Album released this week in… 1999: Metallica – S&M

s&mWHAT first springs to mind when you think of ‘bombastic’ music? Muse perhaps? Matt Bellamy’s falsetto and wailing guitar sure makes for an epic combination. There’s also Queen, and that Wembley performance. But perhaps one of my favourite performances that fits into this category is Metallica’s S&M. First conceived by late bassist Cliff Burton, the live album majestically combines Classical music with Metal to create a performance with a difference.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of JS Bach and Deep Purple’s 1969 orchestral/rock performance, the concert took place over two nights to create a sprawling symphony. The Orchestral arrangements (played by the San Francisco Symphony) are absolutely spot on. Instead of something that ‘fills the gaps’ the arrangements give Metallica’s tunes new life. It can make ‘Master of Puppets’ sound more dramatic more than it ever has. It can make ‘Nothing Else Matters’ obscenely beautiful. It’s a match made in heaven, and even highlights the similarities between Classical and Metal. Truly, it’s an album made for stadiums.

However, it’s the big hits that really stand out. Famous hits ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘One’ are by far the standout hits on this album. Reinventing your best known tracks is never easy, but in one swoop, Metallica make a whole bunch of their own songs accessible to a whole new audience. While the album as a whole may be slightly bloated at over two discs, 21 tracks and 133 minutes, those snippets of excellence make it worth the length.

But a trim in length wouldn’t have killed this record. While obviously making the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity, the album (dare I say it) does drag slightly, perhaps due to the inclusion of tracks like ‘Human’, which was originally a b-side. Maybe this album should have been reserved for the hits? But if there is one thing S&M does best, its capture the essence of Metallica’s live performances. ‘COME ON!’ James Hetfield shouts on ‘Enter Sandman’, the crowd responding with a perfectly in time sung response.

While Metallica are one of the most famous and recognisable bands in Thrash Metal, play S&M to someone not familiar with the genre, or not a fan of Metal, and you have the potential to create a fan. S&M feels like a very open album. The listener isn’t trapped behind walls of Metal. The sprawling, magnificent music lets the listener sink into the albums many layers of sound.

S&M may not be the best live album of all time (to me that title still belongs to Stop Making Sense), but it’s truly an experience to listen to. Metal and Classical is a combination that no one thinks to compare, yet work together so effortlessly. S&M showcases this, as well as Metallica’s extravagant live performances. That in itself makes it a landmark in Metal.

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