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Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich Break Down ‘S&M2’ Set List

The thrash-metal pioneers look back on their second unholy union with the San Francisco Symphony

Metallica's Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich break down their 'S&M2' set list.

Brett Murray*

Last fall, 20 years after the first Symphony and Metallica concerts, the thrash-metal firebrands returned for the orchestral shows documented on their new album, S&M2. As with the 1999 outing, the group teamed up with the San Francisco Symphony, but they decided to make the sequel an even bigger event, performing two nights in a gargantuan arena and incorporating new songs that didn’t get the orchestral treatment the first time around. They even tried their hands at performing a classical piece with the Symphony.

“Picking the songs was just an exercise in balance,” drummer Lars Ulrich says. “We wanted to try different things, and we knew there was an opportunity to go into new places. [The Symphony’s music director] Michael Tilson Thomas was very determined to add something extra so it wouldn’t just be a rehashing of ’99. Obviously, there were three full albums worth of material that we had done since then, and we wanted all those records represented. So we asked ourselves what songs from St. Anger, Death Magnetic, and Hardwired would best lend themselves to this kind of interpretation. It was very collaborative.” Here’s how the set list ended up coming together.

“The Ecstasy of Gold” (1966)
Since 1983, Metallica have kicked off their concerts with composer Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti Western masterpiece “The Ecstasy of Gold” from his score for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Their manager at the time told them it would hype up the audience, but it has also amped up the band for nearly 40 years now. “There’s some kind of Pavlovian conditioning where whenever I hear it, I check the tuning on my guitar and make sure my hands and wrists are loose enough to play,” guitarist Kirk Hammett says. “When I heard the orchestra do it, it was hard to concentrate on it, because I instantly go into stretching mode.”

“When you hear an orchestra play that and it’s signaling T-minus two minutes and counting until it’s time to play, it’s pretty awesome,” Ulrich says. “It’s not just invigorating but also a life-affirming and slightly daunting task. It tells me it’s time to step up and do what you do and harness some confidence from the energy of the universe.”

“The Call of Ktulu” (1984)
Metallica’s members always looked up to Iron Maiden, and Lars Ulrich credits the British heavy-metal legends’ penchant for instrumentals as the spark for “The Call of Ktulu.” “There were a lot of things that Iron Maiden did that were inspiring, and they had instrumentals on the first couple of records like ‘Transylvania’ and ‘Ides of March,’” he says. “When we were jamming on ‘Ktulu,’ it always felt it had a melodic sensibility and a voice all its own that didn’t need vocals or lyrics. It felt like it had a mood.”

Hammett also credits Cliff Burton, who played bass with Metallica from their early Eighties breakthrough until his death in 1986, with introducing classical-music song structures to the band. “Cliff Burton was constantly listening to classical music,” Hammett says. “He was very much into baroque classical music and particularly Bach. But when we were kids, we could only fantasize about working with an orchestra.” Years later, Metallica found that the classical-style movements of “Ktulu” fused perfectly with the orchestra; when the original S&M album came out in 1999, “Ktulu” won a Grammy.

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1984)
There’s a point in every Metallica concert — even an S&M show — when Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo lock eyes during “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and do what looks like a little elf dance, sparring with their instruments as they wiggle around in a circle. “He always comes over and starts baiting me,” Hammett says with a laugh. “If you’re gonna bait me like that onstage, I’m gonna react. It just became a thing. Sometimes, I’m really in the moment and I look up, and he’s coming at me. I’m like, ‘Oh, shit.’ He’s running after me; I’ve got to run or something. I don’t even know what he’s going to do from night to night.”

“The Memory Remains” (1997)
When Metallica recorded “The Memory Remains” for their 1997 album Reload, they asked Marianne Faithfull, who has a deep, resonant voice, to sing its haunting melodic refrain. Composer Michael Kamen layered that melody with classical instruments for the original S&M, but for the sequel, the song took on new life in an arena setting. “The arrangement is fleshed out into all these different voicings,” Hammett says, “so I’m standing there and playing the raw, three- or four-note melody and hearing all these embellishments. It’s like a ripple in a pond that keeps on multiplying and getting bigger. And then when the audience participates, it feels like we’re one big human orchestra. It’s bigger than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”

“It was especially incredible on the second night,” Ulrich says, “when the almost 20,000 members of our fan club, who had journeyed in from countries literally all over the world, stole that moment and became the choir that would never quiet down and kept singing the outro back at us. A few of them may still be there singing nine months later.”

“Confusion” (2016)
During Hammett’s solo on the Hardwired … to Self-Destruct track, the orchestra mustered something akin to the “Imperial March” from Star Wars in the string section. But the guitarist says he never found the arrangements distracting — because he wasn’t really listening to them. “When it came time to do my guitar solos, I really had to focus on my own voice,” he says. “The orchestra could play the most intricate counterpoint to what I was playing, but it wouldn’t get in the way because I was listening to the orchestra more organically, and I had the band in my in-ear monitors.”


“The Outlaw Torn” (1996)
When Metallica released Load, they maxed out the capacity for a compact disc (the whole thing totaled 78 minutes and 59 seconds) and a good chunk of that running time was taken up by jammy closing track “The Outlaw Torn.” The song’s openness led to what Ulrich calls “a lot of unique band-orchestra moments” at the original S&M shows, and they explored some different aspects of it for the sequel. “It’s not a song we play all that often,” he says. “It’s the kind of piece where there’s a lot of room to breathe, and I think if we played that song 20 times over a month, you could get into a side of us that maybe doesn’t come out all that often. It’s a super fun song to play, but it can be daunting because it feels like there’s so many opportunities to do stuff in it, but you have to play yourself into that headspace.”

“No Leaf Clover” (1999)
At Metallica’s first S&M shows, “No Leaf Clover” was one of two new songs they prepared specifically to go with the orchestra, and once it was a hit, they kept it in their set lists for their regular gigs. “Other than in ’99, we’ve basically only ever played to the intro tape of ‘No Leaf Clover,’ so having the orchestra play that intro live again was super cool,” Ulrich says. Hammett says that playing the song with the symphony again helped it to come alive. “Playing it without the orchestra, it’s much more of a hard-rock song,” he says. “But with an orchestra, that’s how it’s meant to sound.”

“Intermissions are not something we usually do,” Ulrich says. “Coming from a tennis background, I know that if you have wet clothes on and if you get too cold, you’ll get fuckin’ sick. So I got a dry set of clothes on and went back out and continued being in the zone.”

“During the intermission, I probably ran backstage, had a cup of coffee, toweled off, and changed my shirt, because it was really, really sweaty,” Hammett says. “Then I probably went through what we were going to play over the next hour or so just by myself on my guitar. I probably ate a banana, too.”

“Iron Foundry” (1927)
To change things up from the original S&M shows, Michael Tilson Thomas (who goes by “MTT”), flipped the script on Metallica and asked them to play on a work by Russian Futurist composer Alexander Mosolov. When the piece, “Iron Foundry,” premiered in 1927, it was supposed to evoke Soviet industrialism; Metallica made it even heavier. “The minute MTT suggested it, the whole thing just oozed rock collaboration,” Ulrich says. “About a week before the rehearsals started, MTT and his team came out to HQ and we started just going through it. … And all of a sudden, there was a beat or a drum pattern I hit upon and Kirk started doing that crazy melody and James started doing his chunky riff thing and it was off to the races.”

“It’s amazing just to watch the orchestra go through all the different cycles of it and build it up so it sounds like an industrial machine,” Hammett says. “I would have liked to have done a guitar solo in it, but I think I was too late to the game for that.”

“The Unforgiven III” (2008)
One of S&M2’s biggest surprises was when James Hetfield sang the Death Magnetic ballad solo, accompanied only by the orchestra. “I think he did a great job and was focused on it and put energy and attention into it, but the other thing that was amazing for me to see and hear was when they did the orchestration of the guitar solo,” Hammett says. “Hearing one guitar lick played by a flute over here and another played by a violin over there was, for me, a bit of sensory overload. It was like trying to keep your eye on everything that’s going on in a beehive; you don’t know what to focus on.”

“From a purely practical point, anytime I get a break, it’s always welcome,” Ulrich says. “But obviously watching James surrender himself completely and wrap himself in that song was an awesome thing to witness. I think I stood down in the audience [to watch it] with the fans, and one of the nights I stood with MTT’s husband, Josh, kind of arm in arm, and it was a very awesome and immersive moment.”

“All Within My Hands” (2003)
“That’s a version of the song that we came up with for our acoustic endeavors,” Ulrich says. “When we sat down and tried to put a balanced set list together, that seemed like be a fun one to throw into the mix rather than the make-as-much-noise-as-possible St. Anger version of the song. Maybe under every Metallica song there’s something pretty waiting to come out.”

“We brought in our friend Avi [Vinocur], to help us with the vocals, and we thought, now that Avi’s here, maybe we can try three-part harmony behind James,” Hammett says. “So Rob and I got with Avi at my place and for three or four days, all we did was play acoustic guitars and sing harmonies. We were like the heavy-metal Bee Gees.”

“(Anesthesia) — Pulling Teeth” (1983)
Perhaps the most stunning part of the concert was when the Symphony’s principal bass player, Scott Pingel, paid homage to the late Cliff Burton with an approximation of Burton’s show-stopping solo featured on Metallica’s 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All, complete with wah-wah. The S&M2 shows were only the second time Ulrich played drums on the song since Burton’s death. “It was just a very emotional moment, because you could tell the first time he went into one of the signature melodies that the energy in the room was definitely goosebumps city,” the drummer says. “It felt incredible.”

“[Scott] nailed it from a technical front, in terms of playing the solo and hitting all those notes,” Hammett says. “I’d say he was about 98 percent accurate. Also, he hit it on the sound front, because there’s a few different sounds in that bass solo that Cliff Burton cycled through, and he was hitting those, too. I was amazed. I had to walk over to his pedal board, stare down and think, ‘That’s all the stuff that Cliff did not use.’ I was impressed that in a very organic way, [Scott] fleshed out that sound; it takes a really good ear to be able to do that. Knowing that he’s a classical musician, for him to sit down and plug into an amp and deal with speaker volume and effects boxes is totally out of his league was great. And he had the right attitude, too, so that was a real surprise that came out of left field.”

“Wherever I May Roam” (1991)
“I had to play the intro on a Coral sitar,” Hammett says of the tune’s Middle Eastern–style intro. “My hands were shaking so much, and I kept on thinking to myself, ‘Don’t mess up. Don’t mess up. Don’t mess up.’ And I played it right for only the second time out of 75 attempts. By the time I was playing the guitar for the meat of the song, I was still recovering from that high-pressure moment.”

“One” (1988)
Usually, Metallica introduce their antiwar epic with the sounds of gunfire, but for S&M2, they put the Symphony’s percussion in the spotlight. And Ulrich was moved by the moment and got in on the dramatic drumming. “He wasn’t supposed to do that,” Hammett says, laughing. “That wasn’t in the script. I don’t know what the heck he was doing.” Ulrich explains, “The percussion players were fairly close to me physically, and I have the tendency to get restless when I’m waiting, so it was like a magnet brought me there and gave me a chance to get into some shenanigans.”

“Master of Puppets” (1986)
The rapid-fire riffing and stop-on-a-dime rhythms of Metallica’s signature thrasher, “Master of Puppets,” don’t leave much room for extra instrumentation, but somehow arranger Bruce Coughlin found ways to expand the tune, including adding some mariachi horns in the middle section. The best part for the band, though, was that the revamp didn’t change the way they play. “I loved when the horn parts came in,” Hammett says. “There was very, very little that we heard where we were like, ‘Uh, why is there triangle on this part?’”

“If I told you I’m sitting up there, in the middle of the whole thing, playing off the mariachi horns and that that brings a different thing to what I’m doing, I’d be slightly stretching the truth or romanticizing it,” Ulrich says. “What I’m hearing when I’m playing is mostly James’ rhythm guitar and the kick and the snare. Sometimes the finer elements of the orchestra are not coming into my ears.”

“Nothing Else Matters” (1991)
When Metallica were working on their “Black Album,” producer Bob Rock suggested they team with composer Michael Kamen on a cinematic orchestral arrangement for “Nothing Else Matters,” and the composer recorded an orchestra remotely for the record. They didn’t get a chance to perform the song live with a symphony until Kamen concocted the idea for the original S&M concerts in 1999. “This was bringing the song back closer to its original recorded form, similar to ‘No Leaf Clover,’” Hammett says. “For us, being able to bring in things like orchestration was a real turning point. It was like, ‘Wow, we can actually do this now. We’ve made it.’”

“Enter Sandman” (1991)
As a thank you for MTT’s guidance throughout S&M2, Metallica invited him to play keyboards on the final song, “Enter Sandman.” “It was the icing on the cake,” Hammett says of the performance. “MTT definitely understands what we’re about and the dynamic. He recognizes that a lot of the songwriting techniques we use are similar to how classical music is written, and he understands the bombast, the light and the dark, and he draws comparisons with all sorts of different periods with us. I think he understands us intrinsically.”

From Rolling Stone US