Censure and Honour To The Dead (Audio Review)

I’ve remarked before how strong Black Library’s audio range is for its flagship Horus Heresy series. The successes have been many, the not-successes very, very few. And that’s just the way I like it. Both Big Finish and Heavy Entertainment have done a great job with the voice-actors they’ve brought to the various stories, penned by some of the publisher’s finest writers, and the audios are one way that I can get a regular quick fix of Horus Heresy without hunkering down in a novel or an anthology. And gotta admit, listening to some of these high-action audios while in a gym has its own rewards too!

Last year the publisher debuted two brand-new audio dramas that used Dan Abnett’s near-excellent Know No Fear as a starting point. In that novel, the tale of the Word Bearers’ betrayal of the Ultramarines in the the Veridian system unfolded, and it was a turning point in the Horus Heresy, as important as the Dropsite Massacre at Istvaan V. While Nick Kyme’s audio Censure is set in the years after the betrayal at Calth (the primary world in the Veridian system) as the Underworld War for control of the world rages on, Gav Thorpe’s Honour To The Dead is set in the early moments of the betrayal. The former focuses on a key individual from Know No Fear and the latter on a battle between two Titan legions. Both are strong audios in almost all respects, and I would certainly recommend both.

Censure-Honour To The DeadOne of my favourite characters from Dan Abnett’s Know No Fear is Aeonid Thiel, an Ultramarines line-sergeant who rose to prominence during the First Battle of Calth. A warrior who frequently disobeyed orders, he was marked for sanction, evident in his red helm. In the modern Warhammer 40,000 setting, a red helm on an Astartes sergeant indicates that he is a veteran. The exact protocol differs chapter to chapter, but most indicate their line-veterans with red helms. But in the days of the Great Crusade, a red helm was a mark of shame and punishment, a visible mark of an Astartes having brought dishonour on his name. And then, Dan Abnett went and switched that around really well. He made Thiel’s red helm a mark of his pride and his distinction, having served at his Primarch Roboute Guilliman’s side during the Battle of Calth when he was part of an attack to destroy Kor Phaeron and his Word Bearers bodyguards.

In Censure, we see how Calth has changed Thiel. He is still insubordinate as ever, still as snarky with his superiors. But he is still a hero, a character who has risen to prominence because of who he is and all that he has done. That is what Nick Kyme does in this audio and he does it really well. His characterization of Thiel matches what Dan Abnett did with the character. For me, it is always nice to see such cross-pollination of characters, and in Censure Nick has a great vehicle to really get to focus on the character.

In addition to using a character created by Dan, Nick also goes ahead and expands on the Ultramarines method of war: the concept of theoreticals and practicals that was first introduced in Know No Fear. He doesn’t do something quite as obvious as Dan did of course, and his dialogue is much more… traditional and not the blunt, to-the-point style we saw in the novel proper. I liked that difference here. It made the entire story that much more atmospheric for me. I really got pulled in, and the thing is that Calth has changed the Ultramarines considerably, and the dialogue is just one of the ways that happens in the audio.

The audio drama is performed by Gareth Armstrong, Seán Barrett, Martyn Ellis, Chris Fairbank and David Timson. In particular, Gareth is the voice of Thiel himself and as with all his previous roles in all the Black Library audios he has done, Gareth is utterly fantastic here. He really is Thiel in his performance, with all the little quirks and minutiae. Producer Sean Gunn couldn’t have cast anyone else as perfectly here.

If there is any negative point to the audio, it is that the villain was rather lackluster. Dark Apostle Kurtha Zedd started off as a credible threat, leading a small task force of Word Bearers and fanatics alike against Thiel and his men, but in the end he came off as rather comical. The particular way that he is outsmarted…. it just didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t expect him to go down to something so… mundane.

Still, I liked the audio well enough, and would love to see more of Thiel in the future. And I should also say that Thiel’s companion, an Army penal trooper, makes for some great scenes, particularly when his background and his past comes up for discussion. Those scenes were, I think, some of Nick’s best writing and also a great moment for Thiel himself, because he made an effort to connect with the penal trooper in a way that I didn’t expect at first, but which felt utterly natural at the end.

Rating: 8.5/10

Honour To The Dead in comparison is a much different kind of audio drama. It focuses on more characters, for one, and it also features some really intense Titan combat. Titan combat in the Horus Heresy has been in dribs and drabs up until now. The occasional novel will feature something exciting, but in the main the novels deal with the Asstartes themselves and with the Army personnel. The Titans  don’t get much screen-time unfortunately. But fortunately, Honour To The Dead does much to correct that.

Gav’s story here is set in the aftermath of the first moments of the Word Bearers’ betrayal, after the Campanile smashes into Calth’s central defenses and the planet itself is bombarded with the detritus of war as the treachery breaks out and the Ultramarines legion is slaughtered in space. In the city of Ithraca, the loyalist Legio Praesagius is preparing to embark on its carrier ships, to be taken into orbit as part of the Ultramarines legion fleet that is set to begin a campaign of compliance and extermination against a nearby Ork empire. But everything goes wrong in the final moments and the battle-engines of the Fire Masters legion declare against Guilliman for Lorgar. Ithraca is thus setup for a near-apocalyptic battle between the massive war-engines of both Titan Legions, even as scattered Ultramarines forces attempt to retake the city from Word Bearers and cultists alike and the people of the city are left to fend for themselves.

There are three primary story arcs in this audio. The first involves the Legio Praesagius, the True Messengers, of course with the second involving a combat squad of Ultramarines and the third an Ithracan woman as she braves looters, cultists and more in order to find safety for her baby boy. Each of the three arcs intersect at one point or another, and Gav’s genius is in that very fact itself. He brings together these story strands really well, and tells the tale of the battle for Ithraca across three major viewpoints.

But the focus always remains on the battle between the war-engines of the True Messengers and the Fire Masters, with characters from both sides getting a really great turn-out in terms of characterization. For me, Gav has always been one of Black Library’s finest and his technical and narrative storytelling are both top order in this audio drama. His audio drama The Raven’s Flight, which focused on the Raven Guard Primarch Corvus Corax during the Dropsite Massacre, is one of my all-time favourite audio dramas from Black Library and I think that Honour To The Dead is well-enough a match for that one. The ever-awesome Toby Longworth isn’t on the voice duties here, but that was a small matter indeed because the story was so damn good.

Producer Sean Gunn did a remarkable job with all the sound effects and the casting of Gareth Armstrong, David Timson, Jane Collingwood, Jonathan Keeble and Luke Thompson works really well once again. Far as I know, Luke Thompson is a newcomer and it is really nice to see that the audios are getting ever more sophisticated, whether they be in terms of sound effects in the background or the number of voice-actors. More diversity in the cast means that there is more to enjoy because you don’t have just a small, very small, handful of people doing far too many voices. I loved the days of Big Finish when Toby Longworth did all the audios for Black Library, but I love equally all that Heavy Entertainment has been doing of late. And definitely a special commendation to Stephen Slater for all the music that he composed for this audio.

Oftentimes, the mood in Honour To The Dead is one of abject fear and tension. Whether they be scenes of Titan horns blaring in the midst of battle, or the various characters being up to no good, the sound and voice-acting in Honour To The Dead is definitely exceptional. Jane’s scenes were a bit too dramatic, but I still loved the humaneness she brought to her character, and she captured the required fear, hauntedness and terror really well, so yeah.

Rating: 9.5/10

The year 2013 was definitely a year when Calth and the Underworld War raging across the world and in its subterranean arcologies were in ascendant. Short stories, novels, anthologies, audios, it was a great time to be a fan of Ultramarines or have an interest in Calth itself. Censure and Honour To The Dead are definitely among the finest moments in this widespread focus on the topic, and they are audios that I can recommend highly.

More Horus Heresy: Angel Exerminatus, Butcher’s Nails, Fear To Tread,Garro: Burden of Duty, Garro: Oath of Moment and Garro: Legion of One, Grey Angel, Know No Fear, Promethean Sun, Shadows of Treachery, The Outcast Dead, The Primarchs, The Raven’s Flight, Thief of Revelations, Vulkan Lives, Mark of Calth, Templar.

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Posted on September 4, 2014, in Audio Review, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

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