1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 17

S&M, by Metallica
Suggested by Kenneth Hall

Do I like Metallica?

If you were to ask me that straight question, and required me to answer with a binary Yes or No, then I’d say Yes. Of COURSE I’d say yes. They are a prominent part of the soundtrack to my formative years. They’ve written some of the best songs of all time.

But if you’d allow me a few shades of grey, then my answer would be… it’s complicated.

I love Early Metallica. Their first four albums, from Kill ‘Em All to …And Justice For All, are peerless. Then came the Black Album in fine Spinal Tap style, and while that didn’t break my love for the band, it certainly cracked it. There’s lots to like about the Black Album, but a sequel to …And Justice for all it is NOT.

After that, there’s what? Load? Reload? St. Anger? Nothing there to write home about. I even noped out of Death Magnetic, their supposed “return to form”. Let’s face facts. I’m a Metallica hipster. I liked them when it was cool.

S&M has always felt like a vanity project, and as such I’ve had little time for it. But as it was nominated for this project, I’ll admit I was quite excited to finally give it a whirl, as I know it’s generally well received.

So. Do I like S&M?

Not really.

For a start, I think it promises something that it doesn’t deliver. I thought a coupling of orchestra and metal band would have a more even split of orchestra and metal band, but this album feels very uneven, slated heavily toward the power chord and double bass drum. The song selection in part is intelligent, highlighting the tracks I feel that would benefit from symphonic orchestration (such as One, or Master of Puppets), so it surprised me that the only track which I felt did justice to the conceit was the encore of Battery, especially the introduction. This was my standout track of the entire album.

On the subject of song choice, while it has my absolute favourites –anything from my favourite albums noted above – there’s too much filler from inferior albums that I actively avoid. I know, I know, it wasn’t written with me in mind… such a shame, I’d’ve set ‘em straight if asked.

Finally, there’s the Live Album issue that can’t be overlooked. James Hetfield has a great voice, even now. He’s a natural showman, but I feel what makes a metal frontman doesn’t necessarily make the best frontman for such a collaboration. His Yeah Baby’s and strange spoken-word interpretations or certain lyrics served to irritate rather than impress. If this had been a studio collaboration without the need to adlib, I’d have been much more appreciative.

I’ll give S&M a stout 6/10, because it still contains some of my favourite songs of all time… But overall, this album did little more than make me want to listen to some proper Metallica, without the bells and whistles.

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