The chromatic introduction (which is usually mistaken for an electric guitar) is in fact Cliff Burton playing his bass guitar through distortion and wah-wah. The intro was written by Burton before joining Metallica. Burton plays it in a 12-minute jam at a battle of the bands with his first band "Agent of Misfortune." After the introduction, the bass settles into a steady triplet rhythm.
The song is about a section of the novel For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, in which International Brigades soldiers of the Spanish Civil War attempt to escape the fascists with their stolen horses and are killed by enemy aircraft on a hill on which they are surrounded. "Make his fight on the hill in the early day..."
The original studio version with a length of 5:10. The guitars sound slightly sharper than a standard-tuned guitar should sound. It is rumored, however, that this is because the song was sped up after recording. If the song was sped up too much or was sped up using low quality means, it would raise the pitch of the recording, thus apparently sharpening the guitar's tuning. However, another rumor says that the guitars were intentionally tuned up to match the pitch of the tolling bells.
The "tolling bell" at the beginning of the song is actually Lars hitting an anvil that was in the studio where they recorded the song. The "bells" of the intro are sampled and played at Chicago's Soldier Field, whenever the Chicago Bears of the National Football League score a touchdown.
- "For Whom The Bell Tolls" was played live for the first time on August 3, 1984, in New York, NY.
- As of the beginning of 2012, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" has been played live 1,218 times. It is one of the nine songs to be played live over 1000 times, along with "Master Of Puppets", "Creeping Death", "Seek & Destroy", "One", "Enter Sandman", "Sad But True", "Fade To Black", and "Nothing Else Matters".
- Typically, Cliff Burton would play an extended bass solo before Lars Ulrich would start a drum beat. Then, Burton would play the famous intro riff a few times before being joined by the rest of the band. After Burton's death, the song would still often be opened by a bass solo as a tribute.
- During the first parts of the intro, James Hetfield usually yells a repeating "Hey! Hey! Hey!" to the drum beat, which the audience is encouraged to repeat on. Typically, the audience is also asked to sing the last line of the chorus.
- A performance of the song with Cliff Burton on from August 31, 1985 is available on the Cliff 'Em All DVD.
- "For Whom The Bell Tolls" was also performed live at the S&M concert and at many other concerts and tours.
- During the Madly in Anger With The World Tour Robert Trujillo would play a bass intro.
Make his fight on the hill in the early day Constant chill deep inside Shouting gun, on they run, through the endless grey On they fight, for they are right, yes, but who's to say? For a hill, men would kill, why? They do not know Stiffened wounds test their pride Men of five, still alive, through the raging glow Gone insane from the pain that they surely know For Whom The Bell Tolls Time marches on For Whom The Bell Tolls Take a look to the sky just before you die It's the last time you will Blackened roar, massive roar, fills the crumbling sky Shattered goal fills his soul with a ruthless cry Stranger now are his eyes to this mystery Hears the silence so loud! Crack of dawn, all is gone except the will to be Now they see what will be, blinded eyes to see For Whom The Bell Tolls Time marches on For Whom The Bell Tolls