God Emperor Of Dune: Sunnata Talk Frank Herbert and Science Fiction

Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), and the subsequent books encompassing the original Chronicles Of Dune, is a science fiction masterpiece that has left an undeniable, and growing, mark on popular culture. The tale follows Paul Atreides and his family relocating from Caladan to Arrakis in a brokered deal with the Shaddam IV, the Harkonnens, and the CHOAM Company to take over the harvesting of the most important substance in the universe — spice. We could wax lyrical about the series further, but in the interest of space, time and the matters pertinent to this writing, too much need not be given away about the series. That is for the interested reader to find out.

The vast expanse of the universe that Herbert created has influenced the realm of science fiction from literature, to movies, to music. Of these mediums some of the more notable influences in literature and television/cinema include elements of Star Wars, The Venture Bros., The Grim Adventures Of Billy And Mandy, Berserk (RIP Kentaro Miura), and Attack On Titan. Within music one does not need to walk miles in a desert without rhythm to find Herbert’s fingerprints. Bands such as Dvne, Shai Hulud and Haderach offer blatant reference to the desert planet in their monikers. Others have taken up concepts from the Fremen, Bene Gesserit, Spacing Guild and/or The Golden Path in different ways. One such band is the Polish metal outfit Sunnata with their latest album Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth (2021). Robert Ruszczyk, Sunnata’s drummer, was more than happy to answer some questions for Astral Noize about the album, their love of Dune, and their growth on their own sonic Golden Path.

The first aspect I noticed from the new album’s track listing, and later from listening, are the Dune (1965) references. What about Frank Herbert’s novels led you to composing material on it? Surely one does not simply compose music about the “Golden Path” without having some deeper connection to it.

We won’t lie there is no deeper connection! When we first created the instrumental version of the song that later became ‘God Emperor Of Dune’ we instantly turned our eyes on Frank Herbert’s books. I’m personally a huge fan of the entire Dune universe. We’ve been looking for a theme that will nicely fulfil that spatial, desert and trance vibe and what can do it better than a philosophical read about a tyrant that ruled humanity with an iron fist for 4000 years for people’s own good? Golden Path is a blessing and a curse and we truly love how deep Herbert’s books actually can be. 

Dune does not appear to be the only science fiction, or space related, reference in your discography. Going back to your first full-length release, Climbing The Colossus (2015), there is a song about the alpha star of Piscis austrini, ‘Fomalhaut’. Bearing this in mind, how much does science fiction, and science for that matter, influence your creative processes in general? 

You might be surprised, but not at all, at least not directly. What we love about science fiction, though, is its courage to reach for and think through the biggest, most further ideas. There is no world too big for a science fiction fan or a writer. If you combine this with its everlasting urge to question humanity or answer tough questions in general – you get it. And speaking of ‘Fomalhaut’, I remember one of us found information about it. What we loved was actually the origin of the name – f am al-ūt mouth of the whale. We found it brilliantly matched the song’s presence.

What other extramusical/non-music influences have played a role in the songwriting process for Sunnata?

That’s a tough question… and I cannot give you any specific answers. Ourselves? Emotions within and probably a ton of other factors that are hard to name? Maybe. We don’t have to seek for inspiration, usually the music just happens, flows from us, and what’s more – it has that specific emotional mark that seems to just be there.

2021 marks roughly thirteen years playing together for you all. From 2008–2013 you were under the moniker of Satellite Beaver, and from 2014–now you have been Sunnata. What have you noticed to be the biggest areas of growth and development as an ensemble from when you formed to now?

Awareness of what we do and who we are, no matter how cliché it sounds. We’ve grown and developed as people, as friends and human beings overall. When you walk through life with someone for so long, maintaining mutual respect and sharing a broad palette of emotions and experiences, you can only say good things. I’d never change those people to anyone else. A bunch of brothers who’d never met in real life, yet they did because of the common passion – our key driving factor.

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation releases this year.

Bearing in mind what you have experienced in your journeys together over the years, how did the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 direct your progress and how did you adapt? Did the pandemic directly change the timeline of development for Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth? 

We had to cancel everything, so we actually regained a lot of time we could spend on writing our latest album. Covid didn’t actually direct our progress, I don’t feel anything changed specifically in terms of our goals as a band. We can’t tour and didn’t rehearse for some time – both things hurt, but it all gave us more energy we could channel into Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth, so we simply arranged remote ways of working and finished off the album during the first half of 2020 – a rough, fully locked down time in Poland.

Circling back to the realm of science fiction and the Dune universe, what are the inspirational elements for ‘Crows’ and ‘Black Serpent’? I immediately thought of ornithopters for ‘Crows’ and Shai-Hulud for ‘Black Serpent’. The latter being my favourite track on the album because it has that swirling fuzzy grind of worm slithering through the sands towards a spice harvester. Do they adhere to the many Dune influences already on the record, or do they come from different spheres of influence? 

Hah, that’s so great to hear you visualise Dune when listening to the album, but I believe that’s mostly because of that a bit eastern, a bit desert vibe that resonates with Herbert nicely. Some even say that the album cover depicts Bene Gesserit! ‘Crows’ is actually a song lyrically inspired by tribes killing themselves for their own gods, which could potentially fit into some of the themes of Dune. ‘Black Serpent’ too as this song explores witch-hunt related areas, where those blinded by faith define themselves through their crusade on dissenters (black serpents) instead of letting people live their lives. This can be tied to Dune too, but that’s because of universal topics we try to explore on Burning In Heaven.

What are your favourite science fiction novels/books and TV series/movies?

I can only speak for myself, so here it goes. Books: Asimov’s Foundation, Lem’s Solaris, Herbert’s Dune series (I’d pick Children Of Dune as my favourite), Dukaj’s Other Songs (I nne Pieśni in polish). Movies/TV Series: there’s a lot of classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Metropolis or 12 Monkeys, but in recent years I was very positively surprised with Arrival, Annihilation or Tales From The Loop, which bravely explore interesting ideas.

How do you feel about Brian Herbert’s treatment of the expansion of the Dune universe? Please feel free to be as honest as possible with this one if you are familiar with anything beyond Frank’s original six. 

I was afraid you’re gonna ask this and so you did! Honestly, I consider anything written by Brian and Kevin as fanfiction and I’d rather stop here, I just don’t wanna rant on how far it is from what Frank Herbert has created.

What are your favourite albums/compositions influenced by science fiction? 

Soundtracks from sci-fi movies, nothing else.

What’s next on the horizon for Sunnata? 

Whatever life has best to offer, hopefully!

Words and Interview: Garrett A. Tanner

“Bless the Maker and His water. Bless the coming and going of Him. May His passage cleanse the world. May He keep the world for His people.” – Frank Herbert

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