Examining Metallica in Time for WOUB’s Broadcast of ‘S&M2’ Oct. 29

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Those unfamiliar with Metallica likely wouldn’t readily associate the iconic heavy metal band with the 109-year-old San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

However, in the spring of 1999, the thrash metal greats (one of the big four bands of the genre alongside Anthrax, Megadeath, and Slayer) performed tracks spanning from their 1984 Ride the Lightning album to 1997’s Reload with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The band even wrote two originals with the orchestra – “No Leaf Clover” and “-Human.” A recording of the concert was released that winter, entitled (fittingly) S&M.

The collaboration was so fruitful that Metallica would perform with the orchestra again in 2019 for their live concert recording S&M2, which WOUB-TV will broadcast Thursday, October 29 at 9 p.m. EDT.

Metallica lead vocalist and chief songwriter James Hetfield has said the band has been embedding their sound with characteristics common in classical music since their formation. This stems largely from the tastes of the band’s original bassist, Cliff Burton, who passed away in 1986 at the age of 24 – some 8 years before the band was pitched the concept of performing with an orchestra by composer Michael Kamen at the 1992 Grammy awards show.

“Doing an entire set with a symphony is pretty ballsy as far as I’m concerned,” said Andrew Lampela, regional musician and writer for Ghettoblaster Magazine. “Some of these songs are pretty heavy, and they don’t really have a tonal center as far as cello or brass sections are concerned. So to see those guys go out there and really do it, I have nothing but respect for those guys.”

Lampela is a lifelong Metallica fan, purchasing the cassette of ...And Justice For All in 1988 at the age of 14. Admittedly, he didn’t get it at first.

“I listened to it on my Walkman, and just I very vividly remembered not understanding it at all and feeling like, ‘Oh, man, I just blew like seven bucks of teenage money on this thing,’” Lampela said. The next day he gave it another listen, his reaction far more positive this time.

“And from then on that was it. It was thrash. It was metal. That record absolutely blew the doors off my young mind and pretty literally changed my life. So they definitely are the vanguard of my teenage years. I’ve stopped listening to some of their records, but they’ve definitely never stopped being a huge influence on my life,” said Lampela.

Jason Swiger, another regional musician, said Metallica had also significantly impacted his life and creative trajectory. Metallica was the first rock band Swiger ever saw in concert – an important milestone for any serious music fan. He was only 13 at the time and his father, a fellow metal fan, had purchased them two front row seats for a Metallica show at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, OH. Needless to say, the band’s famously electrifying live show left an impact on young Swiger, who would immediately purchase Metallica’s older albums after hearing them perform a few of their songs from that corner of their discography.

“It kind of become a little bit of an obsession of mine, and I learned a lot about them. Really loved those first four albums,” said Swiger, who connected particularly with the band’s early progressive, instrumental epics.

“There are almost like three subsets of Metallica. The Black Album and Loud were good, but they definitely lost a little bit of the thrash that they had on their earlier albums that I think made them so popular at that time,” said Swiger. “The albums that I think really propelled them into that next level are the ones that, personally, aren’t my favorite. So, I kind of have a hard time identifying with some of those.”

Swiger, like many Metallica fans, found that the band didn’t resonate with him as much after they started to pursue a more mainstream rock sound around 1991 with the release of their self-titled album (often referred to as “The Black Album”). However, Metallica’s adoption of a sound that was more palatable to a larger number of people would be one of the reasons they would go on to be one of the most recognizable rock bands in the history of popular music.

Musical Director Michael Tilson Thomas (left) conducts the San Francisco Symphony. James Hetfield, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and co-founder of Metallica (right).

Demetri Wolfe is a musician and sound engineer who discovered and fell in love with Metallica almost 20 years after Swiger and Lampela did. Although from a younger generation, the band’s aggression – and especially their adapt usage of guitar, appealed to Wolfe right away.

“The first two CDs that I ever bought on my own, when I was 10 or 11, were the “Black Album” and Kill ‘Em All. So, two very different periods of Metallica, but I ate it up, and within three weeks, I had learned both of those albums on guitar,” Wolfe said. “And then I just started getting good at guitar. I was seeing the results that I wanted to see in my playing, so I just kept buying more Metallica CDs. And then watching documentaries and all that fun stuff, I had quickly became obsessed. By the time I was 13, I could pretty much play every Metallica song on guitar.”

At a time when many of the other members of his generation were getting into Skrillex, Katy Perry, LMFAO, and Adele, Wolfe found himself captivated by his growing collection of Metallica’s music.

“Maybe it was just my desire to be different, but it was just so heavy and visceral and fast. And I mean, I felt Kirk Hammett’s guitar solos, they would just speak to me in a way that music hadn’t before,” said Wolfe. “That was kind of my first time hearing music, just music, not even lyrics, that speaks to you. And I got inspired by that.”

Throughout the years, Metallica has occasionally faced harsh criticism from the popular music press, as well as their fans. These controversies include everything from their notorious 2000s-era lawsuit against file-sharing website Napster to the drum sound on their 2003 album St. Anger to working with popular heavy metal producer Bob Rock. Lampela said that while some of these criticisms may have merit, it is important to remember what Metallica is, as a band, at their core.

“Maybe it was just my desire to be different, but (Metallica) was just so heavy and visceral and fast. And I mean, I felt Kirk Hammett’s guitar solos, they would just speak to me in a way that music hadn’t before. That was kind of my first time hearing music, just music, not even lyrics, that speaks to you. And I got inspired by that.” – Demetri Wolfe on Metallica

“It’s pretty easy to slag on Metallica now for what they do, out-of-touch rich guys, whatever, blah, blah, blah. But yet, there’s no denying that they changed the face of heavy music back in the day. They were like the epitome of ‘these guys look like me.’ ‘They dress like me.’ ‘They’re scumbags, and they play this awesome music.’ And it’s hard to begrudge guys the level of success that they work towards because they really did work for it,” said Lampela. “And some of the records definitely suck, but you’re going to have that here and there. They’re a great band. Maybe they’re a little bit out of touch with therapy, but whatever. There’s not many scumbags from 1983 that can say that they played with the San Francisco Orchestra twice.”

Swiger, Wolfe, and Lampela provided a list of their top Metallica albums for WOUB Culture. Check out their selections below. 

Demetri Wolfe 

1. Black Album

2. Ride the Lightning 
3. Master of Puppets

Jason Swiger 

1. …And Justice for All

2. Master of Puppets
3. Kill ‘Em All
Andrew Lampela 

1. Ride the Lightning
2. Ride the Lightning
3. Ride the Lightning

4. Master of Puppets
5a. … And Justice for All
5b. Cliff ‘Em All (VHS/DVD)