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Review: Metallica, San Francisco Symphony strike gold again on 'S&M2'

Jim Harrington, The Mercury News on

Published in Entertainment News

There was never a moment of doubt that we were watching history being made back on Sept. 6, 2019, as Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony once again combined forces -- after a 20-year wait -- on opening night of the Golden State Warrior's new Chase Center in San Francisco.

It was dubbed "S&M2," the follow-up to the first "S&M" collaboration between these two greatly beloved music institutions that occurred back in 1999 at the Berkeley Community Theatre, and it was truly something to behold. The production, which was repeated at Chase on Sept. 8 as well, featured a cast of some 80 players onstage -- the four mighty men of Metallica as well as a 75-piece symphony led (mostly) by conductor Edwin Outwater.

It's of little surprise that the powers that be have decided to release an accompanying concert album -- also dubbed "S&M2" -- especially given how well the first "S&M" offering did, selling more than 8 millions copies worldwide.

And it's also of little surprise, especially for anyone who attended those increasingly legendary shows at Chase last year, that this new album is another major winner.

Due out on Aug. 28 in a number of different formats, "S&M2" does a fantastic job capturing what it felt like to be in the audience during the opening moments of the show, as Metallica made its way through some 16,000 roaring fans, as the band's regular entrance music of Ennio Morricone's "The Ecstasy of Gold" played on, and joined the large orchestra onstage to kick off the show with "The Call of Ktulu."

This "Ride the Lightning" classic, which earned a Grammy Award for best rock instrumental performance with version found on the first "S&M," is nine-and-a-half minutes of pure thunder this time around, as Kirk Hammett quickly makes a case for why he deserves to be ranked as one of the top-10 rock guitarists on the planet.

 

"Welcome friends to 'S&M2' -- a wonderful adventure. We are glad you are here to witness history with us." vocalist James Hetfield said to the crowd, before thanking conductor Outwater and the symphony "for taking the risk to play with us."

Overall, the first disc of the set proves to be the strongest of the two, as the band was lifted by the unbelievable early energy of the crowd and continued to "Ride the Lightning" through "For Whom the Bells Tolls" before somehow cranking it up even higher with "The Day That Never Comes," which made splendid use of the symphony's 41-piece string section.

There's nary a weak moment in the first 65 minutes, as the audience enthusiasm just keeps escalating (listen to the shout-along in "The Memory Remains") while the synergy between the band and the symphony grows bigger and bolder. Plus, Hammett just continues to lay down those epic leads, saving arguably his best for the first-set closer "Halo on Fire."

But the whole band sounds terrific, from Hetfield's forceful yet nuanced vocals and expert rhythm guitar to Robert Trujillo's brawny bass work. And Lars Ulrich? He's a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, the architect behind the biggest metal band of all time -- and so why does it always feel like he's so underrated? On "S&M2," his driving rhythms serve as the motor that makes the whole thing go, acting as the bridge between the symphony and his band.

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