FOR many music fans of a certain vintage their mind is instantly drawn to Metallica's S&M album when the notion of a rock band performing with a symphony orchestra is discussed.
That too was the case for Birds Of Tokyo guitarist Adam Spark when his band were formulating plans to perform with Australian symphony orchestras in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
However rather than use S&M as a yardstick to be measured by, Spark says Birds Of Tokyo viewed the 1999 union between the heavy metal legends and the San Francisco Symphony as a cautionary tale.
"Mostly [we've learnt] how not to do it," Spark says. "It's a contentious thing but the things we personally don't like, but some people love it, is the classic Metallica S&M thing. We thought that's not our bag of doing it.
"To us, having a rock band playing with strings behind, I always felt it was like two big muscles trying to flex against each other.
"That works for their music and they're absolute legends - and who am I to say anything - but our approach has been more to remove the band, build the songs up from an orchestral point of view and then we play right back into what we've written for the orchestra.
"To get the most out of it, we want to avoid playing as a rock band with a orchestra standing behind playing along with us. It feels like a real waste of colour and dynamic that you can get from an orchestra."
Unfortunately due to COVID-19, Birds Of Tokyo's orchestral rearrangements have been postponed until next January and February when they'll perform multiple shows in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Plans are being formulated to potentially extend to other cities, including Newcastle.
However, fans received a preview of the project on Anzac Day when they performed their new track Unbreakable for the Music From The Home Front - For The Fight Against COVID-19 television show.
It was a remarkable undertaking. The five-piece were joined by 43 members of the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra, with each musician recording their part separately at home in isolation.
The separate tracks were then edited together.
"It turned out really well," Spark says. "It was fairly complicated, having that many people in that same sequence and line it all up.
"I think it came out pretty well."
Birds Of Tokyo's latest album Human Design lends itself to orchestral arrangements. The lush and anthemic record is potentially the Perth band's most commercial-sounding effort yet.
Piano and acoustic guitar drive many of the stand out soft-rock moments like Unbreakable, Good Lord and Two Of Us, which are arguably their strongest songs since Plans and Lanterns.
It comes in stark contrast to the darker and heavier sound of the 2016 album, Brace.
"I was keen to push the direction of it feeling much more intimate, almost like a [frontman Ian] Kenny solo record," Spark says.
"There's a bunch of stuff we all felt and that he needed to say. We've done a whole lot of big rock records and ostentatious things and it felt like the right time for a drive down a side street and check out the little garden, rather than moving along the highway as we normally do."
The record's intimate sound is also reflective of Kenny's most personal lyrics. Human Design maps the breakdown of Kenny's marriage in 2017 on the tracks Good Lord and The Greatest Mistakes and subsequent depression before his eventual renewal with the discovery of a new relationship and the birth of his 13-month-old boy on Two Of Us and My Darling My Son.
Spark, who has known and co-written with Kenny since 2004, says the singer's emotional turmoil also affected the other members of Birds Of Tokyo.
"It's tough man," he says. "You feel for people. Like anyone going through anything who's a mate or a family member, there's only some much you can do and if people let you in on things.
"You can support or offer advice unsolicited or solicited, but mainly it's about being there. We're lucky we have a musical outlet to get these things out.
"You get to half talk about these things with friends and others without having to directly talk about it. It's always an easy way to start a conversation that would be otherwise difficult, especially with men talking to men about their emotions and heartbreak."
It's been 16 years since Spark founded Birds Of Tokyo with Kenny, who also fronts Perth prog-metal band Karnivool, and 12 years since their second album Universes broke the band nationally through the singles Wild Eyed Boy, Silhouettic and Broken Bones.
Since then their top-three albums Birds Of Tokyo (2010), March Flies (2013) and Brace (2016) have ensured the band have maintained their status as one of Australia's most commercially-successful rock bands.
Spark says Birds Of Tokyo continue to be driven by a desire for self-improvement.
"We still feel like we have something to prove, all the time," he says. "Although we don't and no artist does, but we're massively insecure people.
"We want to connect, you want people to love everything you do. You're always searching for 'I know I can do better than that one'."
Birds Of Tokyo's Human Design is out now.