black" or "Harvester Of Sorrow" instead of "Until It Sleeps." Note to the guys in Metallica: Didn't like the studio version, didn't like the video, didn't like the live version or the demo version. How long before they realize this? Don't tell me that, out of all the songs in Load, "Until It Sleeps" will be the one that lives on at every concert. God help us!

Besides "Until It Sleeps," I really have no problems with the other selections - other than I would have preferred to have heard some other songs than the ones we always hear at their concerts. There's nothing out of Kill 'Em All - probably because the orchestra would have died playing through "Hit The Lights" or "Seek And Destroy." (Although they do one heck of a job on "Battery.") The band sticks to playing their biggest songs and newest hits, which prevents this album from becoming the ultimate compilation we would have liked. I mean, pick some other songs. Alongside the ones I mentioned above, they could have had some of the new songs like "Where The Wild Things Are" or "Mama Said" or "Through The Never." Something other than the same tracks we hear all the time.

Oh well, it's only a minor complaint.

Now, don't let that small rant make you think I hated this album, because I do not. Overall, S&M succeeds in doing right what it sets out to do. It's a new twist on the songs and it's fun. Listen to "Fuel" or "For Whom The Bell Tolls." The band AND the orchestra are enjoying this. More importantly, the audience is enjoying the concert. They sing and chant the lyrics with passion - perhaps the loudest I've ever heard an audience be on a live CD.

Overall, if you've ever wondered what these four Bay Area boys were all about, this is as good a CD to pick as any. While it was made more with the diehard fans in mind, it is easily accessible and enjoyable. Even my brother - Celine Dion's number 17 fan - likes it, so it's that good. All that stands to be answered is whether or not these guys wille ever do it again. Ulrich promises it so at the very end of "Battery" and it would be interesting to see this again - maybe a few years down the road.

Rating: B+

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© 2000 Alfredo Narvaez and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.