When people think of S&M, their first thoughts generally jump to sadomasochism, or perhaps spaghetti and meatballs. I think, however, of neither. When I hear those two letters, I immediately think of the sounds of the world’s most successful thrash metal group shredding away at guitars and hammering on a drum kit while the voice of James Hetfield roars through the night, being backed by the dulcet classical notes of the San Francisco symphony orchestra. I think of an album that has done something that metal has never done before, and combined the smooth tranquillity of classical music with metal’s raw energy and power.
Metallica are known for their destructive solos, the growl of James Hetfield’s voice, and heavy drum beats that sound akin to an elephant stampede. You wouldn’t think that sort of sound would go well at all next to a symphony orchestra, would you? Well, the late Cliff Burton, Metallica’s first bassist who was tragically killed in a bus crash in 1986, though the two completely opposing genres of music would be the perfect complement to each other. Indeed, Burton’s love of classical music can be traced to many instrumentals in Metallica’s songwriting, including Master Of Puppets. The other inspiration for S&M came from Deep Purple’s Concerto For Group And Orchestra, which held the title of the first ever fusion of rock and orchestral music.
For me, personally, the idea of fusing classical music with some of the hardest rock in the charts today was nothing more than sheer brilliance. Classical and hard rock are my two favourite genres of music, and when I first got into listening to Metallica I had no idea that S&M existed. You can imagine my elation when I found out about it, and immediately after I obtained the album, I went straight home to play it. What followed next was 133 minutes of sheer joy, as the symphonic/metal fusion blasted through my room. Never before had I experienced music in such a fashion. I’d always though metal and orchestra would stay two worlds apart, but I was hugely thankful to find I was wrong.
A few changes took place in the usual line-up of Metallica’s songs. Several of Metallica’s greatest songs, such as Fade to Black, Wasting My Hate and The Unforgiven, The Unforgiven II, and The Unforgiven III were not included on the album. Coming as a surprise to many Metallica fans, these songs were omitted due to the band not playing them in years and a lack of preparation time. If I have one problem with this otherwise incredible album, it’s that the Unforgiven trilogy are among my favourite of Metallica’s songs, and not seeing them on the album was somewhat disappointing.
S&M‘s cover is the other reason I was drawn to it; featuring James Hetfield, holding his guitar and standing in front of a huge symphony orchestra. This simple, yet effective image is easily enough to catch the eye of many a metal-head, and is further helped by the album’s logo, comprised of the letters S and M, both of which are stylized to match the album’s content. The S is a G-clef facing backwards (which looks strikingly like an S), while the M is taken from the first letter of Metallica’s insignia.
S&M Really has it all-a cool design, great music, and a huge fanbase that will continue buying/downloading the album for years to come, and they will continue to marvel at its skull-splitting power and smooth symphonic melodies. It’s up there with many other great albums such as Appetite For Destruction (Guns’ N ’Roses) in my opinion, and will remain there for years, perhaps even generations. Because, to put it quite simply, Nothing Else Matters.