Gholas Via Dune Messiah
After years of putting it off, I finally succame to the will of TovH Power User and all-around rad dude Max; in mid-2016, I began my exploration of the desert world of Arrakis with the Dune series. Thankfully for me, Max is a man of quality and virtue, and his recommendation did not fall flat. In fact, I’d consider Dune one of the best works of fiction I’ve ever encountered. Hungry for more tales of the Fremen and their spartan lifestyle, I voraciously devoured Dune‘s sequel Dune Messiah at the end of the year. Curious to explore Frank Herbert’s universe through other media, I went on my own pilgrimage to discover metal bands that have tackled the heady conceptual world of Dune. There, at the foot of Alia’s Nave, I discovered Gholas.
Gholas, biological clones created by the heretical sect Bene Tleilax, are one of the central spokes upon which Dune Messiah turns. While Dune was a fantastical blend of science fiction and mystery, following protagonist Paul Atreides on his quest for vengeance, justice, and dominance, Dune Messiah tells a very different tale. The second book in the original Dune series focuses less on the momentous actions that come to shape the Empire of Paul’s universe but rather on the machinery of governance and faith that sustains that empire. Dune Messiah follows the Emperor of Dune’s galaxy as he attempts to outwit his nemeses in the Bene Tleilax, the Bene Gesserit, and the Guilds while also avoiding his own terrible fate written on the very fabric of history itself. The sequel trades extended tales of war and violence for sabotage and intrigue, narrative flights for philosophical musings on the nature of identity and destiny. Central to the intrigue in the novel is a single ghola, a reanimated character from the first novel who is infinitely more than he appears.
The appearance of this phantom from his past portends ruin to not just the Emperor’s current reign but also his bloodline. Has this ghola, grown in a Tleilaxu laboratory from the salvaged flesh of a beloved comrade, become a Trojan horse for greater machinations? Is the ghola a tool, or does the Emperor’s old friend still linger somewhere within? What are the greater implications for the soul within a reigning theocracy where rabid faith in the absolute truth of a charismatic leader’s startling prescience causes radicalism and fatalism to clash? What defines a human being? Are we purely biological responses to stimuli, whether evolutionary or pre-determined, or is there something of the self that endures beyond death, perhaps even within the flesh itself?
These are questions explored in the emotional landscapes carved by the Coriolis winds breathed by New Jersey’s Gholas. Blending desert rock, shoegaze, psychedelia, and sludge into a progressive melange of spice-addled introspective heavy metal, the quartet have sought for years now to carve out a bountiful oasis within the barren wastes of the oft-maligned post-metal genre. Although the band trades in many of the tropes of their forebears, as seemingly unable to break free from the genetic machinations of the Bene Gesserit as Paul Atreides, the band also aims to transcend those norms like a true Kwisatz Haderach. True, the band plays in downtuned measures reminiscent of Neurosis, wanders through vast instrumental plains like Isis, and rides sandworms of emotion-welling crescendos like Russian Circles, but they do it all with such earnestness and skill that you’d believe they’d been wandering the post-deserts for their entire lives.
That prescient experience finds its full expression in the riffs. The bleak, hulking menace of “The Worm” unfolds like the ghola’s plot into an expansive, almost doomy Turbid North-esque riff before completely giving itself over to a recursive, hypnotizing desert riff that leads listeners into a full rapture in “Calls Out to the Supplicants.” The blend of dusty, primitive doom riffs with with tarot-psychedelics and cultic growls finds its full force amid the almost spoken word shouts of desperation and rage and the ever tasteful caveman drums. Gholas sonically craft a rich world of oases and endless sand, interspersed with brief storms of emotional solos and frantic percussion. Just like Arrakis, their most recent album Litanies hides a wealth of culture and expression.
Ultimately it is that dedication to Herbert’s beloved work that makes Gholas stand apart. Every song on Litanies drips with reverence for the intriguing world of faith and violence and passion and despair all bound within the ghola character central to Dune Messiah. Just as the ghola is a threat of violence and terror, Gholas occasionally dabble in pummeling spurts of doom riffs and percussion that grind you down like the merciless winds of a harsh desert landscape. However, like the ghola, there is nobility, ambition, and virtue in the music of Gholas, as evident in the taut swirls of geriatric-spice feedback that yield to an eruption of cascading percussion and heart-stirring leads in “The Sleeper.” It’s as if Gholas are inviting us to take their hands and ride the worm with them. We aren’t sure if the ghola is to be trusted, but we know that fate compels us to see what lies on the other side of the battered shield wall.
“Let the Harkonnen beasts tremble and fret themselves that an Atreides yet lives!”