Metallica, “For whom the bell tolls”

A nice video for one of my favorite Metallica songs, “For whom the bell tolls”. It combines scenes from the 1943 movie based on the eponymous Ernest Hemingway novel with live footage of the band playing the song. The latter is slightly out of sync, as the band were playing at a faster tempo than on the studio track.

Musicians and amateur musicologists, a few notes below the “Read more” fold.

Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. (John Donne, Devotions upon emergent occasions, Meditation XVII)

As I haven’t found a convenient way to enter music notation in WordPress, I am making do with tablature notation, with note symbols added above.

The famous opening riff is actually not played on guitar but high up on Cliff’s bass, which was routinely run through distortion and wah pedals. I wonder if he also had an octave doubler on his pedal board? (On a piano, this line sounds just right if played in parallel octaves.)
This transcription (in tablature) of the bass part seems accurate:

                                                       / 3 \  / 3 \
     q  e  e  e  q   s  s                  e  e  e  e  e e e  e e e      8
       D' C#' C' B  D'--B                 G  F# D' D   (low F# 4 times)
(guitar chords:
     E5 (let ring)                                    F#5 F#5 F#5 F#5    )

Then the guitar chord riff continues, while the bass picks up this chromatic pattern twice :

      E G F# F E G F# F                    E G F# F E G F# A (1st time), B (2nd time)
A|*-----------------------------------|-------------------0--(1st time), 2  (2nd time)--|

The guitar then doubles the bass line in staccato “power chords” (root-fifth-octave) with heavy palm muting. The first time I heard the song, it sounded like a cello section angrily hammering away.

Now the rhythm switches to a 12/8 like feel, and one of the guitars starts playing this motif over and over
(guitar tab seems to be mostly accurate except for an obvious misprint in the accompanying chords):

       G     E    F#   D    E     F#   etc.

The 2nd guitar plays the following chord progression under this (let chords ring): E5 G5 E5 C5 A5

Then follows another typical highly chromatic riff, played in a martial “bolero” rhythm:

(bottom note played in triplets is low E. Only writing out chords)

        G5     A5     G5  Bb5 F#5     G5       A5    G5  Bb5 F#5 F5
|--------------------------3-----------------------------3-----|Two Times

The rest of the song is built around these same musical ingredients.


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