Over twenty years ago American heavy metal band Metallica collaborated with the San Francisco Symphony on their titled live album, S&M, at a time when pairing with an orchestra for an artist was something of a novelty. Since then the music world has seen several symphonic offerings from the likes of Neil Diamond, Kiss, Aerosmith and even Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley dropped a release.

And Metallica are back doing it again to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the original S&M concert in 1999, and to mark the grand opening in their home town of San Francisco’s Chase Centre last year.

The two CDs and DVD were filmed and recorded on 18th March 2019, when front man James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, bass player Robert Trujillo and drummer Lars Ulrich have again joined forces with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and an eighty piece orchestra of extremely talented musicians.

For the first eleven minutes S&M2 is almost completely indistinguishable from its predecessor. There is the ominous opening of The Ecstasy Of Gold, the soaring Ennio Morricone film cue that has opened Metallica concerts since 1983, which morphs into The Call Of Ktulu, the epic instrumental from Ride The Lightning, that sees the string section whipping around the auditorium, much as they did in 1999.

But as the concert gets into its stride it becomes clear that Metallica are not as daunted by being in the presence of these classically trained musicians as they were on S&M, but are quite clearly worthy of sharing the stage with them, and as they produce a majestically blown out rendition of the 1984 classic For Whom The Bells Tolls, they sound like they are having the time of their lives.

Newer material such as The Day That Never Comes and the utterly compelling Moth Into Flame and Halo On Fire which finishes the first half, all gain a new sense of drama and dynamism and benefit greatly with the S&M treatment.

The second half begins with a new track performed by the orchestra alone. Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite introduced by Thomas who goes on to explain why the piece reminds him of heavy metal and is simply magnificent. This is followed by Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry which includes a four and a half minute electric upright bass solo from the orchestra’s principle bassist Scott Pingel which was worth the admission price alone.

There are also some other surprises, the biggest of which is All Within My Hands from 2003 album, St Anger, which was acoustically reworked for 2018’s Helping Hands Charity Show. The Unforgiven III is given a new lease of life with a stripped down arrangement, which lets Hetfield’s vocals shine like they rarely have before.

Probably the album’s greatest moment is (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth, a solo originally performed by founding Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a bus crash in 1986. On S&M2 it is performed on an electric upright bass by Pingel and is one of the most outstanding solo pieces of the concert.

Naturally the likes of Wherever I May Roam, One and a reworked Master Of Puppets with its complimentary strings accompaniment all make an appearance, creating a first rate run in to the end, before a furious and frenzied Nothing Else Matters precedes Enter Sandman which sees Thomas moving to take charge of the keyboards.

Overall S&M2 is a worthy successor to its predecessor. The recordings are sharper and punchier than its twenty year old counterpart and the filmed footage is spectacular, intimate without being intrusive and by placing everyone in the mix, no-one is left out. Even the crowd are louder this time. As live performers, Metallica are as tight as ever and Hetfield’s trademark growl remains intact throughout the album, providing an absolute vindication of their decision to revisit one of their most inspired creative and ground breaking albums.

Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Number of tracks: 20

Running time: 150:03

Released on: Vertigo

Release date: 28th August 2020

Formats: CD/Vinyl/Blu-ray

To purchase: https://www.metallica.com