For Whom the Bell Tolls (Metallica song)

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"For Whom the Bell Tolls"
Promotional single by Metallica
from the album Ride the Lightning
  • Album version
RecordedFebruary 20 – March 14, 1984
StudioSweet Silence (Copenhagen, Denmark)
GenreHeavy metal[1]
  • 5:11 (album version)
  • 3:59 (promo edit)
Lyricist(s)James Hetfield
Metallica singles chronology
"Creeping Death"
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"
"Master of Puppets"
Audio sample
Live performance
"For Whom the Bell Tolls" on YouTube

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" is a song by American heavy metal band Metallica. It was first released on their second studio album, Ride the Lightning (1984). Elektra Records also released it as a promotional single, with both edited and full-length versions. The song is generally regarded as one of Metallica's most popular; by March 2018, it ranked number five on their live performance count.[2] Several live albums and video albums include the song. In March 2023, Rolling Stone magazine ranked "For Whom the Bell Tolls" at number 39 on their "100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time" list.[3]


The song was inspired by Ernest Hemingway's 1940 novel of the same name about the process of death in modern warfare and the bloody Spanish Civil War. Specific allusions are made to the scene described in Chapter 27 of the book, in which five soldiers are obliterated during an airstrike after taking a defensive position on a hill.

Cliff Burton plays the bass guitar introduction with heavy distortion and a wah pedal. Burton wrote the intro before joining Metallica and first played it during a 12-minute jam at a battle of the bands with his second band Agents of Misfortune in 1979.

The bell sound heard at the beginning of the track was actually produced by drummer Lars Ulrich striking an anvil with a metal hammer[4] in combination with a bell from a sound effects reel.[5]

Track listing[edit]

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" was released as a promo single with two versions of the song. An edited version appears on the A-side, with the full-length album version on the B-side.

Promotional 12-inch single
1."For Whom the Bell Tolls" (Edit)3:59
2."For Whom the Bell Tolls"5:11

Other versions[edit]


In 1999 and 2019, Metallica recorded "For Whom the Bell Tolls" with the San Francisco Symphony for the live albums S&M and S&M2, respectively. Other live versions appear on Cliff 'Em All (VHS, 1987), Live Shit: Binge & Purge (1993), Cunning Stunts (DVD, 1997), Français Pour une Nuit (DVD, 2009), Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria: Tres Noches en la Ciudad de México (2009), The Big Four: Live from Sofia, Bulgaria (DVD, 2010), Quebec Magnetic (DVD, 2012), and Metallica: Through the Never (soundtrack, 2013).


  • A remix by DJ Spooky appeared on the Spawn soundtrack, titled "For Whom the Bell Tolls (The Irony of it All)". Metallica later released it on "The Memory Remains" single, re-titled "For Whom the Bell Tolls (Haven't Heard It Yet Mix)". "The Irony of it All" has vocals from both the chorus and verses of the song, while "Haven't Heard It Yet Mix" only has vocals from the chorus.


Credits adapted from Ride The Lightning liner notes [6]



Chart (2019) Peak
US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs (Billboard)[8] 18

In popular culture[edit]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[9] Silver 200,000
United States (RIAA)[10] Gold 500,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joel McIver (2009). To Live Is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica's Cliff Burton. Jawbone Press. p. 119. ISBN 9781906002244. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  2. ^ "Song Statistics". Archived from the original on July 27, 2018. Retrieved March 2, 2018.
  3. ^ "The 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. March 13, 2023. Archived from the original on March 13, 2023. Retrieved March 13, 2023.
  4. ^ "Fighting Fire With Fire: Metallica Look Back on 'Ride the Lightning'". Rolling Stone. July 28, 2014. Retrieved October 3, 2022.
  5. ^ "Songfacts: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica".
  6. ^ Ride The Lightning (liner notes). Metallica. 1984.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  7. ^ "Metallica's 'Ride the Lightning': 8 Things You Didn't Know, Track by Track". July 27, 2018.
  8. ^ "Metallica Chart History (Hot Rock & Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  9. ^ "British single certifications – Metallica – For Whom the Bell Tolls". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  10. ^ "American single certifications – Metallica – For Whom the Bell Tolls". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved April 23, 2021.