Metallica / San Francisco Symphony / Exceeding expectations with S&M2
27 August 2020
They say lightning never strikes twice and this might be especially true when it comes to sequels. ‘S&M2’, the recent collaboration between Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony, proves that this old saying is simply that.
With the help of conductor Edwin Outwater, musical director Michael Tilson Thomas, arranger Bruce Coughlin, and producer Greg Fidelman, Metallica not only succeeded performing live with the orchestra, but also exceeded expectations set by the original S&M twenty years ago.
Metallica/San Francisco Symphony: S&M2 (Vertigo)
Release Date: 28 August 2020
Words: Brandon Oberkrieser
Recorded live over two days in September 2019, ‘S&M2’ starts off in similar fashion as the original; the orchestra performs Metallica’s now legendary entrance music ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’ by Ennio Morricone to welcome the band members to the stage, before band and orchestra join forces to break into the powerful instrumental ‘The Call Of Kthulu’.
What separates the two ‘S&M’ performances however, is the sound of the respective recordings.
While the original 1999 recording sounds powerful, crisp and clean, ‘S&M2’ manages the same while also better capturing the live feel of the band and the roar and singing of the audience in attendance. While the mix of ‘S&M’ does not silence the crowd, they are definitely pushed farther down in volume than on ‘S&M2’.
Hearing the crowd sing along to ‘The Ecstacy Of Gold’ on this new collection, reminds you this is undoubtedly a live experience and it is an experience that is equal parts raucous, exciting and joyous.
Furthermore, there is a warmth to the production of ‘S&M2’ that allows the many individual musical parts to breathe and stand out more. Even on some of the original arrangements from the first ‘S&M’ that are featured in this new set, there are parts that stand out clearer than on its predecessor.
The first disc of this double live album is a powerful, near perfect set. ‘The Day That Never Comes’ is the first new arrangement that did not appear on the original ‘S&M’ and it proves to be a perfect selection.
With its mix of melody and heaviness, the orchestra weaves in and out to add to both the beauty and epicness of the music.
‘Halo On Fire’, which closes the first disc, elevates what was already an epic closer to Disc 1 of ‘Hardwired… To Self Destruct’, by adding to its power as the song continues to build from its soft verses to its soaring choruses and uptempo, melodic solo section.
MetalTalk’s coverage of Metallica’s S&M2 release continues with this LIVE event, hosted by Metallicast- THE Metallica Podcast.
Scott Pingel (Principal Bassist) and Doug Rioth (Principal Harpist) of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra will be online discussing their roles in the production and taking questions.
Two other new arrangements, ‘Confusion’ and ‘Moth Into Flame’ are tight, powerful renditions, but compared to other tracks are not as enhanced by the addition of the orchestra.
Michael Kamen arrangements from the first ‘S&M’ round out the first act. ‘The Memory Remains’ is an improved performance from the 1999 original, thanks to the relentless and loud audience participation.
With the removal of the vocal effects that were included in the original recording of ‘No Leaf Clover’, the ‘S&M2’ version better captures the live sound of the band and lets the vocals of James Hetfield, as well as the music arrangement, better shine through.
Additionally, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ and ‘The Outlaw Torn’ were both stand out tracks twenty years ago and S&M2 does nothing to diminish their impact, with both sounding very lively.
As great as the first act is, it is the second act that really makes ‘S&M2’ in my opinion.
The experiment of the original was the actual act of combining Metallica with an orchestra.
Twenty years later, due to the success of the original, this is no longer a surprising concept.
Despite this, ‘S&M2’ manages to be more experimental and adventurous than its predecessor, pushing Metallica to new musical frontiers.
Disc 2 opens up with two classical pieces. The first, taken from the obscure ‘The Scythian Suite’, allows the orchestra to perform and shine on its own, before Metallica joins them for the second classical piece, ‘The Iron Foundry’.
This is followed up by arguably the most striking arrangement of the entire concert as the symphony plays the full arrangement of ‘The Unforgiven III’, featuring James Hetfield on vocals only. This proves to be an amazing showcase for the power as well as underrated soulfulness of his voice.
‘St. Anger’ closer ‘All Within My Hands’ gets the acoustic treatment next, with the orchestra adding a lushness and eerie beauty to the arrangement.
These two versions will quite possibly become the definitive versions of both songs among Metallica fans.
The adventure of the second act comes to an epic conclusion, when San Francisco Symphony Principal Bassist Scott Pingel performs an emotional, goosebump inducing tribute to the late Cliff Burton with a rendition of ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’.
The second act then closes out with the powerful greatest hits onslaught of ‘Wherever I May Roam’, ‘One’, ‘Master Of Puppets’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Enter Sandman’.
Arguably better than the album, is the gorgeous film.
Beautifully shot and edited, the concert movie does a fantastic job of capturing the band and orchestra in all of their glory.
Watching the emotion, the sweat, and the intensity of nearly 90 musicians on stage, playing in the round, with the incredible production values Metallica fans have become accustomed to, is unparalleled.
I would be remiss if I ignored the smiles; this film captures the fun and joy each performer is having making music together.
The original 1999 release of S&M is an historic, landmark moment in the career of Metallica and that is saying a great deal considering the live legacy of these Heavy Metal legends.
While it seemed like an unlikely musical match the first time around, it seemed equally unlikely that they would be able to match, nevermind exceed expectations, twenty years later.
By choosing many of the best arrangements from the first and adding exciting new arrangements, including ones that further push the boundaries of what a Heavy Metal band is supposed to do, Metallica not only succeeded with ‘S&M2’ but created another historic, landmark performance in their still growing and relevant live legacy.