Metallica by 1999 already had quite an extensive discography, and perhaps even experienced a bit of a revival in the mid-90s going into the 2000s. It would make sense to release a live album or some kind of compilation at this point. Having been a thrash metal mainstay in the 80s, they survived the emergence of grunge and alternative to remain part of the popular culture. Metallica very much continues the tradition of rock stars even at forty years in existence. That said, S&M is a different take on a live album, compilation or Greatest Hits offering. It is very rare that a band will rework previous releases in this manner that presumably sees the light of day. Joining forces with the SF Philharmonic and a renowned film score composer, Michael Kamen, we get what could possibly be one of the better live album recordings in history. Metallica is not toned down here as they might even sound heavier, the orchestra and their recording in a theater, adds a tonal clarity absent the lingering reverb/echo of a stadium recording. Crowd noise is minimal and plays as part of the show. Drums are full and can be felt in one's chest, electric guitars are discernible from the string accompaniments, winds providing a new background on each song's 'fullness'. In a way, this album makes Metallica sound heavier, or at the least more complete. Listening to "Wherever I May Roam" compared to this live version, while maintaining its soul, seems to have found a body to go with it. This is the general feeling of this album and its songs, and that makes for a great live recording. There is not really a criticism to be made here, Hetfield is Hetfield, his vocals as consistent as ever. Musically, one can hear the intention and professionalism and this is a good thing for something as lofty as this type of partnership achieves. It is difficult to give this album five stars because it is a live album, having taken some of the more recognizable songs and placing together on the same album. On the other hand, the live album is just so well done that it argues that it stands by itself even after having been propped up with help from established hits, accompanied by an orchestra/conductor of renown. In terms of originality, this album has no predecessor in terms of everything being recomposed for literally no reason other than they can, and they did. Understandably, the album might offend purists. There is a near religious adherence to metal being metal for metal's sake, and this crossover might feel like an unholy union of sorts. Thrash metal, especially one like Metallica, thrives on a certain aesthetic of graphic, that it is in its own way a form of beautiful expression. Coupling that darker imagery with the beauty of an orchestra is an oil and water mixture that should not work, and for the purist S&M could be downright offensive. However, that stark separation presented here in a wonderfully arranged unison is why this will get a disputed top rating.