Album Review : Metallica - S&M (1999)
Listen to S&M here (or don't)
This is review is part of a year-long Metallica retrospective I started in January. I was originally planning to skip this album altogether and review Garage Inc. instead, but you people actually requested that I review S&M for your own sadistic purposes. It is not a successful album by any means. The idea of hearing Metallica's greatest hits being pompously blared out by a freakin' symphonic orchestra is awesome on paper, but there's only eight out of twenty-one songs I'd call a hit on there. And I could've live my life without hearing them interpreted by flutes and cellos.
The first 10 minutes of S&M are entirely instrumental. It starts with Ennio Morricone's The Ecstasy of Gold, which is great and well-rendered but not exactly what I'm looking for here. After that, Metallica slugs through an almost 10 minutes-long pompous and unrecognizable Call of Ktulu before finally veering into Master of Puppets, which is my favorite song of theirs. Then, I understood everything. Metallica was never meant to be played by a symphonic orchestra. It doesn't sound epic or grandiose. It sounds silly. And like it often happens after Metallica is done playing Master of Puppets, it went downhill from there.
Master of Puppets is an angry song. One is an angry (and desperate song). So are Enter Sandman, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Battery. Their lyrics are subtle and allegorical, but young people have used them to externalize their emotions for three decades now. Playing clarinets and bassoon over them don't exactly communicate anger, torment or whatever. I don't know who in the band had the idea that it would be fucking cool to record an album with a symphonic orchestra, but it goes against everything that made Metallica successful. They pushed the boundaries of heavy metal using their own instruments. If S&M clarified anything, it's that piccolos and trombones aren't metal.
Here's another problem with S&M:
Songs from Kill 'Em All: 0
Songs from Ride the Lightning: 2
Songs from Master of Puppets: 3
Songs from ...And Justice for All: 1
Songs from the black album: 5
Songs from Load: 4
Songs from Reload: 3
Songs nobody knew or gave a shit about: 2
Inexplicable covers of a film soundtrack: 1
Killer songs not played: Hit the Lights, The Four Horsemen, Whiplash, Seek & Destroy, Fade to Black, Creeping Death, Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
They didn't pick Creeping Death or Seek & Destroy and decided to play the unbearably long The Outlaw Torn from Load. Let that sink in for a moment. How is it not the big "fuck you" to their fanbase who was lashing out against their new sound? There's only six songs from their canonical albums and a whopping twelve from their weird nineties alternative drift. And they chose the longest ones, too. Nine songs on S&M clocks over 7 minutes long. This album is the biggest "we're-filthy-rich-so-we-do-what-we-want" dick move in the history of heavy metal. I understand the strain on Metallica's relationship with their fans way better now than I did three months ago.
Not everything on S&M is rotten, but almost. Some of the nineties song actually sound better with an orchestra, like Until it Sleeps or the otherwise forgettable Of Wolf and Man (why the fuck is it on the record anyway?). No Leaf Clover isn't bad either, because it was actually written to be played with an orchestra. But let's be serious, here S&M is Metallica going full bourgeois on us. It is silly, hollow and unbearably long. And the worst is yet to come, for me: I have St. Anger to review, next month. And I'm planning to review LuLu because I apparently hate myself. Is the year over yet?