Album Review: Metallica – S&M2

Cover art for Metallica S&M2

Metallica continues to push boundaries and expand their musical horizons, nearly 40 years after these pioneers of heavy metal got their start, with the August 28 release of S&M2, their second live collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony.

Metallica first made history in 1999 with S&M their initial concert with the San Francisco Symphony, an unprecedented endeavor that rewarded the band with a multi-platinum live album. They return with the same symphony, and a new bass player in Robert Trujillo, who replaced Jason Newsted a few years after the recording of S&M. It was the late (and bassist for the band) Cliff Burton’s idea to combine heavy metal and classical music.

Recorded in 2019 at the Chase Center in San Francisco, S&M2 relies more on Metallica’s post Black Album career,  adapting their newer material since the original S&M was released, along with a number of their popular hits. The nearly 2 ½ hour, 22-song S&M2 features five songs off the last two Metallica albums of original material and nine since 1995’s Reload. Two of the 22 tracks function as introductions to “Scythian Suite” and “The Iron Foundry” the lone classical arrangements played. Thus, of the 22 S&M2 tracks, 17 make up Metallica originals and S&M2 features 11 songs also on S&M.

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Metallica S&M2 Album Review

Unlike S&M, you don’t get any new songs, but like it’s predecessor, S&M2 offers a thoroughly different approach to playing Metallica music. Think of it like a favorite food dish prepared just the way you like it but with some extras added on.

S&M2 opens with “The Ecstasy of Gold” from the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly which Metallica has used to start their concerts since 1983. But instead of a pre-recorded track, the San Francisco Symphony plays the piece followed by the Ride the Lightning instrumental “The Call of Ktulu.”  This opening follows how S&M started and in many respects makes a lot of sense considering Metallica plays with a symphony.

Whether or not this was the idea, but starting with two instrumentals gives a sort of first-hand acknowledgement to the symphony players, and arguably, the stars of this show. We know what Metallica sounds like, but how do they sound backed by an orchestra?

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” follows and doesn’t rise anywhere near the original with just too much instrumentation going on and it loses the original’s emotional punch. However, the rest of the first half of this show brings songs from the last 25 years of Metallica’s catalog with mostly exceptional performances.

“The Day That Never Comes,” a yet to be considered classic from 2008’s Death Magnetic works very well and the sold-out audience delivers the ending chant on “The Memory Remains” in stellar form. “Confusion” off their latest Hardwired…To Self-Destruct follows and sounds a lot like  “Am I Evil” at the start, has its moments, but slumbers a bit at times. “Moth Into Flame” fits right in with the symphony, an awesome pick off the latest album but while “The Outlaw Torn” off 1996’s Load has a hard time keeping up, the ending is so worth it.

Both “No Leaf Clover” which the band debuted for S&M and Halo on Fire” mosey on a bit, but stick around for the jam that closes out “Halo on Fire.”

The San Francisco Symphony invites Metallica on their turf for “Scythian Suite” and “The Iron Foundry” which deserve at least one pass through but you can skip “The Unforgiven 3.” It just doesn’t work in this setting, but from here on out Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony work in unison to accomplish the end goal Burton probably had in mind.

The last half of “All Within My Hands” sets the tone before the instrumental homage to Burton, performed mostly by a symphony member, for “Anesthesia – Pulling Teeth” from Metallica’s debut album Kill “Em All.” The symphony adds needed texture to the meandering “Wherever I May Roam” (I still don’t understand why this is a popular song) and the last four pull out the stops to end on a high note.

The San Franciso Symphony contributes the opening war sounds instead of a prerecorded production for “One,” it’s pretty hard to mess up “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters” fully embraces all the extra players and “Enter Sandman” closes things out in grand fashion.

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Like all live albums, you don’t experience hearing and witnessing the show in person, and that’s what you don’t get in S&M2. You get a taste of what it was like. I have a feeling, for this one-time concert, those in attendance will never forget and probably talked about this event weeks later.

Yep, Metallica does things their own way always striving to break boundaries and barriers and laying down tracks with an orchestra offers a big glimpse into the band’s persona.

S&M2 probably doesn’t do it for some fans, those who lap up anything and everything Metallica releases certainly enjoy it, but certainly the music major and those who play in symphonies, whether professionally or in local production, could and should find an interesting perspective between this rather cool collaboration between the career of a heavy metal band and an entire orchestra who get played to pay classical music adored by a select few just like metal.

It cannot be easy either for the members of Metallica or the nearly 100 orchestra players to all get on the same page, as Metallica enters symphony land with their own material while the orchestra musicians dive into the world of rock music.

So, perhaps this partnership proves math isn’t the only universal language. Whether you contribute to a Tchaikovsky piece on trombone or play electric guitar for Metallica, both turn the page at the same time.

Grade: B

Metallica S&M2 Track List:

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