Metallica – S&M2 (Blackened)

When Metallica trialled their game-changing S&M shows 21 years ago the jury was out.

Career defining or disastrously crass?

A divisive vanity project or a necessary reinvention?

The end of the band as a serious metal act (many would argue that happened a decade earlier)?

Or the end of the beginning for a global powerhouse in the enviable position of being able to set the agenda and set the standard?

Reuniting with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to mark S&M’s 20th anniversary reopened old wounds and revived a debate that never really went away.

Many die-hard fans cringed at the very thought of another step into the symphonic.

Many more couldn’t wait to hear how the band’s post-’99 catalogue would benefit from some orchestral manoeuvring in the dark.

And if S&M2 isn’t quite the major musical event its predecessor was then it’s still a significant moment in a seriously bizarre year.

For many reasons, this controversial revisiting is an emotional rollercoaster.

Hearing a live version of Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy Of Gold – in all of its orchestral  glory – is particularly poignant just weeks after the Italian composer passed away.

Metallica have used the music from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly as their intro. since 1983 and this version sends shivers down the spine.

Then there’s the absence of original composer Michael Kamen, who died four years after successfully helming the original S&M project.

For many devotees of those original shows it was the New Yorker’s ear for detail that made the whole thing work.

Throw in the fact that S&M2 is released at a time when live music is an increasingly distant memory and its timing could hardly be more apt.

The filmed version shows thousands of fans flocking to San Fran’s Chase Centre, mingling in the city’s bars beforehand and uniting as one to create a picture of unbridled passion as Morricone’s music ushers in another memorable Metallica night.

It seems like a different world and a different time.

But right now, historical concerts filmed in ultra HD are about as good as it gets.

And Metallica have always been masters of putting on a fantastic show…and filming it from every conceivable angle.

Unsurprisingly, the sound and picture quality is on a different level two decades down the line.

And it’s almost as if that initial, ambitious project was ahead of its time given the massive leap forward in audio-visual technology.

In 2020 it’s possible to isolate so many more of the most intricate orchestral touches and fully appreciate the soundscape Kamen was always confident of achieving.

It has often been said that you ‘had to be there’ to experience the full ambition of S&M1.

That’s no longer the case thanks to the painstakingly precise reboot.

For a certain generation of Metallifans, the old ones will still feel like the best.

The final five songs in a set bursting with quality reflect the band’s remarkable transition from thrash metal pioneers to hard rock behemoths.

Wherever I May Roam, One, Master Of Puppets, Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman wrap up a riotous affair and leave the masses on a nostalgic high.

But it’s the brave and unpredictable back catalogue choices that ensure S&M2 outshines its lauded predecessor.

Take All Within My Hands from (whisper it quietly) St Anger. It’s like a different song. And in this case different is exceptionally good.

Almost as impressive is a wonderfully on-point version of The Day That Never Comes from the underrated Death Magnetic

Credit to the classical ensemble for breathing new life into a Metallica ‘classic’ that deserves a long overdue reappraisal.

S&M2 proves Metallica are still musical chameleons capable of causing a stir and honing their craft.

But it’s a record that shines a welcome light on the last 20 years of the band’s often painful evolution.

Early converts who didn’t appreciate St Anger’s faux fury or Death Magnetic’s polarising commercial metal should try S&M2 for size. Seriously.

It could be the record that finds disenfranchised and disillusioned fans falling in love with Metallica all over again. S&Maybe.