Twenty-one years on, it’s easy to forget how ground-breaking Metallica’s original S&M shows were. Not since Lars Ulrich’s beloved Deep Purple released their Concerto For Group And Orchestra 30 years earlier had the divergent worlds of heavy metal and classical music been so grandly united on stage. As always, where Metallica led, others followed. Cue everyone from Kiss to Yngwie Malmsteen putting in a call to the nearest baton-botherers – with predictably hamfisted results.
Metallica themselves let the rabble get on with it, diverting their energies elsewhere. But the 20th anniversary of the original shows was too good to pass up. In September 2019, the band reunited with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for a pair of massive hometown shows that took the original idea and scaled it up on every level.
S&M2 is a fitting document of those two nights. Grandiose without being overblown, familiar yet forward-looking, it super-sizes the template they drew up two decades ago while retaining the humanity at the heart of it all.
The eight million-odd people who bought the original S&M album will know broadly what to expect here: familiar songs stripped down, and built back up again with forensic attention to detail.
There’s inevitably some overlap, with a handful of big-hitters (Call Of Ktulu, Master Of Puppets, One, Enter Sandman) making an inevitable reappearance. Conversely, there are a few notable differences, chiefly the absence of the late Michael Kamen, the A-list composer who helped gene-splice the whole thing first time around.
Irrespective of either, S&M2 easily outguns its predecessor. Forgoing the easy path, it’s weighted towards the less-loved second half of Metallica’s career. Songs such as the perpetually underrated The Outlaw and a bravura The Day That Never Comes are invested with new grandeur; even All Within My Hands, from 2003’s reviled St Anger, sounds tremendous; and the ever-astounding No Leaf Clover is the greatest Metallica song never to appear on one of their studio albums.
Not everything works. A 10-minute interlude where the classical musicians are given centre stage falls flat, although bassist Scott Pingel’s reworking of Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth) is an electrifying tribute to the late Cliff Burton and the emotional highlight of the whole set. But then Metallica thrive on walking the high wire between success and failure. And S&M2 is a success on the grandest of scales.