With the release of S&M2, Metallica’s epic collaboration album with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, we take a look at a handful of releases, events and performances that shaped one of America’s most adored heavy metal bands.
Having formed in Los Angeles in 1981 after drummer Lars Ulrich posted an advertisement in a local newspaper looking to start a band, Metallica have gone on to release ten studio albums and sold over 125 million albums worldwide. Often referred to as one of ‘The Big 4’ thrash metal bands alongside Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth, Metallica continue to push boundaries today and remain just as captivating as ever to their loyal fan base all around the globe.
Metallica & the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
The idea of collaborating with an orchestra is said to have stemmed from two major influences. Firstly, Cliff Burton, former bass player with Metallica from 1982 until his death in 1986, is known to have been a huge classical music fan and has been described as the bands ‘gateway’ to the genre. His playing style and compositions from the 1980s contain influences of classical music and it is said to be Burton who mentioned the idea of a collaboration back then. And then there is the iconic and mesmerizing collaboration between Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1969. It is hard to imagine that Metallica weren’t influenced by the coming together of these two forces.
And so on April 21 and 22, 1999, Metallica joined forces with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at the Berkeley Community Theatre for an explosive performance. The band performed a selection of tracks from their previous albums while accompanied by the orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen. The show demonstrated the band's versatility as they entered territory that their counterparts perhaps deemed too risky or unattainable. The performance was then released as a live album, titled S&M, later that same year.
20 years later, Metallica returned to perform with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for two nights. On September 6 and 8, 2019, coinciding with the grand opening of the San Francisco Chase Theatre, Metallica and the orchestra were reunited for two electrifying and enthralling performances. The shows consisted of a variety of tracks taken from the band’s extensive catalogue including symphonic renditions of songs that were released after the first collaboration in 1999.
These performances have resulted in S&M2, a fantastic collection of work taken from both shows, available in a vast selection of formats from August 28. Ranging all the way from a digital album, to a limited edition 4 LP colour vinyl box set, S&M2 is aiming to give fans the ultimate audio and visual experience which previously had only been available to those who were present at the shows. The release of S&M2 feels like a celebration, not only of the grand performances themselves, but of the band’s career and the journey that their fans have been on for almost 40 years.
Metallica head to Worthy Farm
In 2014, Metallica were the first metal band to headline Glastonbury in the festival’s history. The band rocked the Pyramid Stage with a greatest hits setlist, adding to the diverse list of headliners of the festival. This slot is something every band must dream of and for Metallica, it appeared to be no different. The band looked ecstatic to be where they were and the inclusion of some fans at the back of the stage creates an undeniable sense of togetherness between everybody present.
Trouble in Montreal
Metallica were set to be completing a 25 date co-headlining tour with Guns N’ Roses back in 1992, until the band were forced to cancel due to an incident involving frontman James Hetfield and some pyrotechnics in Montreal. It was the tour's eighth stop and three songs into Metallica’s set, Hetfield placed himself right in the firing line of a 12-foot raging flame at the front of the stage due to miscommunication between the band and the pyro technician. With second and third degree burns, Hetfield was rushed to hospital as the rest of the band announced that they would return to Montreal in the near future to finish their show. To make matters worse, in standard Axl Rose fashion, Guns N’ Roses refused to start their set earlier than their allocated time and then ended up cutting it short once they did appear. This sent an already disappointed crowd into rage as they rioted and damaged the venue while exiting. This show may be memorable for all of the wrong reasons, but Metallica did stick to their word and returned to Montreal the following year.
Some Kind of a Monster
S&M2 won’t be the first time that Metallica have been involved with using extensive video footage to help document their work. In 2004, during the writing and recording of their album “St. Anger”, the band allowed film directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky behind the scenes to produce what ended up being a real eye opener of a documentary. The film provides a detailed account of the band’s studio time and indicates just how turbulent the whole process can be for even the biggest bands in the world. The dynamic between the band appears awkward and disconnected during the recording of the documentary, but knowing that they came out the other side shows that their underlying determination, resilience and strong partnership helped carry them forward.
Death of Cliff Burton
In 1986, the first half of the year was full of positivity and optimism as Metallica cemented themselves as core players within the industry with the release of their first commercially successful album “Master of Puppets”. The album became Gold and they had just signed with their first major label, Elektra records. But on September 26 while touring in Sweden, the band’s tour bus crashed, throwing bassist Cliff Burton out of the window as the bus proceeded to fall on top of him. While trying to rescue Burton, a crane lifted the bus back up but it slipped and consequently fell back on top of him. Confusion, anger and shock all followed, as the band tried to figure out how the accident had occurred. The driver was cleared of any wrongdoing after he claimed he had hit some black ice in the road, although the band speculated that there was more at play. The band struggled to see a future without Burton, but their manager, Peter Mensch encouraged them to continue. Metallica figured that Burton would have wanted the band to power on and so they did just that. Burton helped to change the course of bass playing as he used the instrument as a core component to deliver intricate melodies as well as providing the solid backbone along with the percussion section of a band.
Collaboration with Lou Reed
In 2011, Metallica collaborated with punk rock icon Lou Reed for the release of the album “Lulu”. It was Reed’s final full-length recording before his death in 2013. The album sounds more like a theatrical heavy metal experiment than anything else and overall, it didn’t receive particularly raving reviews...although it has been stated that David Bowie was a fan! “Lulu” might not have been to everybody’s taste, but the album demonstrates that both artists were never afraid to make bold decisions and do things the way that they wanted them to be done.
Setting a Guinness World Record
Metallica kept themselves busy in 2013 as they performed live on every single continent, earning themselves a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for being the first musical act to do so. The band performed concerts in North America, Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, Asia and Antarctica. Their hour-long “Freeze ‘Em All” set at the Carlini Station in Antarctica in December 2013 was attended by 120 scientists and competition winners. The band’s amps had to be kept in isolation cabinets due to the cold conditions and so the show was experienced by every member of the audience through headphones! Rocking out and breaking world records - that’s the Metallica way.
Dave Mustaine and the formation of Megadeth
Dave Mustaine was one of the original members of Metallica, alongside James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Ronald McGovney. The band were known for their partying ways in the early days, but the band deemed Mustaine’s volatile drunkenness too much for them to be willing to put up with. On April 11 1983, Mustaine was told he was out of the band and was given a one way bus ticket back to the west coast from New York. In an attempt to process and deal with his firing, Mustaine decided to jot down some lyrics on the back of whatever he had access to on the bus trip back. This ended up being a handbill from Senator Alan Cranston and Mustaine took note of a message included which stated “The arsenal of megadeath can’t be rid.” Mustaine made the most of a bad situation and went on to sell 38 million records with his band Megadeth.
Live at Grimey’s
In 2008, Metallica went back to their basement roots and performed at the performance space under the historic Grimey’s record store in Nashville. The same weekend, the band performed at Bonnaroo Festival. This encapsulates the band in terms of their appreciation for every single element and experience within the industry, no matter how big or small. Hearing a band as huge as Metallica play in a venue as small as this is always an indication they haven’t lost sight of their humble beginnings and place value in the cogs that keep the industry turning. The performance was released in 2010 and there is something oddly satisfying about the listening experience knowing that it was recorded in such an intimate club setting.
Live at Slane Castle
Metallica landed in Ireland to perform at Slane Castle on June 8, 2019. Performing for nearly two and a half hours, this show is a hard hitting depiction of what the band is still capable of. Metallica have an outstanding amount of material to choose from when it comes to their live performances today and they handpick them to perfection. Metallica concerts are more than just ordinary shows and this couldn’t be any more clear during their show at Slane. At one point, Hetfield addresses the crowd by saying, “We’re here to have some fun. I have the best job in the world. I get to be up here and watch people's faces change by music. The Metallica family is here, am i right?” This sums it up. Today, Metallica brings people together. There’s those who have been supporters of the band since the early days and there’s those who are new to the party. But one thing is for sure, everybody is welcome. The music is loud and the connection is tight. There is an undeniable sense of togetherness with Metallica and their fans and this is something worth celebrating. The band appear incredibly grateful for the support that they continue to receive and also as a way of showing their appreciation, Metallica continue to find new and exciting ways to celebrate their music with all of those who support them.