Metallica – S&M2

It isn’t easy being a Metallica fan – ride or die. For every fan who loves the latest record, there are a loud contingent of fans who will scream “Only the 80’s albums!”. Or even more specific, “Only the Cliff Burton years!”. So, it goes, so it goes. As for me, I think there are things to appreciate in each Metallica album – even Lulu, their oft derided 2011 collaboration with the iconic Lou Reed. In fact, the 2017 show I saw in Seattle was one of the best stadium shows I’ve ever seen – family friendly even, if you can believe that. We aren’t in 1986 anymore, fellas. They are – to quote Grand Funk Railroad – an American band. And perhaps history will view them as one of the most successful bands in history. They’ve long since transcended the heavy metal tag.

S&M2 was announced as a sequel of sorts to – you guessed it – S&M. Symphony & Metallica was originally released in 1999, as the band was winding down their “Alternative” years. It served as a reboot and a way for fans to appreciate their classics in a new light. The orchestration weaved in and out of the riffs with ease – Metallica’s music lends itself to symphony. The concerts were held on April 21-22, 1999 while the LP was released on November 23, 1999. Notable fact: this is the last LP to feature bassist Jason Newsted. S&M2 was performed on September 6 and 8, 2019 while the LP was released on August 28, 2020. 20 years is a long time for anyone – I know I’m not the same as I was, I’m changed. This is also true of Metallica – older, wiser, and Rob Trujillo has long since replaced Jason Newsted on bass (Rob is now the longest serving bassist in Metallica’s history). So how does it hold up? S&M2 is a stranger, stronger, more confident counterpart to the 1st album.

Part One

Let’s get it out of the way – there are overlaps between the two S&M albums. Remember what I said? Metallica’s fans can be tough critics. If you loved the original symphony versions of these songs, you SHOULD find much to love here. Slight variations in orchestration, different vocal nuances, different banter. The sound quality is great with a wall of sound employed at times. There is also more crowd interaction, which I enjoyed in these COVID times. The album starts off exactly the same way as the 1st – Ennio Morricone’s instrumental The Ecstasy of Gold leading into the instrumental The Call of Ktulu. It is exhilarating and a nice way to link the two eras. Strings swell, guitars rage – you don’t hear James Hetfield’s vocals until halfway through the 3rd song, an update of Master of Puppet’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. That’s almost 15 minutes opening an album without one of the most iconic voices in musical history – ballsy. And it works. Part 1 balances the old and new, with some Dad Rock quips (or Granddad quips at this point). My favorite is before Moth Into Flame – “Should we play some more? Well, we’re gonna anyway…you know that”. Thanks James. It brought a smile to my face. The Day That Never Comes had an amazing studio version, but it didn’t soar the way it does here. The symphony is so imbued with this song, it is hard to believe it wasn’t originally written like this. Horns, strings – it gives the song with a sense of majesty. The band is locked into a groove – it is truly breathtaking. Halo on Fire closes out part 1 – what I love about this song is that it one of their recent songs (2016) but feels like it could have been written / released at any point in their career. This is the definitive version of the song – the symphony adds so much drama and menace. A well-timed string refrain does much for atmosphere.

Part Two

This is where most reviews are saying the album goes off the rails. And it does – but in a good way. Part two opens with heavy dialogue / audience interaction and two symphony pieces – Scythian Suite, Opus 20 II: The Enemy God and the Dance of the Dark Spirits and The Iron Foundry, Opus 19. For music theory purists, enthusiasts, and those with an open mind – this is fantastic, unexpected, and a way to segue back into the show. It puts you right in the stadium with the band and other fans. It leads into The Unforgiven III – but it isn’t the full band yet. This is just James Hetfield singing with the San Francisco Symphony. It is my favorite song they’ve done with symphony – it is breathtaking. It is also my favorite song from The Unforgiven saga – it is just a shame part II has never been done with symphony. It is a slower, sad song already – but the orchestration gives it a sense of hope & longing that is inspiring. The delivery is cinematic – those strings really tug on the emotions. This song features some of my favorite lyrics – here, they are delivered beautifully. “How can I be lost / If I got nowhere to go” and “How can I blame you / When it’s me I can’t forgive?”. It reaches a climax with James pleading “Forgive me / Forgive me not / Forgive me!”. All Within My Hands is reimagined from the St. Anger studio counterpart. I know so many folks hate that album – but I disagree with you. Here, the song thrives with its orchestral backing, the full band joining in after a brief intro. The lyrical self-loathing of someone struggling with alcoholism comes to the ‘fore here. It takes a song that sounded angry, violent, and aggressive in the studio and makes it feel confessional, sad, and cathartic. Beautiful. I’ve embedded this song below. The 2nd half of this part serves as a greatest hits which is the only way to close out a Metallica show. Of these hits, only Nothing Else Matters did not appear on the first S&M. It is one of my favorite Metallica songs and the subtle orchestration enhances this song. Amazingly, after playing this song thousands of times, it still sounds fresh. “Forever trusting who we are” sounds like a motto for the 40 year career of Metallica. Perfection.

Verdict: Perfect Sequel

For Fans of: Queen, Scorpions, Moody Blues, Anthrax, Megadeth

Part 1

  1. The Ecstasy of Gold
  2. The Call of Ktulu
  3. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  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

Part 2

  1. Intro to Scythian Suite
  2. Scythian Suite, Opus 20 II: The Enemy God and the Dance of the Dark Spirits
  3. Intro to the Iron Foundry
  4. The Iron Foundry, Opus 19
  5. The Unforgiven III
  6. All Within My Hands
  7. (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth
  8. Wherever I May Roam
  9. One
  10. Master of Puppets
  11. Nothing Else Matters
  12. Enter Sandman

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