The Dark Fortress

The Ascension of Balthasar audio CD: a review by Captain Semper

6 September 2012 | 6th Edtion

Ascension of Balthasar audio cover

Hot on the heels of the Dark Vengeance 40K starter box, this audio drama tells the story of Company Master Balthasar, the Dark Angels' 5th Company Master, included in that set.

Captain Semper unplugs his earphones to tell us all about it.

This is a long read and contains spoilers.

I've just received the audio drama The Ascension of Balthasar from Black Library. The story is written by C Z Dunn and it's read by Jonathan Keeble, Tim Bentinck, Sean Barret, Saul Reichlin and Jane Wymark.

Opening the package

The package containing the Ascension of Balthasar contained two CD's in a luxurious case in the "Space Marine Battles" style. On the cover there are three illustrations by Jon Sullivan all of them top quality stuff.

The first is that of the Helbrute in a very menacing pose aiming his multi-melta while preparing his claw to thrust towards the enemy. His eyes are glowing green and he looks really evil and scary — not so much tortured as the model implies. I found this really cool — not so much a victim but a purposeful beast that doesn't score very high on sanity tests!

The second is that of Master Zadakiel of the 5th Company wearing elaborate green power armour with plenty of Dark Angels symbols and with a rich red cloth with the white Winged Sword flowing from his back. He's captured in a heroic and dynamic stance aiming his bolt pistol and holding the Fellbane — his Heavenfall blade. The latter is a fantastic piece of art with the hilt alone deserving special attention! To get an idea, it resembles aesthetically Talos' Blood Angels sword as depicted in the cover of Void Stalker — only better!!! The blade glows in a purple light — a colour that is associated with the Dark Angels.

The third illustration, and most interesting in my view, is the Fallen Dark Angel, Attias the Untamed. He wears black power armour that is as elaborate as Zadakiel's if not more. It is adorned with a number of Dark Angel symbols that seem intact (i.e. not desecrated or anything) and with the Winged Sword clearly visible on his shoulder pad and other parts of his armour. He's also wearing a white(ish) surplice that allows the armour to be visible though. Interestingly he carries a sword that seems really cool too (at the same league as Fellbane) and a bolt pistol that also sports Dark Angels' iconography — although in the story he is unarmed! In his background there is a large piece of Imperial masonry with the Aquila that when looked from a distance it appears as if the dark wings are coming out of Attias back — making him look really like an Angel of Darkness. Lastly it's his face. It has a metallic cover with red glowing eyes. It is not a helmet, more like a sheet of metal wrapped around his face creating a mask... Coolness incarnate!

The case it contains two disks, one that has the story and one that contains the original script, wallpapers, other images and some extracts from other Black Library audio dramas.

As regards the original script — it's very useful to have the story in black and white — in fact I read it before I listened to it. However one has to bear in mind that this was made to be listened to, not to be read. It's an audio drama not an audio book.

The extracts are from other BL audio dramas — little interest there.

The wallpapers are of the three images I described above AND THEY ROCK!!! They come in a number of formats for various aspects and screen sizes as well as for the iPad and iPhone. Attias is already in my work PC — and I work in a bank!!!

Lastly the other artwork was VERY disappointing. There was the image of the Deathwing Terminator of similar quality to Belial's image found inside the Kadillus book (not the cover which was awesome by the way). The maps of the town are really simplistic and the image of the Strike Cruiser Pride of Caliban looks like the profiles from the Battlefleet Gothic book, only cruder and at a larger scale, oh, and painted green. Nothing exciting. There is also another version of the excellent cover art with the three images put together. But these images look out of place in what is a premium product by all other accounts.

The Plot

It kicks off with the dissemination of a powerful psychic signal the leaves piles of dead as it goes from psychic relay to psychic relay across the Galaxy to find its intended recipient — who is none other than Zadakiel, the Dark Angels 5th Company Master.

Zadakiel is onboard the Strike Cruiser The Pride Caliban along with his company and a squad of Deathwing Terminators led by Sergeant Balthasar. Balthasar is an experienced Sergeant and earmarked for Captaincy should a vacancy present itself.

The astropath receiving the message is virtually burnt alive by warp fire but she is still in a position to present the psychic messages that she received to Zadakiel. The message is threefold and gives the following indications:

  • A dead world
  • Black Angel of metal falling from the sky on broken wings. He is described as "untamed"
  • Coordinates to find the planet in the form of unburned skin on the back of the horribly burned psyker.

There is a fourth message that was addressed to the psyker herself, letting her now that her masters will now kill her for the knowledge she acquired — something that Zadakiel does promptly without emotion and with the silent approval of the Deathwing Terminators that were present.

Zadakiel decides he and the Deathwing squad must go to the dead planet in the coordinates given even if it is a trap as the "Untamed" is determined to be Attias the Untamed — a notorious Fallen that has eluded the Dark Angels three times before and was said to be by Luther's side at the time of the Fall.

Once on the planet called Stern's Rememberance, the Dark Angels are confronted with a deserted town which looks intact but with complete absence of life or evidence that life ever existed there. The planet is identified as an Ecclesiarcy world, something that is further impressed upon the Dark Angels by the building architecture and numerous monuments of religious significance. The complete absence of life becomes even a more intriguing mystery especially when the Dark Angels are informed that there used to be a population of circa 2 billion people. An automated call for prayer gives Zadakiel the idea to check for people in the three Cathedrals of the city.

The Deathwing squad breaks up in three teams of two marines each with Zadakiel and Balthasar being one team. Together they enter one of the Cathedrals and they encounter a huge pile of bodies rising to the ceiling of the structure. All were killed in a brutal manner — some with what appeared to be Space Marine weapons. The other teams report similar findings in the other Cathedrals.

Zadakiel saw on the top of the huge pile of bodies a blue spot of Warp energy that contained something black. As they made the Warp energy dissipate (Boreas name gets mentioned but as Dark Angels recycle their names it could have been another one — it is not clear), a body that was contained within this energy field dropped on the pile of corpses and rolled to the feet of the two Dark Angels. It turned out this was none other than the Fallen Attias the Untamed that was held prisoner by the Crimson Slaughter warband. He was wearing black power armour with the Dark Angels symbol on both shoulder pads. He also had a metallic face and augmentic eyes and was as tall as a Terminator even though he was in power armour.

Attias said that this was a trap by the Crimson Slaughter and that he was bait to lure the Dark Angels to this planet prompting them to leave even if he was to become their prisoner. He also said he had nothing to do with the slaughter of the civilians — it was all the Crimson Slaughter's doing.

The Dark Angles take him as a prisoner and try to meet the other two teams to Thunderhawk. However at that point a massive drop pod attack takes place with Chaos cultists appearing from all over the place. The two Dark Angels made their way through them aided by Balthasar's Cyclone missiles while Zadakiel used his combi-plasma gun. Attias requested a bolt pistol in order to fight alongside the Dark Angels but was denied and when he attempted to pick up a chainsword from a killed cultist he was faced with the barrel of Zadakiel's gun. He was however a good fighter as he was effectively decapitating cultists with his fists.

As the Dark Angels and Attias appeared to be clearing the cultists they were confronted by an (unnamed) Helbrute. The Helbrute appears to be powerful yet clumsy and is hit several times by the Dark Angels without managing to harm it. However the collapse of nearby masonry divided the Dark Angels leaving Zadakiel to face the Helbrute alone while Balthasar was left with Attias on the other side. Zadakiel ordered Balthasar to secure the Fallen making his way to the Thunderhawk, to Caliban's Pride and ultimately to the Rock. Balthasar obeys.

As the Helbrute reappeared, Zadakiel drew his Heavenfall blade called Fellbane and started to do battle with the beast. Despite his agility, the Helbrute eventually got the upper hand and was about to crash him under his foot when the Thunderhawk appeared shooting the Helbrute and giving Zadakiel the chance to climb onboard. However as he grabbed the open ramp of the front of the Thunderhawk the Helbrute grabbed him dragging him down. Seeing he cannot escape his fate and that the Helbrute was aiming his multi melta to the Thunderhawk, Zadakiel threw Fellbane in the Thundehawk and let go — falling to his death.

The story concludes in the Pride of Caliban as Balthasar, now the most senior Space Marine on board, gives the order to return to the Rock with their prisoner. The Captain of the ship hands over a data slate with a message by Kranon the leader of the Crimson Slaughter warband. In the message Kranon taunts Balthazar showing how the Helbrute had turned the body of Zadakiel to a trophy and claiming that he knows the Dark Angels' secret (as proven by Attias capture) and that he expects (indeed counts on) meeting again as the Dark Angels will surely not tolerate the existence of such a breach of secrecy for long.


The script is well written and the voices are excellently portraying the main characters of the story. Sound effects are also well made and do not detract from the flow of the story.

Things I liked:

  • The fact that the psyker that receives the message is killed. This epitomises the Dark Angels attitude towards guarding their secret
  • The hunt of the Fallen is the single most important mission — everything else is subordinate to that. This is highlighted throughout the story, with the Dark Angels always acting in a way to ensure that Attias will be brought to the Rock
  • The fact that they refused to acknowledge Attias as their brother — not even temporarily when he asked for a gun to defend himself and help the Dark Angels in the fight
  • The Fellbane. I really liked that the author brought the Heavenblades to the fore — giving it a name and all... I also liked how Zadakiel made the effort to save the blade thus returning his badge of office to the Chapter as he plunged to his death
  • The portrayal of the Helbrute — it's exactly as I thought it would be! Powerful, Chaotic and clumsy. And no matter the punishment the Dark Angels dealt him he always came back for more — and in the end he got a Dark Angels Master as a trophy!

Things I didn't like (much):

  • Not much info on Attias. His description generates question marks (why the metallic face? How did he escape before? What has he done since the fall — is he malicious and evil or is he good and benevolent?) We just do not have enough info to hate or to like him. He fights well though
  • How did Kranon know the Dark Angels secret? I mean, you need a damn good expanation for that... which was not offered. (I have yet to read the Dark Vengeance — maybe answers are provided there?)
  • Why is Zadakiel sought after by Kranon? It appears that the message was really aimed at him in particular — so what's the story there?

Overall the whole product was well made and highly enjoyable, setting the stage for the Dark Vengeance. Despite leaving some loose ends I'd say it's worth buying and listening to.

Captain Semper

Overall Rating

Score rating 4 out of 5


UK PRICE: £15.00


Captain Semper

About the reviewer

Captain Semper has been in the 40K hobby since 1993 when introduced to the game at university. He has a sizable DA army in the region of 10,000 points and is currently building Successors in order to add variety to his beloved Chapter (or should that be Legion?).


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