For Doom the Bell Tolls
Hear the tolling of the bells
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
—Edgar Allan Poe, The Bells.
A single, plaintive church bell, given its time to fade away in an appropriately haunting manner. It's a way to add ominous portent to any soundtrack, and it's commonly used to evoke death, or execution, to punctuate a particularly grim turn of events, or just to lay on the creepy atmosphere.
Generally speaking, the bells are a disembodied part of the soundtrack, but occasionally, they are an on-stage article.
If used in-Universe and not as part of the soundtrack, this is a type of Portent of Doom.
- Death Note ends many episodes on the note of a disembodied bell - then, of course, there are the symbolic bells that appear in episodes 25 and 30.
- In Bleach, if you are in the Soul Society and you hear small, jingling bells... you are doomed.
- The opening titles of Elfen Lied begin with an ominous bell tolling. This is reflected at the end of the series when the broken grandfather clock chimes for the first time in years, signifying...?
- When Chrona's introduced in Soul Eater s/he goes Ax Crazy on Medusa's orders and harvests some gang members' souls at the same time the bells of the church this takes place in are ringing. Although the really ominous part is when they stop at exactly the same time Maka realises an entire church full of souls has disappeared save one.
- Episode 39 of the Full Moon o Sagashite anime, foreshadowing Eichi's death.
- Averted in Pokémon the Rise of Darkrai: "Oración", the song that restores order to Alamos Town, is played on the bells.
- In Xam'd Lost Memories a single bell sounds when a dropship releases its humanform.
- The FUNimation dub of Dragon Ball gives Vegeta this in his theme song Hell's Bells, and also in Babidi Casts A Spell when he gets corrupted by Babidi.
- The Duel Called Revolution in Revolutionary Girl Utena goes to full swing with the toll of a lone bell that starts the duel's theme song. Most duels are also opened with the knell of several bells in the otherwise unseen bell tower.
- In Amatsuki the Yakou carries around a small bell that nevertheless drives anyone who hears it insane.
- Some parts of the Higurashi soundtrack have deep bells in the background, usually when it's related to Oyashiro's curse.
Commercials and Film Trailers
- A very morbid radio Public Service Announcement has a school bell ringer slow down and crossfade into the sound of a church bell as the announcer compares the number of children killed by AIDS to the number of schoolchildren in America.
- The trailer for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- The trailer for the remake of 3:10 to Yuma used the train bell to make it seem more like it should be a ghost train, rather than the Prison Train.
- Bells accompany a mass hanging in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
- Somewhat overused in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie Future War:
Crow: According to the bells, it's 97 o'clock.
- Used figuratively in The Guns of Navarone: the heroes have to save two thousand men "for whom the bells have tolled."
- Ominous bells can be heard during the music that plays in The Lost World: Jurassic Park when the T-Rexes attack the trailer, and later when they attack the survivor's camp.
- Franco Zefirelli uses a tolling bell to usher in the dead lovers' bodies in the final scene of his 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet.
- Inverted in Damnatus, where the bell appears on screen but is not part of the soundtrack (Orchestral Bombing being in effect at the time). Though in this case it's not a church bell but a small hand-bell wielded by a doom prophet who is presumably raging against the heavens as the Inquisition nukes his planet.
- The mental hospital setting of The Dead Pit features a clocktower, and its tolling is featured on many occasions.
- Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Bells".
- Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series has an actual Death Bell in the capital city, which rings itself whenever a Herald dies. When it rings, all Heralds within earshot immediately know for whom it tolls. For momentous deaths, Heralds not within normal earshot can hear it, too.
- Because it transmits over a combined magic/psychic web which connects them.
- John Donne's Meditation #17 provides the inspiration for this trope's title.
- The Dorothy L. Sayers novel The Nine Tailors is named for a church's bells. The plot involves a group of men "ringing a full peal" on the bells; a task that takes them nearly a full day. Guess where the murder victim is found. And how he died.
- The bell Digory just has to ring in The Magician's Nephew.
- Lestat has a tendence to say "Hell's Bells", apropos absolutely nothing, whenever the situation is getting bad. Particularly in "Queen of the Damned".
- The Bellman is the main character in The Hunting of the Snark, and his bell rings ominously at appropriate points throughout the poem.
- In Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, the climactic confrontation with the Storm King atop Green Angel Tower is heralded by a series of piercing phantom bell strokes, marking the progress of the ritual that summons him back into Osten Ard.
- In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the bells in the cathedral tower are the only things Quasimodo are really able to hear. They give him comfort, but the story has a real Downer Ending.
- The trope name is a pun to Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the bells in King's Landing toll when king Robert dies, then not much later when Ned Stark is executed. For doom, indeed.
- Englishman John Doust in Leslie Barringer's Low Fantasy Joris of the Rock hears what he identifies as the bell of York Minster tolling "as for a passing" just shortly before the Last Stand in which he's mortally wounded. He's in Neustria, Barringer's equivalent of early-15th-century France, hundreds of miles from York, and none of his comrades hear the bell.
- The demise of dungeoneers on the children's game show Knightmare was met with two tolls of the bell. And inevitably an "Ooh, nasty!" from the host.
- In Farscape, this is part of the extremely moving death scene of one of the two John Crichtons.
- The "Cloister Bell" from Doctor Who, heard only when the TARDIS is in danger of total destruction, or when the whole universe is threatened. This first features in Logopolis (the last Fourth Doctor story) and can also be heard during The Trial of a Time Lord, The Sound of Drums (collision course), "Turn Left" (armageddon), and "Time Crash" (collision course).
- Also at the end of "The Waters of Mars" and the trailer for "The End of Time" that follows.
- And "The Eleventh Hour" (TARDIS seriously damaged).
- It also appears in "The God Complex", when the Doctor sees inside the room holding his greatest fear but the audience only sees his reaction.
- Narmfully applied in Heroes in one of Sylar's Heel Face Revolving Door schemes.
- One was added to the normal theme tune of QI for the "Gothic" episode.
- As Galen Tyrol wanders through the ruins of Earth, he is flooded by the sounds of a phantom city, triggered by the memories of his previous life. These sounds, including a tolling bell, eventually lead him to the spot where he died.
- The first shot of Caprica City we see in the Miniseries also has the sound of a bell in the background.
- AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" is a popular choice of entrance music for MLB closers.
- Metallica: "For Whom The Bell Tolls", a.k.a. the Trope Namer twice removed (got it from Ernest Hemingway who got it from "John Donne" above).
- Iron Maiden: "Hallowed Be Thy Name"
- Black Sabbath fan. The refrain of bells in "Black Sabbath", when combined with the subject matter, doom-laden riff and Ozzy's screams, is brutally effective.
- Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic" track starts and ends with some of these, and in the Animated Music Video directed by Leiji Matsumoto this coincides with the abduction of the band from their homeworld.
- Hector Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" uses two bells, but they definitely make an ominous sound, especially when the "Dies Irae" theme comes in over them.
- "Don't Go in the Woods" by Calibretto begins with a single bell toll.
- Mike Oldfield's magnum opus Tubular Bells cools down near the end with the sound of a distant tolling bell, setting the piece up for its climax.
- The very end of the Paul McCartney song "From a Lover to a Friend" contains a church bell tolling softly three times. So softly, it's easy to miss.
- This trope is the third member of (mostly) instrumental Goth band Nox Arcana's Holy Trinity of Horror Sound Effects, along with Ominous Latin Chanting and Ironic Nursery Tune, though the music manages to be sublime rather than formulaic:
- Darklore Manor uses For Doom the Bell Tolls in several of its tracks, most notably the title cut (which also includes Ominous Latin Chanting) and "Phantom Procession."
- Winter's Knight, set in a Gothic cathedral, almost necessarily makes use of this trope in "Vigil," "Ghosts of Christmas Past," "Gregorian Hymn," "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel," and "Carol of the Bells."
- Transylvania includes the self-explanatory "Bats in the Belfry" and the even more bell-heavy "Gothic Sanctum."
- Blood of the Dragon, while not a horror album, uses tolling bells to depict the evil army in "Legions of Darkness."
- Death knells, among other things, chime in during the last track of Shadow of the Raven, and there are even more if you listen long enough after the false ending.
- The song "High Hopes" by Pink Floyd ends with a melancholy church bell, possibly symbolizing the end of the band's recording career. On the compilation Echoes the church bells segues into a bicycle bell and then into Syd Barrett's upbeat psychedelic song "Bike".
- From "Breathe"'s reprise in "Time":
"Far away, across the fields
Tolling on the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell..."
- "Cygnus X-1" by Rush (a song about flying into a black hole) begins with the low ringing of a bell.
- "From the Underworld" by The Herd (based on the legend of Orpheus) begins with a bell tolling.
- Elton John's "Funeral For A Friend".
- Men At Work's "Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive".
- The Rolling Stones' "The Lantern".
- John Lennon's album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band begins with the tolling of a bell at the beginning of the song "Mother". His final album Double Fantasy references this by opening with a higher, more optimistic bell at the start of "(Just Like) Starting Over".
- Eminem's "What I Am" (warning explicit lyrics; also turn up your volume)
- The Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm".
- Benjamin Britten's War Requiem uses two bells tuned a tritone apart.
- Used at the end of The Fighting Machine in Jeff Wayne's musical version of War of the Worlds.
- "Haunted" by Disturbed at the beginning and "Serpentine" during the bridge.
- Three of Dmitry Shostakovich's symphonies use bells to great effect.
- His 11th, inspired by the events of the 1905 massacre in the Palace Square of St. Petersburg, ends with an angry march symbolizing the people's anger and resolve in response to the end. The movement is titled "The Alarm" and ends in a furry with terrifyingly loud bells ringing over the orchestra.
- In his 13th symphony, a work for a huge orchestra with a chorus of 150 or so bass voices singing in unison, the 1st movement uses a somber bell throughout to toll for the victims killed in the massacre at Babi Yar during WWII.
- His 14th symphony, a very strange work for a small collection of strings, percussion, and two voices—and is a setting of a collection of 11 poems about death—uses bells at a handful of very disturbing climaxes. The silence that they fade into is awfully uncomfortable. Needless to say, Shostakovich was not a happy man towards the end of his life, but then again, any genius tortured by the Soviet Union probably wouldn't be.
- In The Protomen's Act II, the end of the Father of Death has a repeating gong hit symbolizing Emily's death.
- In the title track and first single from Avenged Sevenfold's album Nightmare, we get a tolling bell directly after the end of the first chorus, as the music comes back in hard for the instrumental section and in the bridge before the third chorus. And they're definitely for doom, as the song is more or less whoever the narrator is telling the subject of the lyrics how he screwed up and is doomed for being evil. Oh, and how IT'S YOUR FUCKIN' NIGHTMARE!
- Night On Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky invokes this trope. Near the end, the loud, ominous music is interrupted by a single tolling church bell, winding down into a soft finish for the song. In the Fantasia segment, the church bell prompts the retreat of Chernabog the Dark God and his ghouls; the bell denotes his doom. Mussorgsky himself intended the ringing of the church bell as breaking up the witches' sabbat described by the piece; witches and evil spirits traditionally could not bear the sound of consecrated bells.
- The 1993 Trance song 'Dreams' from Quench makes good use of this trope.
- Dream Theater's The Glass Prison starts with a single bell tolling before an extremely heavy riff kicks in. The song is about drummer Mike Portnoy's alcoholism.
- Coil's re-interpretation of Tainted Love.
- Combined with Ominous Latin Chanting during the musical bridge of Enya's rendition of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, for peak creepy effect.
- The beginning of Anthrax's "The Giant" has some rather ominous sounding bells.
- Emperor's "Warriors Of A Modern Death"
- Horde's A Church Bell Tolls Amidst The Frozen Nordic Winds.
- In Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeoman of the Guard, the headsman's bell announces the execution of Fairfax (who has escaped, but the other characters don't know this). All the more effective for starting up suddenly in the middle of a cheery Crowd Song.
- The hurricane bell in Porgy and Bess.
- Macbeth: "Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven, or to hell."
- As the Russian Swings act in Cirque Du Soleil's "O" nears its finish, the bell on the middle swing begins to toll as an acrobat spins the swing up and over the bar—and a funeral procession, complete with a wagon with a coffin upon it, crosses the stage in the background. However, the rest of the music and foreground action (which evokes a wedding party) remains cheerful, and the coffin on the wagon pops open to reveal one of the minor female characters, who cheerfully waves at the audience.
- In The Cat and the Canary, just as Mr. Crosby is about to read Cyrus West's will to his descendants, a muffled gong somewhere in the house is heard tolling seven. The Creepy Housekeeper explains that it is a warning of death: seven may live, out of eight persons in the house. It's revealed that the gong was planted by the killer's accomplice.
- A few versions of M. Bison's theme. Mostly anything before the CPS2 versions of Street Fighter II.
- Sephiroth's first theme in Final Fantasy VII is full of them.
- The introduction for Final Fantasy VI, which talks about an ancient war that devastated civilization and the threat of history repeating itself in this regard, is accompanied by ominous background music featuring bells.
- It gets used again in "Dancing Mad", heralding the final showdown with Kefka.
- And once more before that, as the Overworld theme in the period of time after The End of the World as We Know It and before the heroes get revved up to save what's left. It's that kind of a game.
- The above Final Fantasy VI examples also overlap with Ominous Pipe Organ, though The Empire's theme does not, instead opting to accompany the bells with mostly brass instruments.
- Pokémon Diamond and Pearl versions have this at Spear Pillar, leading up to the hero's ultimate battle to stop Team Galactic from transforming the world with Diagla/Palkia. Used again in the Diagla/Palkia battle theme tune remix in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
- Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza's battle theme from the third-gen games also features ominous bells at the beginning.
- Ramirez's theme from Skies of Arcadia. It should be noted that, with the game being a Cliché Storm, Ramirez's theme more or less contains every single "scary music" trope in the book, only stopping short of actual Ominous Latin Chanting.
- Part of the Big Bad's Leitmotif in Tales of Symphonia.
- Justified by him being an angel controlling the Cruxis and the Church of Martel.
- Occurs during the music of the "Armageddon" ending of Live a Live, with the song eventually fading out on one final bell.
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's "Requiem for the Gods," the theme of Dracula's Royal Chapel, combines this trope with a positively eerie Cherubic Choir.
- In Terranigma, the zombie-infested town of Louran contains this. Needless to say, the place is really, really creepy.
- The theme for the Necropolis town in Heroes of Might and Magic III utilizes several sonorous church-bell tones as well as a men's choir, for maximum creepage. Listen to it here.
- On that note, pretty much any track from Disciples will have this motif somewhere in the overworld tracks. Here's an example for your enjoyment.
- Tabuu's battle theme from Super Smash Bros. Brawl has prominent bells and organs.
- At the beginning of the cinematic where Arthas returns from Northrend and murders his father in Warcraft III, church bells celebrate his miraculous survival. The good use of bells probably contributed to it earning the fourth place in GameSpy's Top 25 Video Game Cinematic Moments article.
- Interesting use in Resident Evil 4: early in the game, a church bell suddenly rings out while the player is surrounded by Ganados in a village. It's pretty creepy. On the other hand, it also summons the villagers, who drop their weapons and ignore the guy they had been trying to kill just seconds earlier. Thanks for that, Ada.
- In the Left 4 Dead campaign Death Toll, there is a crescendo event where a Zombie Infectee starts ringing a church bell to summon a horde of zombies to try and kill you.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, every time the local steeple's (very creepy) bell sounds in Twillight Town, someone gets turned into a pig. Goombella even begins to fear it will happen to her or Mario.
- In Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, the tolling of the Bell of Oblivion signifies that one person within earshot will lose very important memories.
- The background "music" of Terra Tower in Chrono Cross consists of nothing but deep bells and a female voice humming gibberish, all the better to describe the utterly alien atmosphere of a fortress displaced across time and dimensions... and populated by ghosts.
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: The ominous background music in this video is frequently punctuated with the bell rings of the Clock Tower. It plays when there are only six hours left until the moon crashes into the earth.
- Twilight Princess has Blizzeta's first boss music, which then goes into Ominous Pipe Organ territory.
- In The Minish Cap, Hyrule's bells toll three times before Zelda is irreversibly dead and Vaati then becomes invincible. It's even foreshaddowed by an NPC in the game, who tells you that something will happen, once this bell tolls. She never says if it's a good or bad thing. Before the final boss battle, the first two bell rings can't be skipped due to being scripted, but if you take too long to defeat the Darknuts before you stop Vaati...
- In Spirit Tracks, the background music in the Tower of Spirits gets more and more defined as you climb higher and higher up the staircase. Somewhere toward the middle of the climb, snares accompanied by bell rings dynamically enter.
- Sort of played straight in The Wind Waker. When Link rings the bell at the top of the Tower of the Gods (in a pretty cool cutscene, mind you), an entrance in the ocean opens up that leads down to Hyrule in a frozen temporal state.
- In addition, the mini-boss battle theme that plays in The Wind Waker sports some particularly epic bells in the beginning.
- Spore's Black cloud ability uses this every time you click the icon.
- In the otherwise forgettable Castlevania (Nintendo 64), when you open the second gate to the castle, the clock tower bells begin to ring. Then the camera pans up...and fake Dracula is seen hovering in the sky. He then threatens you with a painful death, indulges in an Evil Laugh, and vanishes.
- who can forget the last level where the music is nothing but bells and chanting?
- Kingdom Hearts 358 Days Over 2 has this during the mission when Roxas is escaping the Castle That Never Was.
- The first game in the Clock Tower series used this trope to chilling effect during the title sequence.
- Assassin's Creed had this during the trailer, leading up to the assassination. This is also true after you've been discovered (or successful) in each assassination: the city bell rings to rally the guards. The Attract Mode video for 2 has a bell sound as the second target falls back dead from Ezio's gunshot.
- Half Life 2 has the song Ravenholm 1 that starts with one of these.
- The opening cinematic of Zork Nemesis has a single bell ringing with a particularly ominous aftertone. You later find a bell with the same tone, but its use is rather underwhelming: you hang onto the rope after ringing the bell and get lifted up to window level so you can access a locked room.
- The moment Tassadar commits his Heroic Sacrifice is marked by a single bell toll in the soundtrack. It's subtle and easily missed though.
- The Bonus Boss (Gargoyle) is summoned by Church Bells in Koudelka.
- The first boss of Devil May Cry 3, the Hell Vanguard, makes a bell-toll sound whenever it uses one of its teleport attacks.
- At one point in Ys II, you ascend a bell tower, where Maria Messa will be executed when the bell tolls four times. Unfortunately, You Are Too Late to save her, for now (she gets better later). The music also has a bell-based melody. In Ys IV, the song "Temptation of the Master Harlequin" also features tubular bells.
- In Halo 2, a church bell tolls at the beginning of "Blow Me Away", and in "Destroyer's Invocation".
- Ominous bells are used many times in the Silent Hill series, such as in the Dark World school, the moth battle, the Historical Society in 2, and the subway platforms in 3.
- In Grim Fandango, whenever Manny draws his scythe, a death knell plays softly in the background.
- The music played during the real final boss battle against Bowser in the game New Super Mario Bros. Wii when he is turned into a giant and is on a rampage destroying his own castle in the process.
- In Monster Hunter Tri, the final boss theme opens with a kinda sinister-sounding bell.
- In the third mission of Black, the second of two snipers in a slightly eerie graveyard scene is in a bell tower. If the player can dodge him long enough, they can shoot the bell and cause it to break loose from its moorings, crushing the sniper. This will create an extremely loud tolling sound and is possibly the game's Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- In Twisted Metal: Black, the Freeway stage has church bells in its ambient soundtrack.
- In Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, the music that plays after a loss begins with a bell. (And continues with a particularly mournful choir section accompanied by the faint sound of wind, no less....)
- The background music for the final boss of Drakengard is a bell tolling over and over.
- Some of the music in Homestuck has doom bells, but an air-raid siren usually plays this role instead. Observe.
- The town of Mechanicsburg in Girl Genius has "The Doom Bell" . It spends four pages building up the tension prior to ringing the bell, which occurs on a two-page spread, it is struck once and the sound induces existential despair in the listeners. Thus announcing the return of the Heterodyne and that the surrounding lords should probably give some thought to begging for mercy. Evidently, it's customary for the last words of the incumbent/ascended Heterodyne before the bell to be "Tremble before me!". It's not really a demand, more of an understated warning - most people who aren't Heterodynes, Jägermonsters or already used to this simply get knocked out, even underground and high in the air outside the city.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Bell of Lost Souls is located atop one of the highest towers of the Imperial Palace, and tolls once whenever a truly great hero of the Imperium dies. It is said to be audible on the other side of the planet.
- When Ciaphas Cain mentions the bell tolling for him, Vail puts in a footnote explaining it and adding that it was a figure of speech common among the soldiers; at that time, he could not have expected it to ring for him.
- And in Warhammer Fantasy, you should watch out for bells striking thirteen. The bell figures heavily in the mythology of the skaven, and thirteen is their holy number. They even carry small bells as their musical instruments in the game, and one of their "war machines" is the aptly-named Screaming Bell, which is one part mobile belltower, one part Black Magic shrine. Each time it's chimed, something terrible will happen. It's just a matter of whether it affects the enemy or their own troops.
- The Vampire Counts borrowed this with their Unholy Lodestone upgrade to their Corpse Cart unit, a bell with a Pure Warpstone clapper