Symphony and Metallica (S&M): Album Review 1

"We are in Berserk-ley: Berkleeee Communiteeee Thetreeee, Metallica with one hundred and four back up musicians", James Hetfield

"Not only are we playing with the symphony, but we are also one the same stage as Jimi Hendrix played", Kirk Hammett

"I was tellin everybody, I dont know if its gonna be good, but its gonna be interesting and you can come and watch it anyway", Jason Newsted

"Whose fuckin idea was this?", Lars Ulrich

"I've done it (a symphony with rock ensemble) with Pink Floyd and orchestra, I've done it with Bob Dylan with orchestra and I've done it with Eric Clapton and orchestra, but this is the first time we have taken it all the way and said, M-E-T-A-L-L-I-C-A", Michael Kamen (Chief composer, San Fransisco Symphony and Orchestra).

As conventionally called, Berserk-ley, a left centrist hippe town with some of the best minds on the planet. As my mates in Stanford haze U'CAL as, "Ohhh, the poor public school at the other end of the San Francisco bay". Berkeley located proudly in North California, is very much an intellectual haven. Once you move out of places such as Ann Arbor and Berkeley you very much miss the crowd there, because of its innate progressiveness and the sheer high of being surrounded by people to whom you never need to explain anything, they'll just get what you're saying without any painful explanation.

This is where the quite unique almost an experimental concert of 'Symphony and Metallica' took place on April 21st 1999. It was groundbreaking in many ways because it was an integration of bipolar worlds: musicians who dress up down to the the last bow tie and shaggy haired rockers who show up in black jeans and biker boots, an orchestra which reads, learns and plays music and musicians who riff through a six string with no idea on how to read a note, people who innately follow set formations and people who are all about spontaneity and outlaws at heart. Their music is bipolar, even more so are their personalities. Michael Kamen one of the most talented composers of our time went through the unenviable task of creating a live concert between (for the lack of a better word), Christ and Anti-Christ: Classical Symphony and Metal: One of the best orchestras in the world and the loudest band in the world,  San Francisco Symphony and Metallica ... S&M. It was a two nighter, the first of which is reviewed here.

In more ways than one the documentary of "Making of S&M" is fascinating. The set list was a hit and miss because, no one was sure on how to hear a Metallica song when they played in concordance with an orchestra. Michael Kamen took the album versions of existing Metallica songs, and he would get the orchestra to add a layer of embellishment by playing in conjunction (i.e. he does strings for each song). It was creativity in its purest essence. You do not want the orchestra to be undermined by the sheer loudness of Metallica, nor do you want the orchestra to drown out the sheer ferocity of Metallica: it had to be a cohesion, and a consummate one at that as well. The audience included the best of both worlds: regular symphony lover and a long haired beer guzzlin' Metallica fan.

As always we start with the instrumental Ennio Morricone classic of "Ecstasy of Gold". Conventionally, Ecstasy is succeeded by the frantic Sandman or Creeping Death, but this time Ecstasy transitions seamlessly into 'Ktulu'. The S&M version of Ktulu earned the best instrumental performance of the year award, the orchestra does what a chocolate layer does to Tiramisu. Its a single layer, but the tiramisu will not taste the same without it. A complex layer of enrichment to the existing riffs. Jason's bass is undoubtedly the highlight of Ktulu. Jason is all about business and his efficient style of bass riffin' is an elegant example of function over entertainment, cohesion over show'doggin ... band over individual.

Ktulu leads to Master and the crowd falls in love with the live rendition, especially with the slow interlude in between two frantic halves. After 'Master', James takes a moment to thank the crowd as he senses they like it. "Hey, hey, they like it, so, so did you hear about the rock bank who wanted to play with the symphony? this is no joke friends, we're havin some fun here, and we want you to have some fun out there as well 'cos that's what its all about", Hetfield. Lars Ulrich must rate as one of the best metal drummers of all times, his work on the Tama's is quite simply breathtaking and a bit suffocating (in a good way). I love the way he stands up sometimes just to stop the echoes of the drums by holding them from back as soon as he hits them. 

"Of Wolf and Man", becomes "Of Wolfgang and Man" indicating Mozart and the symphony influence, it was perfect, along with "The thing that should not be" next. "Fuel" for some reason stuttered a little bit, its a great live gig rendition, but it stuttered a bit, it lacked the ferocity in the studio version. With "Memory Remains", James asks the crowd to sing along by loosening a bit, and it worked. The camera captures the reaction of the crowd beautifully as they belt out the entire song with Hetfield. La la la la ...la la la .... la la la la ...ra ra ra ra ra ...as he says, "We like it when you sing man".

No Leaf Clover was one out of the two songs that Metallica played new, so that this concert was interesting to them as well, due to playing new material. Its one of my top favorites, not only in the album but overall. Its been played since then without the orchestra, but it never sounds the same. Its strength is sounding so aristocratic, resounding and absolutely regale - and the instrumental role played by the orchestra in Clover is realised completely when its heard without the orchestra. Its probably the song that lends itself best towards an interpretation by the orchestra.

"When it comes to the soothin light at the end of the tunnel, there's a freight train comin your way", James literally growls his way to glory by bringing the roof down. But for the beginning of Hero of the Day, the latter part of the song sounds like a flat piece of cardboard. Devil's Dance sounds bloody wonderful. Devil's Dance sounds more ghoulish due to the orchestra, and more Halloweenish than Marylin Manson can ever could. Its one of the highlights of the first day. The first show ends by Bleedin; Me. Its starts so innocuous, torpid and mellow. James' lead and Kirk's riffin and Lars's flawless thrashin, along with Jason's inconspicuous bass is an elegant ensemble. With each minute Bleed picks up in its tempo, and the last one minute is quite simply an orgasmic culmination of what was a MET lover's paradise. "Thing that should not be" and "Clover" lend themselves to the orchestra best, the strings, horns and trumpets on both of them were exemplary.

You need to listen to the second night, to understand how unique, and experimentally successful this symphonic metal concordance really is ... traditionalists might claim this represents a softening of Metallica, but it represents more of an ability and courage to try somethin this ballsy, new and risky. Fuel and Hero backfired, but when Bleedin' ends, you are left with a feelin of 'This is outstanding, and a true cohesion between the both contrarian genres of music ... and darn it, I dont have tickets to see both these guys rock out tomm evenin".

In other words, "You've gone out with someone you're crazy about the first time ... and cant wait to call her to tell her that you would love to go out with her tomm evenin again ...but you dont know if she wants to?"

Keep Rockin, Long John Silver



No comments:

Post a Comment