For Whom The Bell Tolls

Album: Ride The Lightning (1984)
  • The lyrics are based on the 1940 Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name. The book is about an American who is given the job of taking out a bridge held by the Fascist army in the Spanish Civil War - the precursor to World War II. He fell in love and then found out very disturbing things about life and death. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Anthony - Wichita, KS
  • The phrase "For Whom The Bell Tolls" originated in a 1623 poem by the Englishman John Donne, who wrote:

    Send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls
    It tolls for thee


    Hemingway's book used the title.
  • This song is a commentary on the futility of war. The last few lines of the song diverge from the book to make this point. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
  • This is another song in which Cliff Burton's unique lead bass style is often mistaken for a guitar solo. Burton played the intro using light distortion on his bass.

    According to Kirk Hammett, Burton regularly played the intro bass riff when the pair of them were hanging out in their hotel room. The guitarist recalled to Rolling Stone in 2014: "He used to carry around an acoustic classical guitar that he detuned so that he could bend the strings. Anyway, when he would play that riff, I would think, 'That's such a weird, atonal riff that isn't really heavy at all.'"

    "I remember him playing it for James (Hetfield, vocals), and James adding that accent to it and all of a sudden, it changed," Hammett added. "It's such a crazy riff. To this day, I think, 'How did he write that?' Whenever I hear nowadays, it's like, 'OK, Cliff's in the house.'"

    Burton, Hetfield and Lars Ulrich are the credited writers on the song.
  • Ride The Lightning is the second Metallica album, and the first co-produced by Flemming Rasmussen, who worked on their next two albums as well. He came on board when the band decided to record the album in Europe, where studio time cost much less than in America thanks to a favorable exchange rate. They chose Rasmussen's Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen and used him as engineer and co-producer (along with the band).

    On this song, they tried something new. "'For Whom the Bell Tolls' was the first song we ever did to a click track," Rasmussen said in a Songfacts interview. "That was kind of tricky. That was also Lars learning how to play to a click."
  • The song opens with the tolling of a bell, which rings throughout the first minute of the song before gradually fading out. It's the second-most famous rock song to do this, placing behind AC/DC's "Hell's Bells," from their 1980 album Back In Black.

    The bands got their bell sounds in very different ways; AC/DC ordered a custom, one-ton bell from a foundry and recorded it using a mobile unit and 15 microphones. Metallica used a sound effects reel.

    "We edited in the bell effect so it would fit and be in tempo," Flemming Rasmussen told Songfacts. "I copied it and cut it in where it was supposed to come. So, once we got that tape started at the right spot, it simply played itself, and then dumped it into 24-track."

Comments: 77

  • Anonymouswhat is the tolling sound? is it an anvil or is it an ACTUAL bell?
  • Luke Lee from London, UkSo that's a bass in the intro? Damn. Cliff was good.
  • Alessandro from Brindisi, ItalyYou can dig out from Youtube some very old footage with a young Cliff Burton performing "For Whom" intro during a session in his high school
  • Zero from Nowhere, NjTo Stew, Buffalo, UK: Cliff Exclusively finger plucked.

    Also Jason most of the time used a pick and Rob most of the time finger plucked.
  • Zero from Nowhere, NjTo Stew, Buffalo, UK: Cliff Exclusively finger plucked.

    Also Jason most of the time used a pick and Rob most of the time finger plucked.
  • Zero from Nowhere, NjTo Joe, Fort Meade, I think up until ReLoad they had great messages in their songs (Not taking into account the music, which I think was still good, just not technically demanding as their older stuff). In fact I actually think with Load and ReLoad James just get better with his lyrics. I actually think "Enter Sandman" has some of the most lame pre-Anger lyrics (besides maybe "Kill 'Em All").
  • Zero from Nowhere, Njto Serkan Anarka, Turkey: They HAVE played "Trapped Under Ice" live, but only 3 times in it's entirety. When I saw them in 2004, they played "The God That Failed". They used to play the beginning of "The Frayed Ends of Sanity" (y'now the Wizard of OZ "flying monkeys" part) before going into other songs, and "Escape" has only been played live as a jam. As for the other songs, I don't know if they ever played them live before. They're going to play the Black Album and "Ride the Lighting" in their entirety (on two seperate nights) later this year. "Frayed Ends" has never been played enitrely probably because it's too complex.
  • Shaun from Reykjavík, IcelandLove the bass CLIFF 'EM' ALL
  • Matt from Bakersfield, CaFor Whom the Bell Tolls, god it's a great song the opening has no comparisen. Cliff Burton was the greatest bassist in the entre freakin world. thier is just no equal to him no matter what band!
  • Billy from Nederland , TxOK, Johnathan, go on youtube, There is a dude, Bobby Crispy, who has a video for this. Easy enough. He'll show you everything. Simple.
  • Johnathan from Albuquerque, Nmok billy, you send me a link to teh site or article that you got that idea from,and than i'll beielve that what you said isnt coplete bulls--t.
  • Billy from Nederland , TxCaleb from OH, reason why your guitar sounds low is because this was recorded in a tuning barely above standard tune. Also this song is awesome.
  • Stew from Buffalo, United KingdomThis song is amazing. Cliff Burton owns, may he rest in peace. If you wanna hear some absolutely mind blowing bass playing, search for a live version of this song on youtube. The camera quality will be really bad and it will open with Cliff wailing out a phenomenal solo. Did he fingerpluck or use a pick? I haven't been able to find out.
  • Rob from Sidney, AustraliaThis song rocks. I just saw Zombieland and this was the first song they played. Cool stuff. I saw the movie while visiting friends in the states. Way cool action and Woody Harrelson was just too funny. Wish somebody would make a Mad Max versus flesh eating zombies type film. Hmm gives me an idea. (I hope Bryan Miller doesn't mind). Ha. Have a nice day.
  • Caleb from Worthington, OhWhenever I play this on guitar, it sounds too low, yet the tab says it's in standard. Does anybody know why the recording sounds higher than all the tabs?
  • Aaron from Seattle, WaAnd another note to jon and luke, if they said "Take a look to the sky just before YOU die," then wouldn't it be "Its the last time YOU will?" It seems to make a lot more sense then HE.
  • Aaron from Seattle, WaI think the opening riff is on bass, not guitar.
  • R. Escari from Baghdad, IraqOne of my favorite songs.
    Indeed it brings back old memories.
    I still remember when I first heard this song in the late 80s, I immediately fell in love with it!
    I believe it somehow reminded me of a comrade who sacrificed his own life during the Iraqi/Iranian war.

    I, 4 some reason, feel that the solo at the beginning came from the heart of MetallicA!
  • Alex from Fresno, CaThis song is BAMF!!! Love Hammet's little riff about 1:15 in. I almost got a speeding ticket because of that part.
  • Nady from Adelaide, AustraliaMy brother has been trying to get me into Metallica since I was 5, and I'd have to say that this song, along with Some Kind Of Monster are my favourites. Sweet as
  • Jim from San Jose, CaMy favorite song by Metallica but its tied with One.
  • Tara from Wittenberg, WiDo not get me wrong, I do love Metallicas music, but I really do have to say that this is the best song they've ever made..Literally.
  • Jon from West Bend, Ia"Take a look to the sky just before you die - It's the last time you/he will." Metallica's website tells me that this lyric is "he" instead of "you," but I don't really care about that.

    I do, however, believe that this a reference to the ending of the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name. The main character, an American fighting against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, breaks his leg while attempting to escape from a group of fascists, and instead of continuing with his comrades, he chooses to stay and to kill as many fascists as he can. In doing so he will inevitably killed, and if I remember correctly, one of the last lines of the book involves him looking the sky.
  • Luke from Manchester, EnglandThe line isn't "he will" it's

    "Take a look to the sky just before you die - It's the last time YOU will"
  • Matt from Cape May, Njlove this song, great bass in the beginning!!!
  • Aki from Sunrise, FlThe line "Look to the sky just before you die, its the last time you will" is a reference of going to hell
    - rob, laguna Niguel, CA

    I think it's less about hell and more about just plain death. The whole concept of shutting yours eyes forever.
  • Matt from Struthers, Ohi swear to god i would give it all to see metallica in concert even 1 time. i wish i wouldve been around to see cliff play. this is such a deep awesome song...my favorite song ever
  • Ahmed from Baghdad, Iraqafter Cliff Burton things got worst the man was a legend
  • Max from Laconia, NhThis song is truely beastly. I get chills every time I hear the guitar. Frickin sweet!!!
  • Matt from Manistee, Mii love the bass in this song cliff burton rules
  • Arlindo from London, EnglandPeople, I am tired of seeing or hearing the wrong lyrics for the great 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' song. As Ryan so rightly put it: "It's the last time He will", and people people say: "Sounding gun on they run through the endless grey" when it is "Shouting gun on they run through the endless gray". And the lyrics in this site are also wrong, it is NOT: "Stiffened wounds test there their pride" but it IS: "Suffered wounds test there their pride". It is in the Ride The Lightning booklet and in www.metallica.com. For Master of Puppets, it is "Sucking darkest clear" and NOT "Sudden dark is clear". Now I'll just say goodbye...
  • Ryan from Pueblo, CoAm I the only one Metallica fan that has noticed that 99.99% of all metallica fans and internet quoted lyrics (besides the lyrics from metallica's official websites) have/sing the wrong lyrics for a line in the song "For Whom the Bell Tolls"?

    The line I speak of is (written correctly) "take a look to the sky just before you die, it's the last time HE will"

    Not "you will"!! but "HE will"

    if you just search these metallica lyrics most all of them say (unofficial metallica sites) "you will" at the end of that line, but they are WRONG!!!!
    If you look it up on Metallica's official site or in the booklet that came with the album "Ride the Lightning" released in 1984, you will read the correct lyrics as typed in completion above with "HE will" at the end, not "you will"

    I know it's only a one word difference, but it significantly changes the meaning of that line and it bugs me to see everyone I have ever seen or heard quote that line wrong.

    here is the link to the lyrics for that song from a official metallica website

    http://www.metallica.com/Media/Albums/album_2_lyric.asp?skin_id=1#3
  • Billy from Cresco, PaI love this song, never had the chance to read the book though.

    and I have to agree with Joe, Black-album and back there was a message to metallica songs, they weren't repetitive (I'm madly in anger with you x100)

  • Joe from Fort Meade, MdThis is what I like about the older Metallica songs, there is actually a message there and the lyrics have some meaning, some are almost on Zeppelin-like proportions. Great messages, especially when compared to who Hettfield dedicated "St. Anger" to (serial rapists on death row, what the ----?!).
  • Ana from Santa Maria, Caclassic metallica song. easy to play as well. but still amazing and earie. i'd actually read the book for whom the bell tolls a couple of years back before i'd ever heard the song, but somehow having read the book makes me like the song even more. i'd say the song and the book are both just about as great.
  • Josh from New London, MnHis name is John Donne, not "Doone", and it wasn't a poem, it was a sermon. He was a minister, the sermon is called Meditation 17.
  • Jt from Tullahoma, TnI play bass and I might add that this is one of their easiest songs to play. I had this song memorized note for note my first week of playing bass. This is my favorite song by Metallica to play on my bass. Next in line would be Orion
  • Bob from New York, NyAnyone who plays guitar knows this is one of the esiest songs to play, yet so powerful and erie. Great song. Just great.
  • Jilly from Nashville, TnThis song is the most powerful song when combined with the San Fran Orchestra....i'm actually making my parents watch it when they come visit me this week. ( i only see them once a year) But now I live in Music City, and they are gonna get an education! Nashville is not all country!!
    The orchestration is AMAZING...my boyfriend worked with Michael Kamen on a few movies as his orchestrator, and what a sad loss,but what COOL guy! His score takes my breath away.
  • Evan from Otway, OhPhew. What a song, perfect head-banging tune. I love the riffs in the first 2 minutes of the song, before the lyrics kick in. And of course the chorus, which is catchy as hell. Classic Metallica.
  • Nick from Paramus, NjTo Serkan, Anarka, Turkey: I saw them live in 2004 and they actually played "The God That Failed", "Disposable Heroes", "Fade to Black" and "Blackened" and didn't play this song! It was a good show.
  • Craig from Albany, NyI would just like to correct one of those facts at the top. Hemmingway's book is not based on the poem by John Doone. Only the title is taken from it. The book itself is based on the Spanish Civil War. Hemmingway may not have been directly involved, but he did know various people that were in the war. As well as his experiences in WW1.
  • Dylan from Wicklow Town, IrelandJames took the title from a book about five men who climbed a hill, and were killed in war
  • Zach from Carlsbad, CaHas anyone read the book by hemmingway? i read "Johnny Got His Gun" and metallica based the song "One" off of it and it was the best book i ever read.
  • Jt from Tullahoma, TnYeah man, I agree with Sean there. As much as I love the studio version, I thought the S&M version was so bad ass! I liked when they hit that note in the concert video and they killed the lights before bringing them on. So Metallica's new work may not be as good as their old work, it still rocks to me. Metallica is now officially my favorite Metal band. TOKE ON!!! I mean, uh, ROCK ON!!!! *headbangs*
  • Brianne from Brooklyn, NyWhile Ernest Hemingway's novel may be the inspiration for the song, he actually got the title "For Whom the Bell Tolls" from a famous passage in Meditation XVII by John Donne. The meditation describes the relationship between man and the rest of the world: "no man is an island entire to himself," and we are all connected regardless if we feel otherwise. Mankind will always be connected and everything we do in this world affects the world entire as well as the individual. We are all "involved with mankind," so when the bell tolls (which was a signal that someone had died), it tolls for us as well ("...never send for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee").
  • Michael from Greenwood, InZakk Wylde Vs. Kirk Hammet who wins in a guitar battle??
    i say zakk wylde wins but i love them both
  • Sean from Flower Mound, TxI love the S&M version of this song.
  • Josh from Plainview, NyAbout the S&M version I never noticed it before but now that you mention it actually sounds like he's saying "it's an ass timing whale." or something like that. Anyway I prefer the album version. Regardless though it's an awesome song from a great album.
  • Mike from Guelph, Canadaever notice that in the s&m version when he says "take a look to the sky just before you die, its the last time you will" it sounds like he says "take a look to the sky just before you die, its an ass grabbing whale"
  • Jeff from Sothington, Cti find there are several songs by rock bands inspired by books..metallica wrote this on a book and wrote "One" from a book on WWI and Guns N' Roses wrote "November Rain" from a book called "Without You"
  • Rahul from Ottawa, CanadaExceptional lyrics and complex musical arrangements.One of the greatest songs ever in my book.Although I think Jason Newsted is a fantastic bassist,I think it's fair to say that Metallica were never(and never will be) the same after Cliff Burton's death.
  • Lindsay from Mb, CanadaI think when they were talking about the hells bells thinger, they have the same intro, with the bell ringing. I don't know if they did that on purpose or not.
  • Robert from Powder Springs, GaMetallica's members actually include some extrordinarily intelligent and creative members, Mariah.
  • Robert from Powder Springs, GaOooh! Trapped under ice is excellent.

    Anyway, this song rocks, and well yeah. It's not difficult to tell what it's about.
  • Gavin from Marietta, OhI've heard that this song was about the battle of bunker hill...I'm not saying any of you people are wrong but listen to the words...
  • Rob from Laguna Niguel, CaThe line "Look to the sky just before you die, its the last time you will" is a reference of going to hell
  • Scott from Logan, UtBut who did Ernest Hemingway get the idea from? A 16th century poet John Donne, I could care less for a lot of poetry but I really like that poem... google it.
  • Serkan from Ankara, TurkeyATTENTION PLEASE!!!
    Yes, it is a great song, and a classic...But Metallica guys play it in EVERY show, and I don't want to hear it (and Sandman) anymore. Can someone tell me why they have never played their other perfect songs live, such as; Escape, The Shortest Straw, Frayed Ends of Sanity, Trapped Under Ice, The God That Failed, My Friend of Misery, The Struggle Within, etc.??????????
  • Nate from Philly, Padefinitly written about hemmingways book, the part "take a look to the sky right before you die" is about a part when a band of guerilla soldiers are defending themselves on the top of a hill. the leader of the band, looks to the sky, and reflects upon life, right before he's slaughtered.
  • Steven from Penzance, EnglandI love this song because it has lead bass at the beginnig and i play bass so it's fun to play.
  • Jess from Milford, PaWilfred, Melbourne, Australia: I think Charlie knew this...I think he was referring to the thought of Metallica using AC/DC's Hells Bells as an inspiration to the song For Whom The Bell Tolls...which makes no sense, they're nothing alike.
  • Soheil from Esafahan, IranAwwwwsome song, question "for a hill, men wee kill, why? they do not know" which really rock me still after about a 10000000000000 listening to it.
    but the best part i like is when he talks about when you are gonna die,.
    "take a look to the sky just before u die,
    its the last time you will......'
    from what i have read in the quran(lets not think terrorism this time) the sky will fall down and the mountains will start to move, so i dont know if there is any similarity between what i said and what metallica where trying to say.

  • Rob from Perth, Australiathe good thing about this song is even though you know what it is about - it can be about anything you want if you understand how to listen to music... hence the power of MetallicA
  • Kyle from Lake Village, InThe Base on this cd was awsome when they had the greatest bassist of all time Cliff Burton now Metallica sucks after the black album-Go Orginal Metallica
  • Hildur from Reykjavik, IcelandThe lyrics in this song are so great! Probably the best lyrics I have ever read/heard. In this song James proofs what a great song-writer he is.
  • Wilfred from Melbourne, AustraliaI wouldn't laugh about Metallica reading a book. They may be millionaire rock musicians, but that does not preclude them from being intelligent. Before you insult someone's intelligence, check their IQ (and your own, if it registers on the scale).
  • Wilfred from Melbourne, Australiacharlie, Thomaston, CT: I do assume you mean the "Hells Bells" by AC/DC. That was certainly never a Metallica song, though they may have covered live.
  • Charlie from Thomaston, Ctits good very good lyrics and vocals but not as good as hells bells which is where they probably got the idea from
  • Michael from Zurich, Switzerlandi saw the live version of Woodstock 99. GREAT!
  • Kyle from Montreal, CanadaMy band did a cover of this song for my school, the crowd went wild... not many Metallica fans in my school (losers, huh?) so they probably think we made it up, haha. We had the person doing the lights doing what they did in Woodstock 99, if you've ever seen it. Really fun song too.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesThe Ernest Hemmingway novel also inspired a massive hit single of the same name for the Bee Gees in 1993. No relation to the Metallica song, though.
  • Tim from Leuven, Belgiumnumber one in my top 5 , best 'tallica song ever
  • Mariah from Miami, FlMetallica read a book? =O haha, great all the same. =)
  • Hetfield from Manchester, EnglandAmazing metllica

    having read the book, i can tell you the lyrics are written in a VERY simaler style to the way of hemingway VERY descriptive
  • Andrea A from Shy-town, Ili agree. a classic
  • Joe from Dublin, OhId say its a top 5 metallica song. Original Metallica.
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