Michael Kamen and Metallica came together to record a live album combining rock music and the symphony orchestra. The title "S&M" is short for "Symphony & Metallica". Michael Kamen had worked with the band before on the original "Nothing Else Matters" in 1991. The concert is also available on video.
James: "Michael Kamen came to us with the idea almost two years ago. He'd done projects with other rock people, like David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd. He wanted to get a little more extreme, so he chose us. I'm sure there's something more extreme -- he could have picked, like, Graveworm -- but I think we were a pretty good choice. We said, "Hell, yeah." You don't pass these things up. It took two years to pull together -- from the initial idea to deciding which orchestra to picking the songs."
S&M was not Metallica's first venture into the world of Michael Kamen and orchestras - In fact in 1993 Metallica released as the b-side of the Sad But True single (4 track version) the Elevator version of Nothing Else Matters which is a studio version with a 40 piece orchestra and Michael Kamen doing the honours on the arrangements. This is a valuable addition to any fans collection and can still be found relatively easily.
The eagerly awaited, but at the same time, low key Metallica Orchestral shows performed in early ’1999 were both recorded and later released under the name S&M. Symphony & Metallica.
Without really knowing what to expect after hitting the play button, you are greeted by the faded in crowd as per any live album. Then something different happens. Yes, it is the Ecstasy Of Gold but this time its no intro tape but a full on 80+ member orchestra. It is goose bump inspiring.
As it eventually dies the silence is interrupted by the opening pickings of The Call Of Ktulu. A rarity to say the least but performed as tight as ever. The strings slowly fill in and this instrumental offering takes on a completely new live concept. An apt insight into things to come.
The mix during this recording is very well balanced. The engineering must have been a bitch to master due the complexity of the sound. Full marks to all concerned. Early on you are hit by the legendary Master Of Puppets. Its difficult to know what parts to listen to! Half of you will be twitching away to Lars & co doing the business and the other half trying to listen in detail to what, and how Michael Kamen and his band are doing. The harmony part is so bloody nice!
With Of Wolf And Man and The Thing That Should Not Be bringing the opening quarter to a change of theme, we are treated to a new one in the shape of Fuel. How the fuck they worked out the orchestral parts to this I’ll never know. Blistering you could say. Next up is another Re-load track. The Memory Remains. Yet again, sounding flawless and as if they’d been there all along. I actually found that I listened to S&M so much that it took a while for me to adjust back to listening to the studio albums! You can’t help but hear the extra thickness of the guys in Tuxedos even when they’re not there!
The first of the new songs included on this record is No Leaf Clover. This is my personal highlight. It is awesome. Starts with a clean melody then crunches into a trademark Metallica riffathon with silent parts where James asks whether “the soothing light at then of your tunnel… is just a freight train coming your way?…”
Hero Of The Day, the heavy toon entitled Devils Dance and Bleeding Me closing the first half. No complaints yet….
One of the reasons that may have (or probably did) inspired the S&M gigs taking place is the opener on CD2. Nothing Else Matters. It doesn’t disappoint either. The strings are arranged slightly different to the Black version, which is a nice touch. We delve back to Load with the underrated track that is Until It Sleeps. This is followed by For Whom the Bell tolls which is OK but not as outstanding as some of the earlier tracks or what’s still to come.
After another orchestral intro, -Human kicks you in the teeth. The inclusion of these previously unreleased tracks is a nice touch and gives the whole album an extra point in the Value For Money stakes as well as compelling you to listen to it “just one more time”. I only hope that song may be included in future show’s as has No Leaf Clover.
Wherever I May Roam is up next and as expected sounds as good as ever. Sad But True takes us nearer the end with One taking over. A bit of a surprise considering the brutality of the last half of the song but it comes over well, especially the opening clean verses.
Sandman and Battery are the icing on the cake.
If this were a normal gig without the symphony, it would have been a healthy audio snapshot of what Metallica are like in concert. The fact it includes the orchestra and has 2 new songs makes it something special. Everyone’s heard these (well most) songs live at some point, be it at a gig or on one of the live box sets or b-sides. This is an essential album due to the fact this will never happen again (I’m guessin’ anyway!) and is Metallica in a different light. A real live treat and a must in any fans collection.