CD review METALLICA & SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY ‘S&M 2’

More than 20 years ago, in spring 1999, Metallica released with ‘S&M’ an album that was aiming to combine Bay Area Metal and orchestra to something special. The endeavor received varying feedback, but what’s beyond any doubt is, that the album was a next commercial success.

Two decades later, Metallica did the same exercise again, when playing two shows at Chase Centers in their hometown San Francisco. 40,000 fans from 70 countries could witness the concerts at the time, an event that will be available for everybody on August 28th through various formats and packages under the banner of ‘S&M 2.

Also this time, the setlist features the all-time-classics like ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Enter Sandman’. But in order to vary things a bit compared to the 1999 version, more new material was orchestralized. ‘Hardwired … to Self-Destruction’ and ‘Death Magnetic’ contribute with five songs in total and also the ‘Black album’ delivers a triple to the shows.

‘S&M 2’ actually contains three different approaches, songs where Metal and Classic harmonize well, Classic pieces and Metallica hits with some orchestral sparkles.

Tracks like ‘Unforgiven III’, ‘The Outlaw Torn’ and ‘All Within My Hands’ belong to the first category, all arranged in a way that the songs gain compared to the original version. Also ‘Halo on Fire’ is a track that work better in the new dress, but it’s not solely the newer stuff that scores a win. Also ‘The Call of Ktulu’, the instrumental closer from ‘Ride the Lightning’, gets a new vibe in this band & orchestra setup.

Then there are with ‘Scythian Suite, Opus 20 II’ and ‘The Iron Foundry, Opus 19’ two Classic pieces that made it on the setlist with the focus on the orchestra and both pieces feel a bit like alien elements. You can get the impression that these two tracks were needed to amplify the ‘Classic’ element. The reason why this was necessary falls into place after listening the the traditional Metallica hymns, which are also part of the show.

These timeless songs put Metallica between a rock and a hard place. How much should you move away from the original sound of masterpieces like ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ or how close should you stick to the original version, fans know for so many years? The result is a compromise, which doesn’t support either aspect. Listening to these Metallica hymns on ‘S&M 2’ feels like listening to the band that performs these songs, while the orchestra adds a few sparkles and frills here and there. The quartet plays save when it comes to their classics and avoids a bigger step out of the musical comfort zone. Unfortunately this feels like a missed opportunity of creating something really different, based on the foundation of timeless anthems in Heavy Metal.

Sticking too close the original version, like with ‘Master of Puppets’, also brings another challenge to the plate. All of a sudden you have three elements competing with each other. There is the band that plays hard and heavy, there is the orchestra that adds their piece to the total and there are enthusiastic fans, acting as a shouting choir in the chorus. No doubt, a live shows lives by the screaming crowd. We learn this nowadays the hard way. However, here it leads to a scattered total. If this was the intention, expectation are fully met, but then a regular Metallica show would be the better option.

To sum up: ‘S&M 2’ is better than the first attempt from 20 years ago and certainly the new version will become another commercial success for the Metal veterans from the Bay Area. Some of the songs are actually done very well, although the entire album feels like band and orchestra playing next to each other more than performing together as a unit. Combining two pieces of a puzzle doesn’t necessary create a great total and that’s a bit the case with this release too. The idea of making such an album is awesome and leaving the comfort-zone a bit more would have added extra excitement. ‘Let’s play safe’ is the focus more than leaving the known.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Tracklist:

  1. The Ecstasy of Gold (Live)
  2. The Call of Ktulu (Live)
  3. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Live)
  4. The Day That Never Comes (Live)
  5. The Memory Remains (Live)
  6. Confusion (Live)
  7. Moth Into Flame (Live)
  8. The Outlaw Torn (Live)
  9. No Leaf Clover (Live)
  10. Halo on Fire (Live)
  11. Intro to Scythian Suite (Live)
  12. Scythian Suite, Opus 20 II: The Enemy God And The Dance Of The Dark Spirits (Live)
  13. Intro to The Iron Foundry (Live)
  14. The Iron Foundry, Opus 19 (Live)
  15. The Unforgiven III (Live)
  16. All Within My Hands (Live)
  17. (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth (Live)
  18. Wherever I May Roam (Live)
  19. One (Live)
  20. Master of Puppets (Live)
  21. Nothing Else Matters (Live)
  22. Enter Sandman (Live)

Label: Blackened Recordings

Genre: Metal meets Classic

Release Date EU: August 28th, 2020

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