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Question: Did the audience really hear the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra when it joined Metallica for a pair of concerts back in April 1999?

If Metallica were playing with “full amplification” that night, did the 100-piece acoustic ensemble even have a chance?

S&M, a recording which documents said concerts, would indicate that the orchestra held its own against the band. Ah, but mixing boards and sound consoles are wonderous pieces of technology.

Whether conductor Michael Kamen’s orchestrations were heard by the audience is something only attendees can attest.

Let’s assume, for the moment, they didn’t. Well, S&M clues those listeners in on what they missed.

Kamen and the orchestra do a tremendous job keeping up with Metallica’s relentless strum und drang. Kamen’s orchestrations aren’t intrusive to Metallica’s already thick music, nor are they totally drowned by the group’s full-on barrage.

Key word: totally.

Metallica is still the definitive star of this pairing. The band’s sound is, to use the understatement of the century, huge, and the orchestra sound like they could play in only one dynamic — fortissississimo. In English: fucking loud.

Nonetheless, S&M is a great collection for the casual Metallica admirer — read: someone who owns only the self-titled Metallica album, a.k.a. Black. The two-disc affair spans the band’s nearly 20-year career and adds a nice extra — yes, the symphony orchestra — to boot.