Modern-metal act Metallica announced the details for a pair of concert collaborations with composer Michael Kamen and the San Francisco Symphony at a news conference Wednesday (Jan. 6) in Davies Symphony Hall.
Set for April 21 and April 22 at the 3,600-capacity Berkeley Community Theater, the shows will feature Metallica playing 23 songs with accompaniment by a 104-piece segment of the symphony.
Kamen previously orchestrated “Nothing Else Matters,” from Metallica’s 1991 Metallica album, and has worked with glam-rocker David Bowie, guitarist Eric Clapton and folk-legend Bob Dylan.
Clad mostly in black with a San Francisco Symphony banner hanging behind them, the four members of Metallica sat with a long-haired and bearded Kamen as they fielded media questions regarding their unusual pairing.
Drummer Lars Ulrich said the band has been in conversation with Kamen and the symphony for the past year and a half and, only recently, have had sufficient time to work on the rapidly emerging project.
“We sat down in Las Vegas four months ago and started narrowing down the number of songs from 80 to 23,” Ulrich said. “Every different side of Metallica is represented. … The key is what Michael feels works in the context of a symphony.”
Formed in 1981, Metallica, currently comprised of singer/guitarist James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, drummer Ulrich and bassist Jason Newsted, began their career with a frantic speed-metal bent on albums such as 1983’s Kill ’Em All but began heading for more melodic pastures with the 1996 release of Load.
Metallica recently released Garage Inc. a double-disc set produced by Bob Rock (Metallica, the Cult). The album consists of 11 new cover versions of songs by artists as diverse as Southern-fried rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, ’70s psychedelic act Blue Oyster Cult and blue-collar rocker Bob Seger, as well as material from the out-of-print 1987 Metallica EP Garage Days Re-Revisited, which includes covers of artists such as glam-kings Queen and the heavy-metal Motorhead.
Kamen likened Metallica’s songs to intensely dark work by composers such as Brahms and Wagner and said working with the foursome — who are more known for head-banging in clubs than performing before the wine-and-cheese symphony set — should pose a unique challenge to both parties.
“Let Metallica be Metallica. Let the San Francisco Symphony be the San Francisco Symphony,” said Kamen. “We have more things in common than things that are different, although the differences are spectacular.”
Frontman Hetfield said his outfit already has picked up some musical knowledge from its coupling with Kamen and the symphony. “Michael has told us what time signatures we play in,” the singer/guitarist cracked.
So far, songs set for inclusion in the concerts draw on material as far back as Metallica’s 1984 LP Ride the Lightning, with songs such as “Fight Fire With Fire” and “The Call of Ktulu,” and as recent as their 1997 album Re-Load, with songs such as “Devil’s Dance” (RealAudio excerpt). The group also listed “Hero Of The Day,” “Nothing Else Matters,” “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Master Of Puppets” as songs rehearsed.
Ulrich refused to rule out the possibility of collaborating on a new song with the symphony. “Between now and April 21, we have no other plans. We’ll see if we can come up with something and throw it in there to see if you can tell the difference,” Ulrich said, adding that the performances will be recorded with an eye toward a possible album.
To a man, Metallica expressed their enthusiasm for the project, but Hetfield admitted even they don’t know what to expect from the crowds that come to see their musical experiment.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, which is kind-of the beauty of it. We were just discussing yesterday how to keep the flow of the set together,” Hetfield said. “We’re used to noise between songs, and I don’t think it’s going to be like that there. So we really don’t know how it’s going to be. … We’re not even sure if there’s such a thing as intermissions at Metallica shows.”