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This is one of the absolute worst ideas in the history of mankind. Step aside Holocaust: The Musical and women’s suffrage; you’ve been demoted from atrocity to unpleasantry. Genocide-based J-pop musicals don’t seem nearly as offensive in the face of this immeasurable evil (Note: If Nobuo Uematsu ever writes such a thing, I’d sooner be a patron of that than listen to this album again). Whoever thought this would be a good idea (for anything other than making money, obviously) should be – I can’t even finish that sentence without getting a migraine from being so angry at the mere thought of this album. Simply trying to remember why I hate this album so much to justify a review is doleful, at its most tolerable.
Why is this a terrible idea? Answer: Because the overwhelming majority of Metallica songs would sound grotesquely absurd in conjunction with an orchestra, thereby rendered stupid-as-fuck by dissimilation. There is Metallica, and then, there is a symphony. There is no coherency, relevance, or otherwise notable reasoning for putting these two together, besides lining their pocketbooks and sending me into convulsive fits of frothing rage. The sheer asininity of this amalgamation is so confounding as to be reminiscent of the scene in Talladega Nights where Cal is ignorantly trying to compare Ricky and himself to other "perfect pairs," and from thence cometh the title of this review (Search “Cocaine and Waffles” on Youtube if you haven’t seen the movie).
On top of that, they didn’t pick good songs. Naturally, I understand that “good” is rather subjective, but this is one case where it isn’t: the songs from Load and Reload are bad. No one person or persons of sane mind with a collective IQ higher than a box of Sunmaid raisins or a jar of stagnant pickle juice would ever, under any circumstances, enjoy those albums, barring the song Fuel. And before you point it out, yes, it is only an exception because I like it. Seven full-lengths into their overlong career, Metallica had, at best, a quaint little arsenal of quality songs at their disposal, and they really seemed to go out of their way to pick the absolute worst ones. If they had picked a lot of their hits, I’d still be pissed off just because this is such a fucking horrible idea, but I wouldn’t be nearly as repulsed. Out of 21 songs on this album, only six were songs that I would enjoy under normal circumstances and recording situations, but only one of those being enjoyable in its currently reviewed state. Out of 21 songs, only one is worth listening to. The song is “Nothing Else Matters,” but since that song pretty much qualifies by default as it was recorded with an orchestral backing, it’s hardly fair.
The orchestra plays well enough, but the music isn’t any more fitting than having a soundtrack playing while you feed the dog, or go about various other routine activities; I really cannot stress how much this just doesn’t belong. James sounds like shit. Lars does too, of course, but that hardly requires stating. Sadly, the orchestra actually detracts from a few of what would otherwise be songs that I enjoy. Also: I cannot stand the production. I haven’t heard the CD in years, (because, like any gentleman would, I deleted it in lieu of stealing art of a more refined quality) but I’ve recently (and unfortunately, quite regularly; Circuit City be damned) watched/heard the 5.1 mix from the DVD on an audio setup totaling no less than $3000 dollars, with line conditioning and quality cabling, and it still sounded like shit. James is constantly at the forefront, while everything else is just muddied up terribly.
If you want a live combination of metal with an orchestra that actually works, check out Dream Theater’s Score DVD. That is fantastic. There was not a single point during that concert that I felt the orchestra was forced or gimmicky; it was natural, fluid, and at all times, a wholly enriching experience. Kudos, DT.
For me, listening to this album is akin to what our poor droog Alex in “A Clockwork Orange” experienced upon hearing Beethoven, Handel, and the like following the Ludovico treatment; a deep, terrible sickness that wells up from the inside to such an extreme extent as to prevent him from listening to it altogether. That, O my brothers, is what I feel when I like slooshy S&M.
This album gets a 3% score. 1/21 (for one good song) is 4.76, but shitty production, singing, drumming, and general frustration lower it to a 3, and even that is gratuitous, all things considered. Unquestionably, one of the worst albums I've listened to in entirety, regardless of genre.
S&M showcases a mellow Metallica; still a band that is able to experiment wisely and create a solid musical output no matter the circumstances. If one thing is certain, that is, Metallica have the ability to musically adapt to their environment and effectively deliver the goods no matter if that is done in an arena, stadium, underground joint or an orchestra setting even.
Musically, Metallica seem to be at their top of their game as always. The setlist consists of several songs out of the Load-Reload era and as a result, it is more melodic-oriented than the typical Metallica setlist.
The band performs the songs well. Also, it is really nice how Michael Kamen (R.I.P.) writes parts that complement the various themes in the songs, and not simply copy the rhythmic or melodic line evident in each song. The result is rich in musicianship, power and dynamics. Personally, I dig most of the setlist here and the way the band and orchestra interact with each other. I do however need to highlight the fact that the songs of the Load-Reload period are mostly benefited by this collaboration. “Outlaw Torn” and “Bleeding Me” are perfect examples. Both, proggy as they are in themes, melodies and arrangements, are uplifted by the orchestra’s strong presence. Further, the orchestra adds to the song “Call of Ktulu”, which in this case sounds as a classical piece altogether. Other great examples of this successful musical merger are “Nothing Else Matters” and “No Leaf Clover”. The latter especially cannot exist without the orchestra in the background, because the choruses are built on Hetfield’s melodic vocals and the music provided by the orchestra. Finally, I find “Master of Puppets” to be one of the heavier songs that clearly gains from the presence of the orchestra.
One thing that definitely needs to be highlighted is James’s vocal attempt. His voice is in superb form, and those who like Hetfield’s melodic voice will absolutely love this performance. His voice is clean, powerful and full of dynamics. It goes low and it goes high and stays there. I find it to be the best melodic Hetfield I have heard ever and to go one step even further I have to admit that the S&M version of “Nothing Else Matters” is to this day the very best I have ever listened to; musically and vocally! "Outlaw Torn" and "Bleeding Me" are also included as top notch performances by Hetfield.
Owning both the S&M dvd and cd I have to admit that the dvd totally adds to the experience, especially if one can listen to it and watch it using a solid 5.1 Dolby Digital system. The orchestra is much more heard in the dvd due to the visual help by the director and the audio form available. The interaction between the band and the orchestra can be felt only on the dvd in my opinion, where you can see Lars and Kamen exchanging looks, counting in songs and feeling the vibe of the night. Also, you can see how James interacts with his fellow musicians in the orchestra even applauding at them towards the end of “Nothing Else Matters”. Newsted can be seen near the orchestra bass players enjoying himself and… headbanging here and there and Kirk being close to and interacting with the strings section. All of them are feeling the night and all are living this unique experience to the fullest. Of course the orchestra lives this show in its own way, under the tight suits and robot-like movement; they too contribute to the visual-audio happening that is S&M. Great stuff if you ask me.
How about the negative side? Sure there are some songs that don’t work that well with the orchestra. In that sense, Metallica could have formed an even better setlist for the occasion. For the record, I think that “Sad but True”, “Wherever I May Roam” and “Enter Sandman” are not the best tracks to add an orchestral layer to. The same stands for “Hero of the Day”. “Battery” isn’t perfect material for this one either, but the intro and that alone sounds great and classical, played by the orchestra. It sounds as if it was written for an orchestra. I wonder why Metallica didn’t use “Fade to Black”, “Unforgiven I” or “Sanitarium” for this purpose. And certainly Lars’s explanation, that “Fade to Black” is already classical as it is and wouldn’t fit the orchestra, surely does not convince me (you can find that in the documentary).
As far as the technical aspects of this dvd are concerned, I must say that the direction is great and the cinematography dark and melancholic as it should be. The usual audio option, 5.1 Dolby Digital is there, but there is even more. One can hear the band or orchestra alone on a 2.1 surround option. Another great feature of this release is the ability the user has to choose the camera angle in four songs and do some “editing” also, as the users can move from one band member to the next whenever they please to.
Further, S&M includes the documentary around the specific gig and the thoughts of the band’s members on this special event. Nice 40-minute documentary that is funny to watch and rather interesting as the band reveals how the idea for this kind of collaboration between Metallica and the orchestra existed from way back and of course how it came to life. In addition, the video for "No Leaf Clover" can be found here.
All in all, I think S&M makes for an intriguing listen and a quality-oriented one as well. Progsters should definitely check it out, but I’m having doubts whether it could work with narrow-minded thrash metal fans. Open minded metal fans can appreciate it however, so give it a shot!