Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baroque and Roll

I want you to imagine something.

Imagine a golden warrior angel in mid-flight, swooping down with sword and shield, ready to stab some loathsome beast. This image frozen in tableau above an impossibly-tall fortified Gothic spire. Below that, curvy women lounge about in diaphanous robes and bits of ornamental armour. Lower still, sea monsters from the forgotten deeps writhe and coil. Around the spire gaunt, unnatural monsters that look like like some combination of alligator, panther and dinosaur shrink back in horror and twist their malformed bodies in impossible ways as the angel's terrible radiance sears their eyes and pierces their souls.

Not enough? How's this? A well-muscled manly-man of a hero stands atop a castle tower. Beneath him, all the vile, subterranean minions of hell boil forth from the earth and sea in an effort to devour him. Defending him is a naked mermaid whose purity fills the devils with both fear and unnatural lust to despoil such a perfect beauty. Against the tide of evil, the hero wields a severed hand still spraying fluid from the stump.

Perhaps it's just Friend Kris's recent writings on heavy-metal influenced fantasy over at Glitterdust. Perhaps it's my relatively-recent playthrough of BrĂ¼tal Legend. But these descriptions - at least to me - sound metal. Nothing to do with metal music, necessarily, but everything to do with the metal-fantasy aesthetic. Muscley guys fighting loathsome denizens of the underworld while poorly-dressed women with unrealistic figures look on.

So, what are these shining examples of unironic heavy-metal aesthetic excess? Album covers? Artwork for fantasy games or novels?

None of the above. Would you believe nineteenth century public fountains?

The first one is the fountain on Place Sainte-Catherine in Brussels (Google Image Search fails me here). The second is Brabo Fountain in Antwerp, which the Internet informs me is based on the founding legend of the city, in which Roman soldier Silvius Brabo chops the hand off a giant and throws it into the nearby river (source) - a fact which makes it even more metal.

So why is trashy metal/fantasy art derided as, well, trashy metal/fantasy art, while this stuff gets a pass? The content is about the same, so is it the (slightly) less testosteroned-up aesthetic? Is it just because it's old? Is it due to the connection with their respective associated musical genres? I don't really have an answer, nor any sort of conclusion. I'm certainly not calling for the installation of trashy metal/fantasy art in public places. I'm just intrigued and amused by the connections between some of the 'lowest' and 'highest' arts.

I guess I do have one conclusion: men like art with babes and violence.


  1. The difference is in the intensity of the statement.

    Looking at the Brabo Fountain, the first thing I was struck by was the understatement of the source material. It's just a dude holding a severed hand. Which, when written, sounds pretty fucking Metal, but it's pretty tame to look at.

    A Metal version of the statue would have him standing with one foot on the giant's chest, chopping the hand off with an overly-ornate Sword of Black Darkness, spraying liquid all over the fucking fountain. His hair would be splayed out behind him heroically and his overly-muscled body would be decorated with piercings and tattoos and spiked jewelry. At his feet, a sexy groupie chick reclinging over a Warlock bass guitar, holding a six pack of beer.

    Metal, as a rule, is pretty unsubtle about its own badassery. The aesthetic is about bragging it up. Historical fountains just let you be a badass, no brag needed.

  2. I'm glad to see you're getting into the verbally-overwrought spirit of things.