Metallica - S&m
The leap from shit to utter satisfaction is one that, in musical terms, often takes years upon years of practice. Getting from point A to point B is something that is commonly unforseeable and, in the end, frequently unobtainable by the majority of prospective musicians. So, what do you do when you find yourself hitting the same road twice in one career?
Well, what Metallica did in the aftermath of the solid but unspectacular Load and the abysmal Reload certainly worked. For a brief but bouyant and energenic time, it seemed they had overcome the doldrums of poor songwriting and bad marketing decisions, decisions that left a sour taste in many a mouth. How did they manage this? By getting Michael Kamen to write for and conduct an orchestra to accompany a live performance of a large cross-section of the band's musical history. So, essentially, with money and pretension. These two things can make miracles happen.
Yes, the whole idea of a symphony playing with any rock band, be it Metallica or Deep Purple (Concerto for Group and Orchestra) or anyone else, is initially and rightfully seen as a little much. When you picture the conversations that set this project on it's feet, you can't quite get your mind around how much ego-stroking must have taken place. And yet, despite the arrogant posturing and "we'll do what we want and expect your money anyway" attitude the band had adopted (or just radiated without actually thinking they were doing so), the project somehow works. It works unbelievably at times, making otherwise average tracks sound like gold and (mostly) never hurting those songs that were already enjoyable. Over 21 songs and over 2 hours later, and you can accept it for what it is. You might even feel the need to praise the band on their good idea, even if it wasn't originally theirs.
The band had been using Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstacy of Gold" for a long time as an intro piece, and the San Fransisco Orchestra get to stretch their chops a little on it before kicking into "The Call of Ktulu". This, oddly enough, won the orchestra a grammy alongside Metallica for Best Rock Instrumental. But then again, it really isn't all that odd. It's the Grammys, the most popular attention whoring contest this side of the Miss World competition. It's not until "Master of Puppets" kicks in with that all-too-familiar, "remember when we were THIS good?" riff that you start to hear how awesome the band and orchestra sound together. It really, really works, and so much credit can be given out to both the band for being at the top of their games and to Michael Kamen for composing around the band's already space-dominating material. Somehow, it manages to turn the likes of "Fuel", one of their most irritating and monotonous tracks ever, into something worth not skipping over. Like most of their live performances during this period, Jason Newsted fills in the aggression that Hetfield's vocals have and still lack to this day. He was, even then, adapting to this with enhancing his ability to actually "sing", and whatever you think of that is really beside the point.
This album is, front to back, all about the interplay between the orchestra's music and the band's music. If James and Jason had decided to ditch the vocals entirely and just let the audience sing, I think similar results would have been achieved. There are only a few truly unworthy songs across the 2 discs. Of Wolf(gang) And Man could have done without the "update", -Human is just average at best and...well, think of this; if someone were to ask you what Metallica songs you'd want performed alongside an orchestra, I think most of us would have "Enter Sandman" on our lists. But, for whatever reason, it just doesn't work. It almost sounds forced, as if the band is so attached to the song that it dares not play it live for fear of superstitious repercussion.
It's unfortunate to say so, but between this album and their next project, it would be the loss of a bassist, once again, that would signify worse things to come. Kinda funny how that keeps happening to them.
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