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Monday, May 29, 2017

987. Metallica / S&M. 1999. 3.5/5

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Given that by this stage of their careers Metallica had done just about everything, it was probably only a matter of time before they decided they should play with an orchestra supporting them, and record it, and release it. And why not. They weren’t doing anything for money anymore, it was all about artistic freedom, or something like that. For Christ’s sake, they had probably reached the final straw with me earlier in the year, when I had seen them live and they had played “Motorbreath”… unplugged. UNPLUGGED FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!! So nothing was a surprise anymore, and I showed a lack of interest for this album and subsequent video for some time after its release.

Eventually I was convinced by those around me I should check it out, that it was brilliant, that I would love it. I admit I doubted it. I felt as though the band had sucked every last morsel out of me by now (how wrong I was) and I went in with eyes and ears reasonably open considering.
In the long run there are three sections to this album. The opening third of the double album is quite superb, which probably should have been obvious given the songs that were performed and the brilliance that Metallica brings to the live environment. The Michael Kamen conducted San Francisco Symphony are fantastic on Metallica’s traditional opening of “The Ecstasy of Gold”, before the band joins them on stage for the brilliant instrumental “The Call of Ktulu”. From here the hits keep coming, enhanced by the symphony orchestra behind the band but not overbearing the band itself. “Master of Puppets”, with the crowd singing enthusiastically, sounds brilliant, as does “Of Wolf and Man”, the wonderful “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Fuel”. All are terrific. The biggest and best surprise was how good “The Memory Remains” sounds here, so much better than the studio version with a heavier and fuller sound live than it does on the album. The first of two new songs follows, and “No Leaf Clover” is not terrible.
Next comes what I would term the middle third of the double album, and here is where I get lost. It probably isn’t the fault of the musicians involved, more the fact that the songs involved rank very low on my interest scale than the ones that have come before them. “Hero of the Day” is as boring as the studio version, “Devil’s Dance” offers nothing any more inspirational and “Bleeding Me” is long and bloated, and these three songs close out the first disc of the album in mediocrity. Then just to keep everyone in hiatus, the second disc opens with “Nothing Else Matters”. Oh dear. The following songs, some of which are great and some of which are average, just don’t seem to work with the orchestra behind them. They either don’t need that kind of backing or the backing they get doesn’t quite gel.
The final third of the album rescues this middle section for the most part, but it would be difficult for them not to. “One” followed by “Enter Sandman” and then “Battery” is a trio of closing tracks that would take some beating by any band, orchestra or not. Overall though these three songs as well are quite sufficient under their own power without any backing.

Much like the concept itself, this album is worth a listen to hear what can be done to mostly great songs if they are combined with further musical backing, before then reverting to the original concept of four guys on stage blazing away under their own power.

Rating: The great songs are still great, and the average still average. 3.5/5

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