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EJ Davies takes on George Mann’s latest entry into the Warhammer 40K canon, and revisits the Raven Guard we first met in Helion Rain.
“A different take on the audio drama format, with a reappearance of some old favourite characters, and some new ones in the making; this is a solid audio drama – the kind of thing we trust Black Library for.”
From our friends at Black Library:
“As war spreads across the sector, Imperial and Chaos forces clash on the mortuary world of Kasharat. Far from the front lines, Space Marines of the Brazen Minotaurs infiltrate an ancient temple-tomb, seeking an artefact sacred to their Chapter… one that could turn the tide of battle in the Imperium’s favour. But they are not the first to enter the tomb – as the Space Marines race to seize their prize, they are watched from the shadows. Are the mysterious Raven Guard there to help the Brazen Minotaurs, or to destroy them?”
OK, so that’s the synopsis done. Does it work?
Well, from the off it doesn’t start well. The new title music has been specially written, but sounds like the kind of output I was getting from my PC when I was still playing Day of the Tentacle. (For those not in the know, it was a point and click adventure made by LucasArts and was HILARIOUS!) It may be because I’m a drummer that the drum sounds are a little lame, but the whole title music detracts from the potential of the story.
The story is set as a parallel narrative, we focus on the Brazen Minotaurs, then the Raven Guard at the turn of the track. Along with the new music we also have some new vocal talent. Rupert Degas and Saul Reichlin add their talents to the Black Library stable, along with narrator Seán Barrett bring the characters to life. The Brazen Minotaurs are given a vaguely Jamaican accent – an interesting take for the bull headed Space Marines – and the Raven Guard are imbued with the same ephemeral, mercurial quality begun by Toby Longworth in Helion Rain. That said, Seán’s voice is fairly monotonic, and barely registers a change in tension or rises with tempo towards the infrequent battle scenes. It makes for an interesting and atmospheric quality in the exposition sections, but its lack of passion – for want of a better word – hurts the action scenes. The vocal work is excellent for the characters though, so I’m greatly appreciative of that. They are no Toby Longworth – he is my ‘voice of 40K’ – but they are good.
The story, in and of itself, is an interesting one, and the device of the parallel narrative (and the temporal twist around track 6) is another great positive in George Mann’s favour. He has pedigree in fiction already, and Helion Rain was a competent and entertaining piece of work. Labyrinth of Sorrows is more atmospheric, and descriptive than other entries Black Library have made into this area before.
What doesn’t do it any favours though are some of the production qualities. The narration direction aside, the music is another serious negative. The music loops through the action scenes and it is fairly noticeable in longer sequences towards the end of the piece. With the catalogue that BL must still have access to from the previous titles, it is a disappointment. The vocal sequences, also, in track 7 doesn’t match the atmospherics of the sound effects, or the description of the room. Example – it’s like in some movie scenes where the character is standing in a cave, but the dialogue sounds like it was recorded in my sitting room, it’s just incongruous and something else to keep one at a distance from true immersion.
Also, two major issues for me. In one track a heavy bolter weapon is suggested as being a single shot weapon. In later tracks, battle scenes tend to focus with just one or two person’s sound effects, rather than encompassing the entire battle.
Also: with most of the BL audio dramas when you rip the CD, none of the tracks are named. It’s a minor annoyance but it does rankle me.
Suggested track names:
With all the negatives though, this is a real step forward in some respects for Black Library. Sound effects occur briefly after the action described – rather than the “He fired his pistol… ; …” *bang* Sound effects, descriptions, and atmospherics are well presented; and the tones between bolt weapons is great.
All in all, it’s a solid audio drama, with some good features. Yet it’s not the fault of the author as the story was brilliantly executed, but I believe in the direction of the audio drama. Definitely worth paying for.