The five best tracks from Metallica’s S&M

The mix of metal and a symphony orchestra; it just works, and Metallica’s S&M Live album proved that. With the announcement that the heavy metal behemoths are set to play a one-off show on the 20th anniversary of the album, here are five tracks that made the adaptation great. 

Originally intended as a tribute to late bassist Cliff Burton’s affinity with classical music, S&M saw Metallica undergo their most ambitious project yet – yes, even more daring than their emo aesthetic in the 90s.

Named S&M², the performance will see the Californian quartet open the new Chase Centre, an arena in San Francisco set to be the home of NBA champions the Golden State Warriors. What better way to open than to host the world’s biggest metal band backed by the 15-times Grammy Award winning San Francisco Symphony Orchestra?

S&M² will also be the first time bassist (as of 2003) Robert Trujillo will play with the orchestra; though whether this will have any effect on the setlist is unknown. Metallica have not disclosed whether the show will feature the same tracks as the original, but given that the band have released three studio albums since, it would be a shame not to at least consider reworking the set; who doesn’t want to hear Spit out the Bone with an orchestra?

But without further ado, here are the five tracks from the original S&M that sound best with the orchestra behind them. Please note, this is by no means the best five songs from the set that Metallica have ever recorded – merely the best sounding on S&M.

5. The Call of Ktulu

First up is S&M’s opener. With its eerie intro, this nine-and-a-half minute instrumental was the perfect way to slowly introduce the orchestra into Metallica’s distinctive metal sound wall.

The Call of Ktulu is most talked-about by Metallica fans for the frankly insane bassline laid down by Cliff Burton, who passed away after third album, Master of Puppets and while his replacement Jason Newsted (and more recently, Robert Trujillo) are arguably no match for Burton in terms of technique, Newsted plays admirably well here.

Where S&M works best is where the orchestra is secondary to the guitars; Metallica are widely-known for their library of great guitar riffs after all, so I included this track because it blends those orchestral elements seamlessly into the band’s existing sound. The perfect way to kick off the album.

4. One

Among Metallica’s most famous songs, One has made this list because it integrates the orchestra more effectively than other setlist staples like Master of Puppets and Enter Sandman.

The cinematic-style violin section beneath the song’s famous chilling intro integrates really well and the orchestra never threatens to dominate the piece; you still get that fearsome Metallica chorus. It also dies down significantly upon Lars machine-gunning on the kick drum. One is a story, and the symphonic additions make it sound even more so.

Aside from the orchestra, the performance from James, Lars, Kirk and Jason is immaculate; this is an intense track and they play without a single mistake. The vocals too, are colossal.

3. Outlaw Torn

This is my favourite Metallica song, so it kills me to put this only third. The S&M version of Outlaw Torn is outstanding, from how the orchestra is added, to the roar of Jason Newsted’s backing vocals (which are brilliant for the whole album) in the chorus.

Outlaw Torn is a rarity in Metallica setlists; its slow tempo and brooding intensity is a complete change of pace from the thrash that much of Metallica’s fanbase prefers. It’s lucky that Load and Reload came out directly before S&M otherwise this might not have been included, which would have been an incredible shame.

The huge gaps in the verses are perfectly suited to be filled by swells from the orchestra which also makes the crescendos of the choruses sound gargantuan. At 10 minutes long, there’s so much going on in this track and the moody, guitar-doodle of an ending benefits from the addition of the violins in particular. A massive success.

2. Nothing Else Matters

Another of their signature tracks, Nothing Else Matters is one of few Metallica numbers to actually include orchestral instruments in its original studio version. It’s not surprise, then, that it thrives with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra behind it.

Lead singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield performs without the rest of the band until the second verse, allowing the orchestra to subtly grow into the track and accompany the ballad-esque guitar. This is definitely Metallica’s most intimate track and the direction of the string section only enhances that.

Once the rest of the band have come in, the orchestra doesn’t fight for volume, subtly filling gaps and making an almost dream-like experience. The bridge before the third verse is a beautiful demonstration of this. The track is then topped off by one of the best versions of Hetfield’s guitar solo I’ve heard. The studio version should have had this full orchestra.

1. No Leaf Clover

It had to be first didn’t it? No Leaf Clover was composed for this album and it shows, letting the orchestral instruments take the lead from the guitars where it suits the track and then holding back when that inimitable Metallica distortion needs to dominate.

It’s astonishing that in a track with this many instruments, you can hear all of them almost throughout. The production is fantastic – especially for a live album. Take Hetfield’s vocals in the choruses for example; many artists wouldn’t have made the thought to apply that lo-fi sound but it adds so much depth.

There’s no studio version of this track to compare it to but No Leaf Clover is proof in five minutes and 43 seconds that S&M was a great idea.

And that’s the list. Don’t agree? Leave a comment below!


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