Among the songs that were inspired by novels, the American heavy metal band Metallica’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ is one of the leading examples. Released by the Elektra Records in 1984 it featured in the band’s second album Ride the Lightening but was also made available as a single for promotional purposes. It went on to be the band’s most defining song which was a must for their cheering crowds of audience during their countless live performances.
The novel on which the song is based on is none other than Ernest Hemmingway’s harrowing 1940 novel of the same name. Being published just after The Spanish Civil War, which extended from 1936-1939, it narrates the story through its protagonist Robert Jordan, an American boy who was a part of Spain’s Republican or Loyalist Faction Guerrilla unit. The Spanish Civil war was like a trailer to the yet to come destructive and inevitable Second World War, which Hemmingway deftly portrayed through the war’s gruesome realities.
The song begins with the toll of graveyard bells vanishing into an elaborate bass guitar introduction by Cliff Burton. Using heavy distortion with the wah pedal Burton eluded many by making it sound like an electric guitar. The drums that smoothly join the guitar in the introduction is played by the band’s co-founder Lars Ulrich.
Changing his track from tennis to music Ulrich started out with a very aggressive style. Perhaps it was the thrill of swift rolling drums that appealed to Ulrich more than the measured tennis rhythm. Though its clean and fast in certain segments of the song, there is a slight groovy style that beautifully accompanies the guitar.
Here’s the isolated drums of Lars Ulrich from the song ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ by Metallica.