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When I first heard about METALLICA's newest release, S&M (a double entendre for Symphony & Metallica), my first thought was just another commercial effort to garner some bucks. Then I heard the two singles on Chicago radio: "Hero of the Day" and "Creeping Death".
"Creeping Death" sounded like traditional live METALLICA: loud, hard, and damn good. Much of the symphony sound was lost behind some of the guitar riffs. It sounded good as "Creeping Death", but the symphony added little in just a few parts. So far, I wasn't impressed.
Then I heard "Hero of the Day". In its original release, not a bad song. A smooth ballad with a feel similar to "Nothing Else Matters" off the BLACK ALBUM. But the symphony sound really took the song a step further. The entire feel of the song changes, making it more dramatic and delivering a stronger impact.
My curiosity piqued, I hit my local Crow's Nest (a little pricey, but they carry everything, including a massive selection of rock/metal import CD's and singles, and they don't have thousands of posters of flavor-of-the-month pop stars staring you in the face from every aisle - the place is a rock/metal fan's dream) and bought a copy. My first surprise was that the album was actually a 2 CD set.
My second surprise restored my faith in the reasoning behind the album: Michael Kamen.
Michael Kamen is most widely known for his motion picture soundtracks, going way back to 1976. Rock and metal fans probably already have the soundtracks he put together for LAST ACTION HERO and the two TALES FROM THE CRYPT flicks. He orchestrated the movie PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, and more recently put together the music for EVENT HORIZON and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME? The man has a tremendous list of credits, and a lot of them deal with my kind of music. And he probably flat out doesn't have time for a lackadaisical effort to make a quick buck.
So I popped it into the CD changer for the ride home and gave it a listen. I was impressed! The two CD's (and roughly $20 US) get you 21 songs in all, most of which come from the black album and later.
As the radio singles have demonstrated, the later, "quieter" METALLICA is better suited to the symphonic mix. While songs like "Master of Puppets" and "Battery" were stretched to accomodate the orchestra's input, the heavier guitar portions of the songs dominate the tracks. Similar problems made "For Whom the Bell Tolls" an odd choice.
Of their earlier music, "Call of Ktulu" and "The Thing That Should Not Be" really shine. These Lovecraft-influenced songs really pick up an extra, more somber note with the orchestra backing. It's too bad they didn't go for "Fade to Black".
Now, even if you're the type of fan that refuses to listen to LOAD or RELOAD (I've got friends that call them "Load of Crap" and "ReLoad of Crap"), give these songs a chance. If you've got any appreciation for classical music (and I'm talking Wagner or Beethoven here, not the weak-sauce nature-loving shit with the piccolos and chimes), I think you'll really get into some of these tracks. I already mentioned liking "Hero of the Day", and I felt "Nothing Else Matters" translated very well.
And then, of course, there's "One". How can they leave out what is considered by many to be METALLICA's signature song? I'll leave you to experience this one on your own.
Even now, love or hate their evolving style, METALLICA's live work continues to kick some ass and S&M is no exception.
I give this one five skulls.
This review copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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