Audio Drama – Butcher’s Nails by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – Advanced Review [EJ Davies]


EJ Davies reviews the latest in the increasingly complex and multi-format Horus Heresy saga with Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Butcher’s Nails, shining a spotlight on the World Eater’s Legion and their primarch, Angron.

“An excellently written, and typically novel approach to storytelling that really shines a much-needed spotlight on larger than life characters.  Truly wonderful” ~ The Founding Fields.

From the Black Library:

“The primarch Angron: gladiator-king and Horus’s lunatic attack dog. Never having hidden his resentment for his brothers, he now carves a bloody swathe through the galaxy in the Warmaster’s name, with the Heresy providing a convenient excuse to indulge his love of brutal warfare. When they are tasked with a secretive mission alongside the Word Bearers Legion, the World Eaters’ violent tendencies soon attract the attention of xenos raiders, troubled by the portents surrounding the primarch’s berserk fury and his ultimate destiny as ‘the Blood God’s son’…”

Alright along with Dan, Aaron is one of my favourite writers.  There, I said it.  I bloody love his work.  It’s well crafted, intuitively paced, characterful, beautifully written, and greatly produced.  I have skipped only one of his works so far – that of Cadian Blood – but the rest have been blow my mind fan-bloody-tastic.  So there’s the context.  What follows should be seen through this lens.

The story, as ever, is a simple one.  Under the command of the Warmaster, Angron and Lorgar are set on a course that will lead them to Terra.  Their plan, however, is waylaid by Angron’s insistence on sacking almost every inhabited world they come across – earning him the disdain of his more vehement brother.  En route, they encounter a swift striking xenos species.

This shows all the hallmarks of Aaron’s almost obsessional attention to detail.  The characters – the few that speak – are given such depth of background that it makes me want to cry that I will strive to reach such heights and ultimately fail.  We hear from Angron, Khârn, the human commander of the Conqueror, and Lorgar – as well as a few of the xenos.  The words they speak, the sentences they bring, and the pure pleasure of language that Aaron crafts is at the forefront of this piece, and adds a wonderful tale to the canon of the Heresy.  The characterisations of Angron and Khârn both were about where I’d expect them to be at this point in the heresy (and not where they were in Galaxy in Flames.)  It’s also quite eyebrow-raising that my own takes on both these characters have tied in so closely with what Aaron has produced, and I am more than a little keen to see where they go from here.

You can tell this was recorded in the same session as Labyrinth of Sorrows as we have the same narrator and a few of the same voices.  Joining Rupert Degas (who I believe is playing Khârn) is Charlotte Page playing the Conqueror’s human commander (nicely played, a great voice, but lacks that sterner, more dangerous edge you’d expect from a human servant of the XII Legion), Chris Fairbank (formerly Moxie from Auf Wiedersehen Pet playing a host of roles), and David Timson playing Angron.

It was mentioned at a recent event that you need just one person to play Angron, and I’d agree – I’m just not sure they got the right person.  David Timson has a great voice, and gives a great performance it’s true – but I expected something a little deeper and more resonant for the hulking giant of Angron.  At times his voice has been likened to rumbling thunder, avalanches, magma floes, and the likes – so David’s voice comes over as a little ‘light’ for want of a better term.  That said, all of the cast provide wonderful atmospherics and character to the piece.

What does, however, detract from the proceedings is the sound effects.  As with the looped music in Labyrinth of Sorrows, so the overuse of the same sound effect began to grate on my nerves a tad.  Plus the rhythmical hacking of Angron’s chainblades (combined with their never seeming to idle) and no real ripping sounds seemed at odds with the berserk fury we’d expect from the gladiator-king.  The vocalisations of Argel Tal, the xenos, and Khârn, though, are real highlights.  The fading out of scenes is also another gripe.  Especially when it happens mid track – completely pointless.  Finally, Seán Barrett is again on narrating duties, and again his monotone does little to enhance the battle sequences – though I will say he is better suited to this piece than the previous one.  Though seeing his name on another BL audio drama isn’t going to make me want to listen to it any more.

With all things considered, I end up listening to the story more than the production – so for all the negatives this is still a great work.  If I were to consider the highest watermark of the audio drama format so far to be either of the Garro pieces, and the low tide to be that of Aenarion by Gav Thorpe (sorry Gav but it sucked!) then this is certainly towards the top end.  Wherever possible, though, I say bring back Toby Longworth.

If I were judging this purely on the story, it’d be Excellent.  Sadly, though, the production issues I’ve mentioned knock it back to Good with some excellent features.  Butcher’s Nails goes on general release in June this year.

If this is going to be the way of the audio dramas, Black Library, then please please please get another narrator – and consider the repetitive sound effects, and the nature of those sound effects before completing the mastering.  Also, please name the tracks.

Suggested track titles:

  1. The Conqueror
  2. Stand-Off
  3. Xenos Attack
  4. Release The Hounds
  5. Butcher’s Nails
  6. Angron Dreams
  7. The Red Angel Awakes
  8. The Hololith
  9. No One Runs From The Conqueror
  10. Battle Stations
  11. Xenos Flagship
  12. The Primarchs Assault
  13. The Mirror
  14. Lorgar’s Reversal
  15. The Shadow Crusade Begins

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EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.