Keyboards In Metal: Examining The Evolution Of Heavy Music’s Most Maligned Instrument

Keyboards in metal songs – I have always liked them. I was only a wee pup when Van Halen released 1984 and the smash hit single “Jump”, and when Judas Priest went “pop” on 1986’s Turbo. I’ve only heard echoes of the backlash, especially with regard to Judas Priest. Without any prejudice, I hear “Turbo Lover” and think it’s a just great song, despite it’s inherent poppy-ness.

There are those who are just diametrically opposed to keyboards or synthesizers in their metal. They will say it’s cheesy or choose a politically incorrect effeminate describer to communicate their disgust and opposition. I get it. When we think of legit, old-school metal bands, we picture scruffy dudes in jeans jamming in a dingy garage like Sabbath or Pantera. There’s loud feedback, empty beer cans strewn about the floor, and it probably smells like feet and Doritos. Fluffy keyboards have no place amongst the gritty basics of the rock 4-piece (or 5 if you have dual guitars).

I may have built a decent straw man to take down, but for my money, keyboards belong right there with the meat-and-potatoes instruments: guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. As far as I’m concerned, instruments outside of the staples associated with rock and metal are just colors to add to a palette. Refusing to consider them on principle is cutting yourself off at the knees.

I think the 1980’s, the decade itself, gave keyboards and synths a bad name. We think of neon colors, break dancing, teal blue blazers with the sleeves rolled up, androgynous glam bands, bankers doing blow, and sparkly pop that reveled in the fact that it was “morning in America.” When any of us think of the ’80s, it’s hard not to think about the theme song to Miami Vice or Beverly Hills Cop. The “sound of the future” was really just the sound of the present, and is forever encapsulated in a collection of kitschy, pop-culture relics that have evolved into quaint novelties.

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