"First off, we'd like to thank Jethro Tull for not releasing an album this year…"
All legalities aside, Metallica remains one of the most aggressive bands in music, and continues to show why they're one of the pack leaders with their latest offering. Metallica: S&M succeeds on several fronts, both musically and in the disc authoring department. The result is a double disc set containing a quality transfer of a one hundred fifty minute concert with multiple audio tracks for every minute, plus a good selection of additional material for the fans who will be eager to enjoy this set.
Metallica's previous DVD set, Metallica: Cunning Stunts is a definition for how to present music and concerts in the DVD format. S&M is the fruit of one of the more original projects the world of mainstream music's seen in a while. While orchestral arrangements meeting the energy and appeal of Rock are not new, metal bands have not made it a habit to so tightly interweave their metal with classical symphony. The resulting music, combining the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of composer Michael Kamen with the band's growling energy, is unique, interesting, and certainly worthy of enjoying.
Not content merely to hand over music, the band got in touch with Michael Kamen (composer credits: the Lethal Weapon series, Highlander, What Dreams May Come), who's had a presence in rock music before. With his help, new compositions that wove the orchestra into the metal were created, and delivered unto the members of the San Francisco Symphony. After some practice and rehearsal, the doors were thrown open, the recording gear was readied, and the rest has been captured for fans everywhere to enjoy.
As with Cunning Stunts, S&M issues from under the umbrella of Warner Music. If they keep putting out music DVDs like this, the other music companies are going to find themselves sorely lacking in market share by the time they stop badgering the online community about MP3s. First up, the transfers. The video is uniformly excellent, though it is perhaps a touch or so less than Cunning Stunts. Black levels are even and deep, colors crisp and vibrant. Lighting, shadows, frenzied fans, blitzing band members, all come through the compression process wonderfully. There are no instances of picture degradation. As this transfer originates from recently created masters, there's absolutely no reason for it to lack in anyway. It does not.
The audio is even better. There are four separate audio tracks included for the full length of the concert. The first is the Dolby Digital track, delivering 5.1 sound of the performance. This is a marvelous audio track. The energy of the performance comes through clearly. Obviously, the more musically inclined your speakers are, the better a concert will sound, but even on basic home theater audio packages, these discs lacks nothing. Surrounds add in crowd and ambiance, and lows don't overuse the sub to the point of distraction. The soundfield has a good sense of space, a feeling of expansiveness, and fills the room. The orchestra and band are well mixed, neither really overpowering the other, both elements discernable and they're to be enjoyed.
Not stopping there, the discs deliver a solid stereo track of the concert, which still sounds great. Then separate audio tracks break out the band, and the symphony, in isolation. You can listen to just Metallica, or to the orchestral arrangement, without having to hear through the other half.
These four audio tracks are a large part of why there isn't as much video and documentary footage on S&M as there is on Cunning Stunts, but honestly, it really makes up for it. The nature of this performance lends itself to the ability to specifically listen for each half of the whole. That the discs fully support this listening experience is an absolute blessing, and a huge bonus for consumers.
In addition to the center stage, the discs offer a good assortment of supplemental material. On the first disc, there's a forty-minute documentary that goes through the preparation and backstage leading up to, and around, the concert. Not a fluff "making of," the piece includes good comments from band and composer on the challenges and culture clashes that were overcome en route to the successful show.
Multiple video angles are offered on four tracks. From Disc One, Of Wolf and Man and Fuel are available, and on Disc Two there's Sad but True, Enter Sandman. As with before, there are four angles, each tracking one band member exclusively throughout the track. Thus, you can specifically watch different parts of the stage and see what Jason or James do during a Kurt guitar solo, or what Lars does while James is whipping up the crowd during the bridge. A simple thing, but again a cool feature to offer. If only disc capacities would allow for more multi-angle tracks.
There's also a composer-only angle on another track on Disc One, No Leaf Clover, which was a new song Metallica debuted at the concert. Ever wonder just what, exactly, a composer is doing when he's waving his baton around while the orchestra plays? This angle will give you a little peek, and maybe a few insights. Kamen is fairly interesting to watch as he cues in and rides herd on the Symphony throughout the track. Again, a small extra, but an interesting one. In addition to this, there's also the finished version of the No Leaf Clover music video included on Disc Two.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's hard to find things to not like, or to comment on in a less than favorable manner, with this disc set. The video is, again, perhaps a shade or two lower than the quality found on the Cunning Stunts transfers. The previous disc set offered much more extra material in the form of documentary style camera/interview footage, but this set replaces some of that space with the bonus full-length audio tracks, so it's at least an even trade.
Face it, Metallica has once again shown the music world how to do a DVD for music. The upcoming, eagerly anticipated, Beastie Boys mega set is looking primed to take the crown away from the boys in black, but that aside, S&M is certainly an excellent addition to any music fan's library. Even as a show disc, if nothing else.
Case dismissed. What, waiting for an encore?
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