S-Tier Songs, Vol. 21

The S-Tier songs series marches on. For the list as it stands now and an overview of what it’s about if you haven’t seen it before, head to the master page.

I always have the next handful of songs for this planned out. I was about to work on one of them when I went back and read through the list of what I did so far. I could have been knocked over with a feather to find that this song was not already on my list. So today it’s time to right that wrong.

Metallica – For Whom The Bell Tolls

The third track from 1984’s seminal thrash record Ride The Lightning was a massive force that captured the attention of the metal world out of the gate. The song was released as a promotional single and has endured as one of Metallica’s best-loved songs through the course of their 40-plus year career.

Ride The Lightning has been the subject of the Album of the Week before, that post is here.

The intro to the song is classic, but it actually begins with something else. Two bells ring, followed by the drop of the riff. If you hear more than two bells, then you are most likely about to enjoy the classic song Hell’s Bells by AC/DC. Or maybe some other song that has bells but isn’t as good as either this or AC/DC. It’s a fun game to play if listening to the radio or whatever and the bell starts ringing to figure out which song is playing.

Once the bell is over with it’s all guns blazing with the guitars and – wait, what is that infernal noise? It’s actually bassist Cliff Burton with his rig plugged into a few effects, doing a part he used to do in old Bay Area bands alongside Jim Martin and Mike Bordin, who would go on to form Faith No More. Cliff’s twisted bass piece fits the guitar part very well and the song trudges on to begin the verses.

The song’s lyrical fare is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel of the same name as the song. I’ll just get this out of the way – I read the book in high school because of the song and I wasn’t all that into it. But it’s pretty badass when distilled into a song – it’s set in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. In the book, a group of fighters are planning to blow up a bridge to stall an enemy advance when shit hits the fan and people are butchered. In the song, a group of fighters takes a strategic hill but get blown apart by an air raid or artillery strike soon after. Different specifics but same general concept.

For all the song’s epic feel and delivery, it is also a very, very simple song. This takes a few minutes for even a novice guitar player to pick up on, and yet it is the full weight of heavy metal crushing down on someone. It was proof that metal was more than just “play fast and scream” and that songwriting and arrangement were a part of the process. And also proof that Metallica especially would be sharp in that field.

For Whom The Bell Tolls entered Metallica’s setlists and did not leave – according to Setlist.fm, it is the band’s fourth most-played song live. It would appear the song has never left the stage in the band’s many gigs over the years. It would be a clear inclusion on any “greatest hits” of Metallica list and certainly ranks toward the top of many fans’ favorite songs lists. And the single went gold in the US, an impressive feat as the band were not a radio or MTV darling in their early years.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

For Whom The Bell Tolls is one of Metallica’s immortal anthems, a crushing tale of the horrors of war set to a simple yet devastating heavy metal track. Even in all the subsequent world-conquering fame Metallica would enjoy, this song remains one of their most beloved. It was a showcase for Cliff Burton and it proved the band had the writing chops to excel beyond the scope of simply playing fast and loud.

7 thoughts on “S-Tier Songs, Vol. 21

  1. Great pic and that live video you posted is an all time great. Burton’s riffing at the start is the best as neither of the other two guys that followed could nail that intro like that….

    Liked by 1 person

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