15 Years Ago: Sunn O))) Reinterprets Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’
It’s not quite a cover. It’s not quite a new song. On Jan. 22, 2002, drone metal band Sunn O))) essentially took Metallica’s “For Whom the Bells Tolls,” dipped it in sludge, removed the lead guitar line and stretched it to a length of more than 10 minutes. All of that renders the version nearly unrecognizable to the original, with the exception of the (very slow) chord progression and the tolling bell heard in the background.
The track – rechristened “F.W.T.B.T.” – appeared as the closing entry on Sunn O)))’s second album, Flight of the Behemoth. But “F.W.T.B.T.” was actually the first song the band ever recorded in a studio, after the group was formed by guitarists Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson to play Melvins and Earth covers. (The band’s name is actually a tribute to drone pioneers Earth, as well as the Sunn brand of amplifiers.)
The duo were tapped to do their rendition of the Metallica classic by a pal who headed a “crappy record label that did a lot of tribute albums in the ’90s,” Anderson told Chicago Innerview, adding that Sunn O))) were paid a couple hundred bucks for the session. When the so-called cover version was rejected for the Metallica tribute, O’Mallery and Anderson held on to the recording and repurposed it for the band’s 2002 release.
In some editions, “F.W.T.B.T.” is followed by a parenthetical title that adds a bit more malice to Sunn O)))’s supposed “tribute.” The full title reads “(I Dream of Lars Ulrich Being Thrown Through the Bus Window Instead of My Mystikal Master Kliff Burton),” a reference to the 1986 fatal accident suffered by bassist Cliff Burton while Metallica was supporting Master of Puppets (which contains“For Whom the Bell Tolls”) on tour in Sweden. In later years, members of Sunn O))) have distanced themselves from commentary about Metallica drummer Ulrich.
“The actual title doesn’t contain the bit between the parentheses,” O’Malley told a blogger in 2007.
Although “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is one of Metallica’s most common setlist entries to this day, the same can’t be said for “F.W.T.B.T.” and Sunn O))).
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