S&M, Metallica's 1999 two-disc live collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony, is not one of the Bay Area legends' most well-regarded albums, despite its Grammy Award and multiplatinum sales. But it is the starting point for recent University of Tennessee music grad and guitarist Johnny Newman's interest in matching the power and volume of heavy metal with the complexity and precision of classical music.
"When I heard that, it took my expectations for what heavy metal can be to the outer limits," says Newman, who also leads music at Antioch Community Church. "I didn't know it could sound so lush, so classy but still be so aggressive."
Since he graduated in 2009 with a degree in composition and music theory, Newman has been working on his own version of S&M: a symphonic metal album called More Than Ever, scheduled for release in August.
The story behind More Than Ever starts on the day after Newman's senior recital, in which he and other rock musicians performed with the UT Studio Orchestra. Yanic Bercier, a veteran Canadian musician who works as an engineer in Knoxville and also runs the local Wave Transform Recording Studio (and also happens to have studied drumming under UT's Keith Brown) got in touch with Newman after hearing some of his home recordings online. Bercier encouraged Newman to record an album at his studio, and offered to play drums. Bercier also recruited the San Francisco bassist Steve DiGiorgio, a session player who has recorded with Iced Earth, Testament, and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, to come to Knoxville and record for the disc. (DiGiorgio briefly played in Bercier's band Quo Vadis in the 1990s.)
"He's a big name in the world of death metal," Newman says of DiGiorgio. "He's way beyond what anyone else can do."
DiGirogio finished recording his parts for More Than Ever, which also includes vocals from Ksenia Berestovskaya, in late May. Newman and Bercier, co-producers on the album, are finishing up mixing and mastering for release next month, with plans for an official release show in October.