Metallica - S&M2
Blackened Recordings
Heavy/Symphonic Metal
Disc 1: 10 songs (1:0727) Disc 2: 11 songs (1:16:00)
Release year: 2020
Metallica
Reviewed by Goat

Summarising the world's most famous heavy metal band returning to a style that previously won them much acclaim, both mainstream and from fans, is more difficult than you'd think. After hard rock duo Load and Reload and covers record Garage Inc, an orchestral live album seemed a step sideways for Metallica, not least in retrospect for being the final hurrah before the fatal St Anger that so irredeemably ruined the band in many fans' eyes. Yet the seemingly sado-masochistic S&M was something of a triumph, showing a mainstream audience that "dumb" heavy metal could be intellectual by incorporating classical elements that brought us ignoble savages up into polite company! And it marks a possible start point for the band's obsession with regaining the same acclaim; subsequent experimentations from James, Lars and co has been so leftfield and artsy as to be deranged, from Lulu's near-unlistenable collaboration with the late Lou Reed to bizarre concert recording/movie Through the Never - both deeply flawed but somehow more interesting in retrospect than studio albums Death Magnetic and Hardwired... to Self-Destruct.

The trouble is that Metallica are not experimenting for the fans, who are a disparate group but generally good-natured and happiest when the band are at their heaviest. Instead, Metallica are experimenting for themselves and the results are all too easily dismissible as the last desperate gasps for attention from a bunch of self-entitled millionaires. S&M2 is no different; a repetition of S&M, schoolboy-copied homework that faintly reproduces its strengths, rarely builds on them, and magnifies its failures. There seems little genuine artistic experimentation, no desire to see how Metallica songs could be transformed by an orchestra - it copies the start of the tracklisting, with the beautiful Ecstasy of Gold (RIP Ennio Morricone!) leading directly into The Call of Ktulu. The main difference is that the focus shifts from the Loads toward recent albums, so although missing Of Wolf And Man and Fuel we do get reproductions of Moth Into Flame, Confusion, Halo on Fire, and The Day That Never Comes that vary wildly in quality. As usual, the slower, more measured songs do better, and so The Day That Never Comes works quite well with the orchestral backing even during the faster "thrashy" parts due to how melodic they are, although it is spoiled a little by James Hetfield sounding strained. Confusion is probably next best, a repetitive and overlong song but with groovy riffing enhanced by the complex symphonic flourishes, while Moth Into Flame and Halo on Fire are good songs but the orchestra does little for them outside of a couple of moments such as the latter's chorus.

This is primarily a Metallica concert however gimmicky, so of course their bizarre obsession with the completely overplayed The Memory Remains continues over better songs from the Loads (Poor Twisted Me and Wasting My Hate personal picks for promising orchestral make-overs). The orchestra is fantastic at points and at others is an afterthought and accompaniment to songs rather than essential part of them, aside from a couple of inconsequential moments stacked together at the start of disc 2 with orchestra-only Sergei Profokiev's Scythian Suite, Opus 20: The Enemy God and the Dance of the Dark Spirits and Metallica joining in on Alexander Mosolov's The Iron Foundry, Opus 19, as well as two awkwardly lengthy pieces from Lars and the conductor introducing them. They're followed by The Unforgiven III and, ye gods, All Within My Hands, so it's not exactly a shock if you find yourself skipping a large part of that second CD! The band's early material is utterly neglected, so no, say, Wagnerian The Four Horsemen or Beethoven-esque Seek and Destroy are considered, but we do get an awkward and mawkish stand-up bass cover of Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth). Ride the Lightning is represented by the aforementioned (obviously thrilling) Call of Ktulu and For Whom the Bell Tolls, frontloading the first CD and promising much that is unfulfilled by the rest of the release. Master of Puppets' title track is all the space that that classic gets, And Justice For All might as well not exist outside of One, and we get a one-two Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman to end things. Once again The Outlaw Torn is the surprise highlight due to being exactly what is promised, a Metallica song given a whole new leash of life thanks to the symphonic elements. And No Leaf Clover is a reminder of when the band were engaged enough to compose new music especially for an event like this!

Expecting too much from Metallica is something of a fools' game at this stage of their careers, yet there's an insistent fan voice inside you that likes to imagine how much better S&M2 could have been. Why not throw in more leftfield choices instead of the standard live setlist? Dust off I Disappear to take the Fuel spot here, do a timely cover or two, please fans with Harvester of Sorrow, Orion, and Fade to Black (surely the perfect pick for symphonic backing!), for the love of all the gods retire The Memory Remains (how about Until It Sleeps as a replacement?) and allow the orchestra more equal footing instead of pushing them into the interlude position! The concert as a whole doesn't even sound that good thanks to the compressed production and Hetfield's voice deterioration. Even if we view S&M2 for what it is rather than what it could have been, it's still disappointing and although fans will find bright spots this is a faint echo compared to the first S&M.

Killing Songs :
The Call of Ktulu, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Day That Never Comes, The Outlaw Torn
Goat quoted no quote
Other albums by Metallica that we have reviewed:
Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Metallica - Ride the Lightning reviewed by Adam and quoted CLASSIC
Metallica - Reload reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 62 / 100
Metallica - The Videos 1989-2004 DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Metallica - Some Kind Of Monster DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
To see all 16 reviews click here
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