S&M contains performances of Metallica songs with additional symphonic accompaniment, which was composed by Michael Kamen, who also conducted the orchestra during the concert. The idea to combine heavy metal with an epic classical approach, as James Hetfield has stated repeatedly, was an idea of Cliff Burton. Burton’s love of classical music, especially of Johann Sebastian Bach, can be traced back to many instrumental parts and melodic characteristics in Metallica’s songwriting including songs from Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets.
In addition to songs from previous albums spanning Ride the Lightning through ReLoad, there are two new compositions: "No Leaf Clover" and "−Human". "The Ecstasy of Gold" by Ennio Morricone, Metallica's entrance music, was played live by the orchestra. "No Leaf Clover" has since been performed by Metallica in concert, using a recording of the orchestral prelude.
Changes were made to the lyrics of some songs, most notably the removal of the second verse and chorus of "The Thing That Should Not Be" and playing the third verse in its place.
The "S" in the stylized "S&M" on the album cover is a backwards treble clef, while the "M" is taken from Metallica's logo.
The drum kit Ulrich used on the album currently resides in a Guitar Center in San Francisco.
Rolling Stone (January 20, 2000, pp. 57–59) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...create the most crowded, ceiling-rattling basement rec room in rock....[in its] sheer awesomeness...the live performance succeeded....the monster numbers benefit from supersizing. The effect is more one of timelessness..."
Spin (February 2000, pp. 114–5) - 8 out of 10 - "...makes their tempo and texture dynamics...into a topic in and off of itself, a deep evocation of bad-voodoo creeping willies culminating in 'One' and 'Enter Sandman'....Freed from ritualized superhuman extremism, it builds a soundtrack to everyday life."
Entertainment Weekly (December 3, 1999, p. 102) - "Buttressed by grim strings, creaky horns, and thundering timpani, staples...creep with fearful new dimension, like an old Posada print come to life." - Rating: B
Q (February 2000, p. 86) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...another just about forgivable flirtation with Spinal Tap-esque lunacy....a fine hit-heavy live LP with bolted-on bombast from the S.F. Symphony....Michael Kamen's scores swoop and soar with impressive portent throughout."
CMJ (December 20, 1999, p. 24) - "...stunning....orchestral renditions of hits from the band's '90s output."
Metal Edge Readers' Choice Award for Compilation Album of the Year
ARTIST Direct Online Music Award for Favorite Turn-It-Up-Loud CD
California Music Award for Arthur M. Sohcot Award for Excellence
S&M sold 300,000 units in the first week of release, and went on to sell a total of 2.5 million copies. As of 2003, the album had been certified 5× platinum. As of August 2013 the album had sold more than 8 million copies worldwide.
Metallica also filmed and released the concert in DVD and VHS with direction by Wayne Isham. The VHS set has only the concert video, while the double DVD set has 5.1 sound (also: 2.0 band+orchestra, 2.0 band-only and 2.0 orchestra-only), 41 minute documentary about the concert, and two "No Leaf Clover" music videos: "Slice & Dice" version and the "Maestro Edit". The DVD also contains four songs with multi-angles where each band member can be viewed individually: "Of Wolf and Man", "Fuel", "Sad But True", and "Enter Sandman".
James Hetfield – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, electro-acoustic guitar in "Nothing Else Matters"
Eric Achen, Joshua Garrett, Douglas Hull, Jonathan Ring, Bruce Roberts, Robert Ward, James Smelser – French horns
David Teie principal, Richard Andaya, Barara Bogatin, Jill Rachuy Brindel, David Goldblatt – cello
Jeremy Constant concertmaster, Daniel Banner, Enrique Bocedi, Paul Brancato, Catherine Down, Bruce Freifeld, Connie Gantsweg, Michael Gerling, Frances Jeffrey, Robert Zelnick, Yukiko Kamei, Naomi Kazama, Kum Mo Kim, Yasuko Hattori, Melissa Kleinbart, Mo Kobialka, Daniel Kobialka, Rudolph Kremer, Kelly Leon-Pearce, Diane Nicholeris, Florin Parvulescu, Anne Pinsker, Victor Romasevich, Philip Santos, Peter Shelton – violins
Chris Bogios, Glenn Fischthal, Andrew McCandless, Craig Morris – trumpets
Stephen Paulson, Steven Dibner, Rob Weir – bassoons