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Review – The Ascension of Balthasar

The audio drama ‘The ascension of Balthasar’ is the first Black Library audio drama I have ever purchased. I wouldn’t normally purchase such a thing, but Games Workshop Exeter is having a raffle, and you get extra tickets for buying the drama. Being lazy, I want my Crimson Slaughter painted for me, as I know that my daughter will never paint them herself – she wants to play Chaos – and it will fall to me to paint them and her sisters Orks. I digress.

The drama comes with two discs. The first is the drama and the second is an extras disc.

From the moment that the drama began, I was hooked. Gone are the days when a sole voice would drily read the script and there would be some poor special effects – did I mention that I spent over two thousands miles listening to my little sister’s ET tape? From the moment the narration started to the very end of the drama, I was there. I was a battle brother cutting down hordes of cultists  – followers of the evil gods of chaos, and the 40k literary equivalent of Star Trek’s redshirts – with my bolter, chopping them into bloody chunks with my lighting claws, or pulping their heads with my power fists.

The sound effects were just enough to set the mood – crying babies always get me – without distracting from the actual story. I find that this is something amateur bands always get wrong. The musicians always drown out the lead singer which, although sometimes it might be a good thing, always leaves me feeling bemused.

Not this time  however. The voice talent was amazing, even though I had never heard of any of them, and although most had probably never even heard of 40K, they carried the emotion and drama of the moment exceedingly well.

Unfortunately,  the voices of the space marines made them sound like old men. Rather like Richard Harris and his rendition of Dumbledore.  Space Marine are supposed to be SUPERMEN, no matter how old they are, and I’m sure that they could have been auto-tuned to sound like it. A man of their size would not sound normal. Unless they’re the equivalent of castrati? In which case I shall be magnanimous and forgive them this small oversight.

The writer, Christian Dunn – who is also editor for Black Library – has done an excellent job in capturing the essence of the 40K universe, without flooding the listener with too much detail.

If I was going to rate this out of ten, so far it would be around the 8/9 mark. Bloody good effort.

Now, we come on to the extras disc. Like everyone else, I adore extras discs. They’re packed with goodies that have had as much thought and attention put into them as the actual production

All of a quiver with geeky excitement I thrust the CD into my iMac -yes, I’m an Apple owner – and as I’m an eager Dark Angels play, I clicked onto the Deathwing Terminator link. Expecting to see a piece of art to the standard of the box cover, I was left thinking ‘what the fuck’? It looked like someone had taken a ‘colour your own’ template, and gone mad with the ‘fill’ tool. There was no real detail, and to say that I was disgusted by it is an understatement.

I put that down to the work experience school child being allowed to have it on the CD as part of their portfolio, and clicked on the link to see the spaceship Caliban. Memories of the amazing artwork of Battlefleet Gothic sprang to mind and I was practically salivating as I waited for it to load, only to be presented with a slightly better – but still shit – computer image. To say that the artwork was amateur, is to give it too much credit.

Undeterred – for the moment at least – I then decided to look at the map. Only to find it was the same map that was on the inside cover and which basically consisted of three large squares, with other squares and circles on them. When I think of maps, I think of the old maps of Mordheim that were printed in the pre-100 editions of White Dwarf, the detailed maps that you find in any Dungeons and Dragons product. Not this.

I was now distinctly deterred, and feeling 1) disappointed 2) pissed off and 3) gutted that I’d spent the equivalent of three hour’s worth of work for an 18-year old on the minimum wage. If I was earning that, I’d be straight back down to the shop and demanding my money back.

There was, however, light at the end of the tunnel. The script. What a gem that was! Not having seen a script for an audio drama before, it was excellent to see how one is written. For non-writers it might not be as exciting, but it still allows them to read the story whilst seeing how things are done.

The final extra, was a set of wallpapers, copies of the artwork on the cover, and they are beautiful to behold. I yearn for the ability to create such masterpieces of art. However neither they – nor the script – failed to rid me of my disappointment. The second disc seemed as if it had been created as an afterthought. A very late afterthought.

As such, I’ve decided to give three ratings. One for the drama. One for the extras. One for the whole package. All scores are out of 10.

Audio – 9

Extras – 3Total – 6

To summarise, 6 is a poor score for £15.00 of my hard-earned money. It could easily have been higher, if more effort had been put into the extras disc. Very disappointing indeed.

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.


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