The 90’s were a prolific but controversial decade for Metallica. Between cutting their hair short and their experimentation with Blues and Country and Western, people often view ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’ as the controversial albums. In retrospect, the decade began and ended with musical controversy as well.
Metallica: Metallica & San Francisco Symphony: S&M2
Release Date: 28 August 2020
Words: Brandon Oberkrieser
Although their ’91 self titled album, aka ‘The Black Album’, has gone on to become one of the best selling albums of all time and is home to some of the most classic Heavy Metal songs ever, it was not without controversy; the tempos were slower, the production was glossier, and while the band had played ballads before, this album had a love song on it called ‘Nothing Else Matters’ that came complete with a string arrangement.
Little did Metallica or their fans realize at the time, but this song would be the catalyst for how the band would choose to end the decade, with an idea that left many fans scratching their heads at the time. Metallica would play two shows with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
Black Album producer Bob Rock suggested the string arrangement for the now classic ‘Nothing Else Matters’, and the band enlisted composer and conductor Michael Kamen to do the honors.
Kamen had a long list of film scores to his name (including Die Hard and Lethal Weapon), but also a long list of Rock and Roll collaborations with such legends as Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton and Aerosmith. Famously, the band loved the string arrangement, but it felt a bit too out of their comfort level at the time, and the strings were turned a bit low in the mix.
Nonetheless, this collaboration led to a run in between the two backstage at an awards show and Metallica expressed interest in a future collaboration. A handful of years later, this collaboration would finally start to come to fruition.
Eventually, it was announced that over 21 and 22 April ’99, at the Berkeley Community Theater in San Franciso, CA, Metallica would be teaming up with Michael Kamen and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for a project called S&M (‘Symphony & Metallica’).
Many fans saw this announcement as another musical betrayal from a band who over the last decade had taken more and more steps away from their Thrash Metal roots.
Additionally, when looking at past collaborations between Rock bands and orchestras, S&M seemed like a project that at its worst would be a failed experiment, or at its best, would be a passable but dated experiment already attempted by bands like Deep Purple and The Moody Blues in the ’60s and ’70s.
And while Michael Kamen had a history of Rock collaborations himself, most all of those were one-offs, not full fledged concerts with reimagined arrangements of classic songs.
Let us also not ignore the fact that many Heavy Metal fans often tend to be purists, especially when it comes to classic songs like ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Master Of Puppets’ and ‘One’.
Despite all of this, S&M became the hottest ticket in town and the talk of the Rock world.
In November 1999, the album and movie were released for everybody to hear. Featuring 19 arrangements of songs from the Metallica catalog, plus 2 previously unreleased songs, the album became another commercial and critical hit for the band.
The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and has since sold more than eight million copies worldwide.
The orchestra arrangement of ‘The Call Of Ktulu’, the instrumental originally released on their ’84 sophomore album ‘Ride The Lightning’, earned the band and Michael Kamen a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and one of the new songs ‘No Leaf Clover’ proved to be a hit for the band on radio.
The album proved to be so successful, Metallica even started a trend of Rock bands wanting to collaborate with an orchestra; Scorpions in 2000 with their album ‘Moment Of Glory’ and KISS in 2003 with their album ‘Symphony: Alive IV’ are two such examples.
Not only was this album a success commercially and with critics, but it is held in high regard by Metallica fans.
It has an incredible selection of songs from their catalog. Featuring deep cuts such as ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’, as well as classics like ‘Master Of Puppets’ and radio hits like ‘Hero Of The Day’, the album acts as a great overview of their career from its beginning through the ’90s.
Additionally, there are arrangements that many fans now view as the definitive versions; this argument could be made for ‘The Call Of Ktulu’ and the underrated ‘Load’ closer ‘The Outlaw Torn’.
With all of this in mind, it was a welcome surprise to see Metallica announce a 20th anniversary celebration in 2019 called S&M2.
Teaming up again with the San Francisco Symphony, they collaborated with Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and conductor Edwin Outwater to make this project a reality.
Not only was this a celebration of what they accomplished in ’99, but also a great way to pay tribute to Michael Kamen who passed in 2013.
While the project features arrangements from the original ’99 performance, Metallica is never a band content to rest on their laurels. They incorporated arrangements of songs released since the first S&M and also pushed themselves to new musical frontiers.
This is evident with the performance of classical pieces such as ‘The Skythian Suite’ (performed by the orchestra without the band) and ‘The Iron Foundry’ (performed by the orchestra with Metallica ), as well as arrangements of their own songs like ‘The Unforgiven III’ featuring the orchestra and James Hetfield on vocals only (no guitar and no other band members).
In October 2019, a few short weeks after the concerts, S&M2 played in select movie theaters around the globe.
Now on 28 August 2020, Metallica will be releasing the project formally in a number of packages including Blu Ray, DVD, LP, CD and Digital options.
Produced by Greg Fidelman with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, the S&M2 live album captures more than two and a half hours of James, Lars, Kirk and Robert joining forces with the nearly 80-strong SF Symphony.
The concert film is a brand-new edit done by Joe Hutching (Through The Never) and both the audio and visuals have been taken to the next level from the October 2019 theatrical version that played in over 3,700 cinemas worldwide.
The original performance in 1999, while once looked at as a possible failed experiment, ended up being a groundbreaking, trend setting project.
Twenty years later, its popularity and influence not only lives on, but is being continued and grown with S&M2.