Despite the news that Big Ben will fall silent for several months as it undergoes some much-needed TLC, campanologists up and down the country need not despair. Metalheads, as it turns out, can’t get enough of the bell aesthetic and have employed it liberally since the very genesis of the genre. Here are ten tracks that would make Quasimodo piss his knickers with glee.
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Thunder cracks overhead as the rain washes across a grey landscape. Somewhere in the distance, a solitary bell strikes again and again. Those were the bongs that started it all. People remember Black Sabbath’s maiden voyage for many things – the impeccable, languorous riffs, Ozzy’s heady vocals pitched on the edge of hysteria. For many though, that foreboding bell painted a deeply menacing picture, signalling the birth of a monster.
Metallica – For Whom The Bell Tolls
Taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name, For Whom The Bell Tolls was one of Metallica’s first pieces of anti-war commentary. It’s also a masterpiece of finely-tuned composition, from Cliff Burton’s chromatic bass line – the riff that launched a million bassists – to the guitars that were sharpened in line with the song’s intro bell chimes.
AC/DC – Hells Bells
Most bands’ soundcheck consists of a couple of guitars, a bass, some drums and a mic. AC/DC on are not like most bands and for the past 30 years have had a massive bell onstage with them as well. The emblematic peals that open this AC/DC classic required the building of a custom monster– 2000 pounds of bronze – based on the Denison Bell that the band then took on the road.
Iron Maiden – Hallowed Be Thy Name
“I’m waiting in my cold cell, when the bell begins to chime…” The Steve Harris-written masterpiece, which was recently named as your Maiden favourite, is a beautifully crafted contemplation of a convicted man’s existence. In the same way that the peals on Sabbath’s self-titled track set the backdrop, Hallowed Be Thy Name uses the bell tolling as a stage setter for one of metal’s most evocative romps.
Bathory – Enter The Eternal Fire
From the ringing of the Sanctus Bell in the Catholic faith to the tolling of the death knell, bell imagery appears prominently in Christianity. In the ‘80s, when the occult was increasingly becoming tied into the metal genre, bands with a Satanic inclination would look to subvert Christian ideals through the use of its imagery. Bathory were one such band, and 1988’s Enter The Eternal Fire uses a clanging bell, as the song’s protagonist signs a deal with the devil.
Gorgoroth – Sorg
Gorgoroth went a step further. The Norwegian black metal band courted controversy in the nineties by playing gigs with sheep heads impaled on spikes and bleeding models nailed to crosses. Their 1996 classic Antichrist ends with a Sabbath-esque downpour and the echoing of bells, before the creeping riff of Sorg (Sorrow) kicks in.
Septicflesh – Lovecraft’s Death
In 2007 Septic Flesh reunited after a four year hiatus, coming back with a fresh cut – Communion – and a new name – the imaginative Septicflesh. The album was a monolith – a maelstrom of swirling symphonics and Fleshgod-paced barbarism. Opener Lovecraft’s Death is ravenous and multi-limbed, and is punctuated after four minutes of fury by the thunderclap of a bell.
Limbonic Art – Beneath The Burial Surface
One of the lesser known bands among the black metal pantheon, Norway’s Limbonic Art started melding dizzying symphonics with downtuned riffs in the early ‘90s. The intro track on their debut album – Beneath The Burial Surface – is so dark and richly atmospheric that it seems to speed the listener through the outer reaches of hell – and closes to screams and a bell’s knell.
Hate Forest – Our Fading Horizons
A mysterious Ukrainian outfit, Hate Forest cut enigmatic figures in the late ‘90s as HP Lovecraft devotees and obsessives of Slavic mythology. Our Fading Horizons came from third full-length Battlefields and is a sloping behemoth of a song, complete with military drumming, hard-set miasma and ceremonial chimes.
Anthrax – In The End
In 2011, Anthrax returned with from an eight year break with Worship Music and the thrash cognoscenti breathed a collective sigh of relief. Not only was it musically barnstorming, its comic book undead-shtick was the perfect antidote to the overtly po-faced ilk from the rest of the Big 4. In The End was the album’s centrepiece, and in fitting with the album’s monastic overtones, includes a sonorous bell interlude.
Bonus: Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear The Reaper
You know the drill… NEEDS MORE COWBELL (opens in new tab) etc etc. No list of heavy music featuring bells could be complete without the infamous ‘Cult classic. Fun fact: the song’s claim that 40,000 men and women die every day is well off the mark – it’s more like 135,000.