Follow TV Tropes


For Doom the Bell Tolls

Go To

Hear the tolling of the bells
Iron 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"

For added atmosphere, play this video while reading on.

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. In most cases it's a church bell, but some instances simplify it to different kind of bells, sometimes even a simple wind chime. Nonetheless, the meaning remains the same if they ring during a moment of death.

Generally speaking, the bells are a disembodied part of the soundtrack, but occasionally, they are an on-stage article.

Combine this with the Ominous Pipe Organ, Orchestral Bombing, and/or some Ominous Latin Chanting for particularly epic villainy.

The opposite of this trope is Saved by the Church Bell, where bells are used as signs of hope and victory rather than doom and death. If used in-Universe and not as part of the soundtrack, this is a type of Portent of Doom. Compare Ominous Music Box Tune and Xylophones for Walking Bones. Can overlap with Chaos of the Bells. If the bell in question is a weapon, it's a Deadly Ringer.


    open/close all folders 


    Anime & Manga 
  • In Amatsuki, the demonic Yakou carries around a little bell that drives anyone who hears it insane.
  • Attack on Titan: The anime provides a chilling example in the score. It might as well be the punctuation mark on the end of hope. The first episode also pointedly has the church bell ringing when the front gate opens, not long before the Colossal Titan appears. At least the second time around, the bells signal for civilians to evacuate and they successfully do though the connotations are still the same.
  • In Bleach, if you are in the Soul Society and you hear small, jingling bells... you are doomed.
  • Day Break Illusion: The opening song begins with disembodied bell tolling and a shot of the heroines on a graveyard, then suddenly turns into a Heavy Metal guitar riff solely because of Rule of Cool. The effect is really stunning.
  • Death Note ends many episodes on the note of a disembodied bell — then there are the symbolic bells that appear in Episodes 25 and 30.
    • There's an especially dark example in the last episode; as in every episode, about halfway through, the show cuts to two of the Death Note rules showing in the screen back-to-back. However, instead of playing music over this part as usual, this episode leaves the moment entirely silent - with the exception of one bell toll. Not to mention, the rules that it's showing us are these:
      Death Note Rule: All humans will, without exception, eventually die.
      Death Note Rule: When they die, the place they go is Mu.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, the theme of Frieza "A Chilling Elegy" gives a single bell in the first 30 seconds. In the american dub, the song "Hell's Bells" is the theme of Vegeta, introduced about the time he becme a super saiyan. As one might guess from the title, the primry instrument is a bell.
  • 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...?
  • Episode 39 of the Full Moon anime, foreshadowing Eichi's death.
  • Some parts of the Higurashi soundtrack have deep bells in the background, usually when it's related to Oyashiro's curse.
  • In Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Bell's Limit Break, Hero's Strike, makes him shine white while a bell tolls. After the last bell, he fires enough energy to almost One-Hit Kill the Goliath.
  • Pokémon:
    • Inverted in Pokémon: The Rise of Darkrai: "Oración", the song that restores order to Alamos Town, is played on the bells.
    • Played straight with Darkrai's theme with the distinctive opening bells.
    • Pokémon: Destiny Deoxys plays it straighter with Deoxys' signature three bell strikes.
    • The soundtrack of the Pokémon Generations episode The Cavern invokes this. When Archie awakens Primal Kyogre, an arrangement of the Weather Trio's battle theme plays. Normally, the bell rings four times and stops when the other instruments start up. In this version, the bell keeps ringing under the instruments until the Ominous Latin Chanting kicks in.
  • 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.
  • 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 a church full of souls has disappeared save one.
  • In Xam'd: Lost Memories a single bell sounds when a dropship releases its humanform.

    Films — Animated 
  • Anastasia: The sound of a tolling bell can be heard faintly in the very beginning of Big Bad Grigori Rasputin's Villain Song, "In The Dark of The Night".
  • Chicken Run: When Edwina is beheaded, the thud of the axe is punctuated by the single mournful toll of a bell.
  • Subverted in Coco, when Ernesto de la Cruz is killed by a gigantic bell falling on him, accompanied by a single toll. The same thing happens to a now-skeletal de la Cruz at the movie's climax.
  • Finding Nemo:
    • The film does a variation on this. When Nemo is first captured and the boat sped away, the score plays a deep, haunting, and monotonous harp strike to simulate a ringing church bell.
    • In addition, the fishing boat that caught Dory and a school of groupers has a small bell at the end of its crane that rings as the crane is lifting up. However, the crane is successfully destroyed by all of the fish that forcibly swam down.
  • Used prominently in The Great Mouse Detective where Big Bad Ratigan uses his handbell to call his pet cat Felicia, which is then the sound of a church bell is heard in the first scene. He calls her to let her eat someone as an execution. This trope is used even more at the climax where the detective Basil of Baker Street steals Ratigan's bell and rings it in triumph just before Big Ben tolls causing the villain to fall to his death.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame has a lot of this considering the setting and the protagonist Quasimodo being the bell-ringer, especially when a scene is focusing on Judge Claude Frollo.
  • Rango: The town of Dirt has a Clock Tower which its bell rings appropriately for this trope after the sheriff Rango and his posse failed to bring the stolen water back, and during the duel between him and Rattlesnake Jake. The clock tower is later destroyed when Rango has a plentiful of water finally brought back.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 5 Card Stud, Van Morgan and Reverend Jonathan Rudd are having a charged conversation on the street in the early hours of the morning when a gust of wind blows the church doors open and the church bell starts tolling in an uneven rhythm. They both look at the church as Marshal Al Dana goes to the doors and looks in. He then calls for them to come and help him. When they get there, they find Mace Jones hanging dead from the bell rope; the weight of his body ringing the bell as it jerks up and down.
  • The film of 1776 concludes with the bell in the tower of what is now Independence Hall tolling in the background as the United States Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence. You'd expect it to be tolling in triumph, but instead it is tolling in signal of the darkness ahead: thirteen not-really-united colonies facing the full might of the British Imperial Navy in a time when Britannia did rule the waves, with a badly-trained army, little to no money, and a hanging for treason awaiting every one of them if they failed — which seemed likely, if not all but certain. When they said, "We pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor," they meant it.
  • The wuxia film, The Bells of Death, runs on this trope. The protagonist is a vengeance-fueled swordsman and warrior who carries a set of silver bells — a Tragic Keepsake from his mother after losing his family to bandits — everywhere he goes. Whenever he tracked down bandits terrorizing innocent townspeople, he will ring said bells before going on a killing spree; expect loads of dead villains moments after hearing those bells in the film.
  • Kommissar , a film set during the Russian Civil War, ends with Klavdia and her Red Army unit marching out to face a White Russian battalion that seems to outnumber them by quite a bit. Freeze frame, doomy church bells, fade to black.
  • 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.
  • A single bell chimes six times in Edward Scissorhands when Jim falls to his death after being stabbed by Edward.
  • Used figuratively in The Guns of Navarone: the heroes have to save two thousand soldiers "for whom the bells have tolled.": They'll be wiped out by an imminent enemy attack if not promptly evacuated/reinforced.
  • In the opening sequence of Jaws, as Chrissie thrashes around, she manages to grab on to a buoy. The bell rings, essentially sounding her death knell.
  • 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.
  • Moonraker. The villain's Sexy Secretary Corrinne is set upon by his dogs after he discovers her treachery. As they leap on her and knock her to the ground, we hear the solemn tolling of a church bell (though this is technically because the next scene is set in Venice, it is clearly meant to symbolize her death).
  • Somewhat overused in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured movie Future War:
    Crow: According to the bells, it's 97 o'clock.
  • In Once Upon a Time in the West Harmonica's brother forced to stand on Harmonica shoulders, with a noose around his neck that is fixed to a bell. When the older brother finally kicks Harmonica away and falls into the noose into his doom, the bell is heard, be it the bell in the film or the one in the score by Ennio Morricone.
  • Bells accompany a mass hanging in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
  • Franco Zeffirelli uses a tolling bell to usher in the dead lovers' bodies in the final scene of his 1968 production of Romeo and Juliet.
  • The main villain of the kung fuu film, Valley of the Fangs dies in this way: after missing a lunge, he ends up hitting himself face-first into a huge bell, where he gets disorientated long enough to be stabbed In the Back.
  • At the conclusion of Vertigo, after Judy falls to her death from the church tower, a nun rings the bell to note it.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: When Judge Doom first appears, his appearance is marked with a single bell tone followed by ominous music as the camera pans up his black-clad figure.

  • Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Bells", which was not even published until after his death in 1849.
  • In A Christmas Carol, each ghost arrives at the tolling of the hour bell.
  • In Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, the abbreviated funeral rites instituted for the Black Death require that the church bell be tolled after each burial: nine times for a man, thrice for a woman and once for a child. Professor Dunworthy finally finds Kivrin while she is tolling the bell for Father Roche.
  • Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls does not actually contain any literal bells tolling in the manner of this trope, but the title is from the same line in the Trope Namer poem by John Donne and touches on the idea thematically.
  • 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.
  • In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the bells in the cathedral tower are the only things Quasimodo is really able to hear. They give him comfort, but the story has a real Downer Ending.
  • The Bellman is the main character in The Hunting of the Snark, and his bell rings ominously at appropriate points throughout the poem.
  • The bell Digory just has to ring in The Magician's Nephew.
  • Also Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death". The clock is striking midnight just as the Prince encounters the mysterious figure in the black room. As the striking ends the Prince and every other character in the house drop dead and the candles blow out.
  • John Donne's Meditation #17 provides the inspiration for this trope's title.
  • 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.
  • The Dorothy L. Sayers novel The Nine Tailors is named for a tradition in which a church's bell is rung nine times to announce a death in the parish. The church's bell tower plays a central role in the specific death that the novel revolves around. Wimsey also references the Poe poem, and reflects that iron isn't a great material to make a bell out of.
  • 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.
  • The Vampire Chronicles: Lestat has a tendency to say "Hell's Bells", apropos absolutely nothing, whenever the situation is getting bad. Particularly in "Queen of the Damned".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • 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.
  • BBC Election Night 2015 –- even if the party you supported did well out of it, announcing the accurate exit poll to Big Ben striking ten o’clocknote  made it sound like awful news. On the other side, ITN/ITV have used Big Ben for it’s News at Ten title sequence for years.
  • In the series final of Blackadder II, the Stinger has a bell tolling on the soundtrack while the camera pans over the dead bodies of the entire main cast.
  • In The Crystal Maze, the very first automatic lock-in game consists of a giant spider web, with very large hanging bells. The contestant has to climb this web without ringing the bells; if they do this three times, they are locked in. The tension is palpable while this game is being played.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Cloister Bell, heard only when the TARDIS is on a collision course 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), "Midnight" (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.
    • In "Face the Raven", the trope is exercised as an ominous bell begins ringing on the soundtrack the moment Clara realizes that she's going to die.
    • The Citadel on Gallifrey has a large number of these which begin sounding in "Hell Bent" when the Doctor returns, bent on disrupting all of space and time to save Clara.
    • The Thirteenth Doctor hears the Cloister Bell in "Power of the Doctor" just before she realizes she's begun to regenerate.
  • In Farscape, this is part of the extremely moving death scene of one of the two John Crichtons.
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Frasier wherein the characters, for various reasons, have started to feel increasingly depressed and melancholy as a result of existential mini-crises, to the point where they all congregate in Frasier's apartment mournfully discussing death. It ends with Frasier solemnly quoting John Donne ("Send not for whom the bell tolls / it tolls for thee")... followed almost immediately, to everyone's anxiousness, by a single bell chiming "ding" that echoes throughout the apartment. It turns out to be the oven timer signalling that some cookies Daphne has been baking are ready.
    Martin: [Warily] Did anyone else hear that...?
  • Narmfully applied in Heroes in one of Sylar's Heel–Face Revolving Door schemes.
  • 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.
  • One was added to the normal theme tune of QI for the "Gothic" episode.
  • The finale of Kamen Rider Zi-O features lots of tolling bells when Sougo transforms into Ohma Zi-O and when he performs his Finishing Move in said state. Consider how horrendously powerful it is (read: one-shotting some of the gravest and most powerful threats in the entire Kamen Rider series), these bells are there for a very good reason.
    Ohma Zi-O Driver (when transforming): *BONG* Shukufuku no Toki! Saikou, saizen, saidai, saikyou ou! translation  OHMA ZI-O!!
    Ohma Zi-O Driver (when performing finisher): *BONG* SHUUEN NO TOKI!! translation 
  • Stranger Things: It's prominent in Season 4 as part of the Big Bad Vecna's grandfather clock Arc Symbol . They always chime to indicate his influence over anything. Even more, listening carefully in earlier seasonsnote  makes it infinitely clear that he's been present from the very start of the series as the Greater-Scope Villain, and has always been the one torturing Hawkins, even being responsible for the Mind Flayer's existence.

  • AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" is a popular choice of entrance music for MLB closers.
    • Interestingly, this song is actually the Trope Codifier for entrance music in baseball: Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres adopted it in the 1990s, and the phenomenon caught on like wildfire after that. ("Hell's Bells" in particular has been used by several others since Hoffman, who retired in 2010.)
  • 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. 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, part 1 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, not formulaic:
    • Darklore Manor uses this 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
    The tolling of 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.
  • "Peace", a track from the short-lived British synthpop band New Musik, begins and ends with the tolling of a church bell. The song is a deceptively upbeat track about how humanity will never achieve world peace, repeatedly stating that "it's a countdown to destiny".
  • Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend".
  • Men at Work's "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive".
  • Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand", where it's a recurring motif. Fitting for a song purportedly about Satan.
  • 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 "The Way 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. The first sung line from Wilfred Owen's poetry makes the implications clear: "What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?"
  • Used at the end of The Fighting Machine in Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The 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, this mainly being a response to Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death.
  • 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.
  • Iced Earth use rapidly tolling bells on Boiling Point off their album Dystopia.
  • Swiss Thrash trio Coroner's Pale Sister off the Mental Vortex album. It comes sharply and suddenly and is actually pretty jarring.
  • The intrumental King Diamond song "Cremation" features tolling bells at the end.
  • "The Box (Untitled Version 2)" by Orbital.
  • "Fallen Angel" by Possessed.
  • Lampshaded, although not actually heard, in Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," a long, eerie ballad about an ore ship that sank in a storm on Lake Superior; after the deaths rather than as a Portent of Doom.
    "In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed, in the Maritime Sailor's Cathedral. And the church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times, for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald."
  • Gustav Mahler:
    • Bells are featured in the fifth movement of Mahler's Symphony no. 3. A boys' choir imitates the sound of bells, and tubular bells are also used. As an inversion of this trope, this is the most cheerful movement of the symphony.
    • The generally exuberant first part of Symphony No. 8, "Veni, Creator Spiritus," features tolling bells twice: once to accompany the tragic modulation into D minor before "Infirma nostris corporis," and again a minute or two later in a mysterious instrumental passage composed in Uncommon Time.
  • Bell sounds end The Kinks' "Big Black Smoke", symbolizing the siren song of the big city that dooms its heroine.
  • "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age" from Gustav Holst's "The Planets" begins with the ominous tolling of bell-like harp harmonics. The same dissonant harmonies are accompanied by actual bells at the movement's clangorous climax. The music then becomes much more peaceful and harmonious, and the bells make a very gentle return.
  • No Mercy by The Death Riders has this as part of the song's intro, combined with rain and thunder.
  • Do They Know It's Christmas, a well-loved Charity Motivation Song about how painful it is to starve to death, has church bells playing on the parts without singing.
    And the Christmas bells that ring there
    Are the clanging chimes of doom.
  • Sunn O))) uses this extensively in the first seven minutes of "Báthory Erzsébet". It pops up in other songs as well, such as "Cry for the Weeper".
  • Styx does it in "Half-Penny, Two-Penny," on Paradise Theater. During the instrumental break, a bell tolls a faint death-knell amid ominous piano chords and construction sound effects as the Paradise gets torn down. Those who listen very carefully can hear two construction workers sharing childhood memories of the Paradise over the din.
  • Used in Indila's Dernière Danse along with Ominous Latin Chanting when the song got more intense.


  • The Magnus Archives: When the altar server in the weird mass in "Desecrated Host" opens his mouth, instead of words he makes the sound of a tolling bell. When Father Burroughs tries to speak there, the same thing happens. Later, when his former fellow priests visit him in prison, it's all he can hear when they speak to him.

    Professional Wrestling 

  • The adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps broadcast on Aug. 1, 1938 by The Mercury Theatre on the Air starts off with the ringing of heavy, ominous church bells as Richard Hannay, a murder suspect on the run from the police and enemy secret agents, is trying to catch a train.

  • Inverted in the 1999 US Open. Payne Stewart was playing the final holes in a duel with Phil Mickleson. Stewart needed a 15 foot putt on the last hole to win it. As he was reading the putt, the religious Stewart could hear church bells in the distance. He made the putt to cling to victory.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This fan-made supplement for Curse of Strahd suggests that, after the players deafeat the vampire spawn Doru in the Barovian church, they will hear a single chime from the church bell as they leave. If they return, they will find that Doru's father, Father Donavich, has hung himself from the bell.
  • The cantrip Toll The Dead in the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons is described as "the sound of a dolorous bell" that sounds in the air around a creature, causing heavy damage (for a cantrip) if the target is missing any of its health.
  • In the Pathfinder adventure path Hell's Rebels, when the party is storming a temple of Asmodeus, the cursed bells in the belfry periodically ring out and deal debilitating effects to the intruders. One of the last steps in the process of taking the temple is to consecrate the bells, which is the only way to permanently put to rest the undead that inhabit the belfry.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Skaven's creation myth involves a bell striking thirteen and a city's population of vermin rising up to consume its inhabitants. Thirteen remains the Skaven's holy number, bells are common instruments for unit musicians, and they have a war machine called the Screaming Bell (which is the page image) that is one part mobile belltower, one part Black Magic shrine. Each time it chimes, something terrible will happen, it's just a matter of whether it affects the enemy or the Skaven.
    • The Vampire Counts borrowed this with their Unholy Lodestone upgrade to their Corpse Cart unit, a bell with a Pure Warpstone clapper.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Bell of Lost Souls is located atop one of the highest towers of the Imperial Palace, and is said to be audible from the other side of the planet. It tolls once whenever a truly great hero of the Imperium dies, and while propaganda states that it rings at the death of each Space Marine, if that was true it'd be ringing night and day.
      • In his memoirs, Ciaphas Cain makes a comment about the Bell tolling for him, prompting Inquisitor Vail to add a footnote explaining that it was a figure of speech common among soldiers, and that Cain wouldn't have expected the Bell to ring for him - at that time.
      • While the saying that the bell rings at the death of each Space Marine is likely propaganda, it was rung one thousand times when the Fire Hawks chapter was declared lost in the warp, once for each lost Battle-Brother.
    • The Bell of Saint Gerstahl, a holy relic inside Trazyn the Infinite's collection, began ringing when Abaddon's thirteenth Black Crusade assaulted Cadia, tipping him off that something big was about to happen and destroying many of Trazyn's artifacts before falling silent again after its thirteenth chime.
    • The Death Guard Unit, the Noxious Blightbringer, carries a cursed bell that tolls with the death knell of victims. They're known as the Tocsins of Misery, and their warped sounds cause the blessings of Nurgle to run rampant, spreading rot and disease through the enemy's ranks while their very faith and will to fight is eroded by the unclean sound.
    • The Last Church short story: The Emperor in disguise visits to the last (implied to be abrahamic) church on earth, to talk with the priest over matters of spirit. Though the priest impresses him, the Emperor still burns the church to the ground, with the priest refusing his offer to join him and instead burning with his faith. Inside the burning church, a bell tolls. One that was prophesized to only toll when the end of humanity was nigh.

  • In 1776, John Hancock orders the bell to be rung as the members of Congress sign the Declaration of Independence, closing the play. The Declaration is only the start to a long, hard struggle—with a badly-funded, -trained, and -equipped army against the might of the British forces, the future is by no means certain. The passage about "our lives, our fortune, and our sacred honor" isn't empty rhetoric—every man signing that document knew that it could put him at the end of a rope.
  • 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.
  • The bell tolls after the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf in Elisabeth.
  • 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 Peer Gynt, the trolls scatter in fear at the distant sound of church bells, which they take to belong to a herd of monstrous cattle. This saves Peer Gynt's life, but Edvard Grieg's music still plays the moment for horror.
  • The hurricane bell in Porgy and Bess.
  • In Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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....)
  • 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.
  • 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 Moment of Awesome.
  • Bloodborne:
    • The chimes of the Sinister Resonant Bells, which are used by players to invade other worlds, and Chime Maidens to summon and buff more monsters. In the DLC, the ringing of a bell is your warning that Brador is about to invade you.
    • The first phase of Lady Maria's boss fight is punctuated with the tolling of clock tower bells. Justified since the battle does take place in a clock tower (with Maria's Boss Subtitle outright being "Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower").
  • In Castlevania 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.
  • 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 plus Ominous Pipe Organ.
  • The background "music" of Terra Tower in Chrono Cross consists of nothing but deep bells, somber strings, and unintelligible vocals, all the better to convey the utterly alien atmosphere of a fortress displaced across time and dimensions, populated by ghosts and bizarre constructs.
  • The first game in the Clock Tower series used this trope to chilling effect during the title sequence.
  • The Dead Ringer fight in Crypt Of The Necrodancer features "For Whom the Knell Tolls", in which church bells frequent the track. Understandably, as Dead Ringer's main gimmick is to attack church bells around the room to summon minibosses.
  • Heavily subverted in Dark Souls. For a very grimdark kind of game, online players may sometimes hear a lonely church bell ring in a certain part of the world. This means that another person has rung said bell. Since the bell is actually one of the early game objectives that require fighting a particularly powerful boss, and is named The Bell of Awakening, hearing one actually gives a powerful sense of hope, as someone has achieved that particular objective, so you can too!
    • On the other hand, it's played straight in the soundtrack; both Sif's and his master, Artorias' theme features sad bells that emphasize their tragic story.
    • Dark Souls 3 also plays it straight in the theme for the boss fight against the Abyss Watchers, setting the melancholy tune for the fight against what remains of the menacing Undead Legion.
    • Ringing the great bell in Archdragon Peak shrouds the area in a big storm, and summons the Nameless King. As in the first Dark Souls, the bell can be heard throughout the area whenever another player decides to take a shot at the King.
  • The Wraith in Dead by Daylight has a bell that turns him invisible if he rings it, giving any survivors around an audible warning of him doing so.
  • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening:
    • The Hell Vanguard makes a bell-toll sound whenever it uses one of its teleportation-based attacks.
    • The suspicious-looking bells hanging on top of Temen-ni-gru ring loudly when Arkham finally opens the gate to the Demon World.
  • Any track from Disciples will have this motif somewhere in the overworld tracks. Here's an example for your enjoyment.
  • Very heavily used in .hack games (and carries over to .hack//G.U.): All the themes of the Eight Phases contain a similar-sounding, specific Leitmotif made of the sound of bells. Interestingly, one theme Macha's stops the bell leitmotif at the intro, symbolizing that the Boss is, in fact, your former friend. The themes associated with Phases in GU also uses the same leitmotif, with the same aforementioned bells. It manages to make most of the boss fights very, very creepy.
  • In Drakengard's Ending E, it's not just that the final boss music is a chaotic piece of tolling bells, it's that the final boss fight is playing a fiendishly difficult rhythm game with the Grotesquerie Queen, matching her tolls with your own.
    I. Hear. A. Sound.
  • In Eternal Darkness levels set at the Amiens Cathedral, a sound effect accompanying a low Sanity Meter are peals of churchbells.
  • Fallout and Fallout 2 have the music track "Acolytes of the New God," which combines this trope with ticking clocks and ominous chanting.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has this in the soundtrack piece "Not My Vault". Dead Money uses a church bell ambient track near the Campana del Sol (the belltower where you trigger the gala event), appropriately.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, a single bell rings loudly when "The Old Man of the Mountain" uses his Noble Phantasm, Azrael: The Angel that Announces Death.
    "The Old Man of the Mountain": Hearken. The evening bell tolls thy name. Wings of death, will thou sever their head? Azrael!
  • Final Fantasy:
  • In Grim Fandango, whenever Manny draws his scythe, a death knell plays softly in the background.
  • In Hades, Thanatos's entrances are, in-universe, accompanied by the sound of ringing bells. He's firmly on your side, but he is Death Incarnate.
  • Half-Life 2 has the song Ravenholm Reprise that starts with one of these. It plays in the next-to-last map of "We Don't Go to Ravenholm", as Father Grigori sends you off into the town's mines, while he stays behind to fight off the remaining zombies, saying, "Look to your own salvation!".
  • In Halo 2, a church bell tolls at the beginning of "Blow Me Away", and in "Destroyer's Invocation".
  • 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.
  • I Miss the Sunrise has a short section like this as part of its boss battle music.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
  • Kirby Super Star Ultra: The True Arena trades the relaxing rest area music for church-bells ringing in the background alerting Kirby of the Final Four.
  • In Koudelka, The Optional Boss, Gargoyle, is summoned by Church Bells.
  • 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.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III's final chapter is called "For Doom The Bell Tolls" and it starts when the bell from Crossbell is rung at the Imperial Villa at Heimdallr and cryptids suddenly attack Heimdallr, the capital of Erebonia.
  • A recurring motif in The Legend of Zelda.
  • Occurs during the music of the "Armageddon" ending of Live A Live, with the song eventually fading out on one final bell.
  • Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals:
    • The henchman theme Shudder has a bell that rings at the beginning and end of each chorus.
    • The last level where the music is nothing but bells and chanting.
  • In Monster Hunter 3 (Tri), the final boss theme opens with a sinister-sounding bell.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • 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 rampaging through the foundation of his own castle. Combined with the chanting in the background, it has a very overpowering effect.
    • The church bells towards the end of Super Mario Odyssey have a similar feeling of urgency, despite the stakes being lower than most instances of this trope, as it can be heard echoing all throughout Honeylune Ridge. The ringing in the distance hammers home the feeling that Mario needs to get to the church and stop the wedding between Bowser and Peach before it's too late.
  • NieR's backstory, which ties the game to the aforementioned Drakengard, explains that if you start to hear ringing bells, you're in the final stages of White Chlorination Syndrome and won't be human much longer.
  • In Overwatch, the map King's Row has a bell in a clock tower, with its gongs as part of its theme. The bell also gongs ominously several times after the attacking team captures the point and brings out the payload. Fitting, as the payload is an EMP designed to kill all the omnic refugees in the area.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, every time the local steeple's (very creepy) bell sounds in Twilight Town, someone gets turned into a pig. Goombella even begins to fear it will happen to her or Mario. The same bell is later featured in the battle theme of the chapter's boss, who is the one who placed the curse on the town.
  • Path of Exile has Dominus, Ascendant, which plays when you fight High Templar Dominus's One-Winged Angel form atop the Scepter of God. For bonus points it includes an ethereal choir and electric guitars.
  • In Persona 3, after destroying the Arcana Hanged Man Shadow, SEES thought that the Dark Hour is over. Except it isn't, and they begin hearing a bell ringing from Tartarus, signifying the Fall.
  • Pokémon:
    • 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.
    • The theme for the Distortion World from Platinum features a bell, which helps add to the grim and otherworldly feel of the place.
    • Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza's battle theme from the third-gen games also features ominous bells at the beginning. In addition, a distinctive set of three bell strikes serves as a leitmotif of sorts for Deoxys, recurring in its pre-battle and battle themes.
  • Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney has the Bell of Ruin in Labyrinthia. When it was rung about 10 years prior to the game's events, it caused all inhabitants to fall unconscious on the eve of the annual Fire Festival. This caused the whole town to be consumed in a blaze that was later called "The Legendary Fire". Only 4 persons survived the fire. This happened because the bell was made from pure silver and all inhabitants suffered from a special illness that caused them to fall unconscious when they heard the sound of pure silver being rung.
  • 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.
  • One of the more memorable BGM tracks in School Days is an arrangement of the title song for bells. The piece has quite a somber feel to it, which fits the themes of remorse and lost innocence which run through the game.
  • 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 the original Shadow Hearts, you battle against the entity that passes for God. Behold.
  • Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne:
    • When you fight any of the Fiends, you can hear faint bells in the theme that accompanies them. In this case the sense of dread isn't necessarily for story purposes as much as it is gameplay reasons.
    • Metatron uses bells, and considering that you are fighting the voice of God, this should come as no surprise.
  • One of the best tracks in The Simpsons Hit & Run which plays in missions like There's Something About Monty features a bell along with a Ominous Pipe Organ and some serious Danny Elfman vibes.
  • Ramirez's theme from Skies of Arcadia more or less contains every single "scary music" trope in the book, only stopping short of actual Ominous Latin Chanting.
  • In Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, the song "Penal colony of the soul" uses this trope, although it's hard to notice, but is easier to at 2:13. You can hear it here. It never plays in the normal playthrough OR the demon path, it only plays in a non-canon fight (which is very difficult to reach, let alone grind enough levels to WIN) with Median the Conqueror, so it could be considered a wasted song. The song is also called "Babylon of Souls" and "Purgatory".
  • Spore's Black Cloud ability uses this every time you click the icon.
  • StarCraft: 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 music that plays when approaching the Clockwork Sun in Sunless Skies features deep bells knelling ominously. It gets even creepier when in immediate proximity of this mechanical monstrosity since it adds "Psycho" Strings to the mix just like any other Horror Spectacles.
  • In Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain's first bonus mission, Agent Stone snipes Dmitri when the church bell tolls 3:00 to cover the sound of the shot.
  • A few versions of M. Bison's theme. Mostly anything before the CPS2 versions of Street Fighter II.
  • Tabuu's battle theme from Super Smash Bros. Brawl has prominent bells and organs.
  • 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.
  • The Talos Principle: In the music at the temples in areas A and C (the latter of which is the same music as on the title screen).
  • In Terranigma, the zombie-infested town of Louran contains this. Needless to say, the place is really, really creepy.
  • Total War: Warhammer II has the Skaven's Screaming Bell, true to the source material. You can see and hear one ringing thirteen times in the faction's trailer.
  • In Twisted Metal: Black, the Freeway stage has church bells in its ambient soundtrack.
  • Each stage of Vampire Survivors has a set time limit of 15 or 30 minutes, at which point the waves of enemies will vanish and The Red Death will swoop in to finish you off. He has an HP value, however, and with the right items, or by exploiting the terrain, it's possible to kill the Red Death. At that point, the HUD vanishes, a bell begins tolling, and the camera zooms in on your character with each toll. Once the bells toll twelve times, the White Hand — implied to be the Death — shows up and slowly crosses the screen to inescapably kill your character.
  • Vermintide II: The daemon-possessed Chaos sorcerer Nurgloth the Eternal wields a Sinister Scythe with a large bell mounted to the shaft, punctuating his Boss Battle with harsh peals.
  • The Walking Dead in Season 1 Episode 4 Chuck says the trope name when a mysterious woman got the church bells ringing attracting the walkers towards the gang.
  • Warcraft III has the memorable cinematic in which Prince Arthas returns from Northrend to be welcomed home by his father, while church bells celebrate his miraculous survival. Unfortunately, Arthas "survived" by becoming a death knight, and promptly murders his father to begin the undead Scourge's invasion of Lordaeron, all while the bells ironically continue to ring. The moment is commemorated in World of Warcraft, as the same bells can be seen at the bottom of a tower in the ruins of Lordaeron's capital, and the game's soundtrack picks up the faint sound of ringing bells while you're near them.
  • In Wii Play, specifically the "Tanks!" minigame, the presence of green and black tanks is accompanied by the addition of bells to the background music.
  • Ys:
  • 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.

  • In Girl Genius, Mechanicsburg has the aptly named Doom Bell, used to herald momentous occasions, such as the birth of a new scion of the ruling Heterodyne family, for the anointing of a new lord of the family and city, or just because. The bell has an effect of inflicting existential despair upon all who hear it. Only members of the Heterodyne family and their loyal army of Jagermonsters seem completely unaffected, while those who are used to it or are strong enough sparks themselves to be regarded as peers to the Heterodynes seem to be able to power through hearing it. Witness its power over the next several pages.
  • Some of the music in Homestuck has doom bells, but an air-raid siren usually plays this role instead. Observe.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Helga vs. Big Patty", the sound of a tolling bell can be heard just before the terrified Helga and Big Patty face each other in a scheduled fight, which is what the episode title is exactly called.
    Stinky: Well, it's almost time, fellers. Who's got the popcorns?
  • My Little Pony: Grogar is one of the franchise's biggest and most powerful villain and has a bell serving as the source of his power, albeit working differently in both of his appearances.
    • In G1, Grogar's bell is able to generate magic to attack foes with (including being able to trap intruders in cages). Conversely, another bell within Tambelon, when rung, destroys this bell and renders Grogar powerless.
    • In G4, Grogar was banished, and his bell was moved to the peak of a high mountain and sealed behind a forcefield where no one could get it. The bell has the ability to steal magic from anyone it strikes, store it within, and then give it to whoever knows the correct spells to activate it. A team of villains is sent to retrieve the bell, and it is later used in the finale but not by Grogar, who turns out to have been a disguise.
  • In the Pixar short Sanjay's Super Team, a Hindu god uses the sound emitted by a prayer bell to drive away a demon. This fails, but then Sanjay uses the prayer-candle holder as a bell, which succeeds.

    Real Life 
  • Prior to the advent of radio, the tocsin was used for emergency broadcasts. The tocsin involved a single church bell tolling, to be joined by all the church bells in an area tolling at once, slowly at first, then with ever-increasing tempo. This let the people know that they were about to be attacked. On September 7, 1940, this actually happened in Britain. Misuse of the code word "Cromwell", used to get home defense in a higher state of alert when it was only supposed to be used if a German invasion were actually underway, led to the ringing of church bells all over the country as Britain's armed forces manned their stations to repel the Germans.
  • Eastern Orthodox Churches use a tolling bell to indicate the start of a funeral service.
  • Dead bell.
  • Belled buzzards, a type of urban legend in American Folklore that combines this trope with Circling Vultures—more specifically, a vulture that inexplicably has a bell attached to it spells doom for those who see/hear it.


Video Example(s):


Gusty the Great hid the Bell

Grogar explains how Gusty the Great stole his Bewitching Bell, the source of his dark magic, and, unable to destroy it, hid it away at the top of the highest mountain in Equestria.

How well does it match the trope?

3.67 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ForDoomTheBellTolls

Media sources: