The armies and factions of Warhammer 40,000 are all brutal and impressive in their own ways. As new books release, we dive into the lore presented in each, and how it shapes the fictional universe we love and make war in. In today’s review, Raf Cordero is diving into the lore presented in the new 9th edition Codex Supplement: Blood Angels and how it presents one of the game’s most tragic factions.
So Blood. These guys are into it. They harvested it, they drink it, they talk about it, and they name themselves after it. I guess it’s what you’d expect from the sons of a guy named Sanguinius. Despite the blunt symbolism going on, the Blood Angels have a rich history in 40k and one of the biggest model lines. They are dedicated and passionate. All deeply proud of their heritage; all deeply aware of their genetic flaws.
Born of Blood
It is true that every Space Marine chapter is unique and their aspects all flow from their Primarch. However, of all the Chapters this may be the most true for the Blood Angels. After completing the various trials and feats of strength and dedication you would expect of Space Marines, a Blood Angel aspirant is ushered into a Sacred Fortress Monastery where they drink the actual blood of Sanguinius himself. This renders them unconscious; they are immediately interred in a golden sarcophagus where they rest in a year-long hallucinogenic trance where they experience moments from Sanguinius’ life as dreams. Meanwhile, the Sanguinary Priests keep them alive by intravenously giving them nutrients and more blood all the while performing the surgeries necessary to turn them into Marines.
These blood rituals give these marines a direct line to their Primarch’s experiences, and results in dedicated and loyal fighters. However, there is more to this connection than just some rituals…
Deep within the genetic material that makes every Blood Angel a Blood Angel exists the Flaw. Exactly what it is or where it comes from remains a mystery, despite millenia of study. Sanguinary Priests, Tech-Marines, Adepta Sororitas, and more have tried to determine exactly what happened to the Blood Angels gene seed and none have been successful. Theories abound; it comes from the soul-searing blow Horus dealt to Sanguinius, it comes from the irradiated atmosphere of Baal, it’s related to Chaos whisking the Primarchs away…nothing is conclusive, nothing solves it cleanly. The only thing that is certain is that all Blood Angels are at risk, even the new Primaris Marines.
The Flaw manifests in two ways, one more serious than the other. The Red Thirst is always simmering under the calm demeanor of the Blood Angels. It drives them to fits of violence and brutality unbefitting the Astartes. Following battles in which Brothers succumbed to the Thirst’s drive civilians are found drained of blood. Many believe it is the Blood Angels themselves drinking the blood of the citizens; in studying the flaw it has been noted that the Blood Angels have an oversized and overactive version of the organ that lets Space Marines learn the history of those they kill by eating their brains. While the Thirst can be channeled and used as a weapon in emergencies, they try to suppress it through prayer and artistic hobbies.
The Black Rage, on the other hand, has few positives. The Black Rage strips a Space Marine of their identity and consciousness. From what the Sanguinary Priests have been able to determine, these marines believe themselves to be Sanguinius himself in his battle against Horus or fighting one of the desperate final battles of the Heresy. There is nothing that can be done for these Astartes. Those that aren’t chained up for study until they die from the Rage are inducted into the Death Company where they are hurled at enemy after enemy until they are finally killed. Every Blood Angel carries a fear that they will one day fall to the Flaw.
The Blood Angels have quite a few unique units and legendary heroes, and Codex Supplement: Blood Angels spends some time on them. Instead of going through them all I’m going to focus on Dante, Chapter Master of the Blood Angels. He has been named Regent and Warden of the Imperium Nihilus by Guilliman himself; it is an honor that Dante accepts as a burden. Imperium Nihilus is a disaster; humans die by the millions cut off from the emperor’s light and he is powerless to do anything about it while he rebuilds and expands.
This burden weighs on him along with millenia of experience. As the oldest living Space Marine, Dante is as much myth as he is Astartes. He is a living beacon of hope for millions across the galaxy and an inspiration to his fellow Chapter Masters; however this is an isolating experience. Noted in his page in the codex is the fact that he rarely—if ever—takes off his golden mask in the presence of others. His concern is that his aging features and greying hair will shatter the vision of hope that he knows the Imperium needs.
Despite these pains and burdens, he fights on. Dante believes that he is the warrior prophesied in the writings of Sanguinius, who will stand alone against the darkness in front of the Emperor. It’s possible that this is coming true now. Perhaps darkness in front of him and the Emperor behind him represents his position as the Regent. Behind them, closer to Terra, sits the Emperor; in front lies the darkness of the Imperium Nihilus.
One of the successor chapters of the Blood Angels, the Flesh Tearers, gets a special call out in the Codex as well. These Astartes are known for being particularly violent and willing to charge into dangerous battles others would avoid. This has led to a great number of victories, but has also contributed to a tremendous loss of gene seed. Because of their aggressive deployment, Flesh Tearers often die where their gene seed can’t be recovered.
Their Chapter Master, Gabriel Seth, exemplifies their brutality. He launches himself headlong into battle wielding a two-handed chainsword, and in his rage has almost come to blows with his own Chaplains. The Flesh Tearers have a dodge repuation. Yes, their strategies often lead to victory but their methods are so brutal and their fighters so consumed by the Flaw that they have slaughtered Imperial soldiers and Battle Sisters.
Seth fights this way because he believes his Chapter is doomed. They can’t recruit fast enough to account for their losses; rather than fizzle out or be absorbed into another Chapter he plunges them into battle so that their end may be a glorious one. So driven by this is he that he initially saw Primaris reinforcements as an insult. Once he learned that they too could fall to the Thirst and the Rage he recognized that doom is merely delayed. These new Greyshields will help write the story of the Flesh Tearers in blood across the stars.
As a passive consumer of Warhammer 40,000 lore this book doesn’t hit quite as many high notes as the other. The Blood Angels do have a lot of heroes and unique units but to someone who isn’t specifically a fan of the Blood Angels I’m less interested in those details than I am the broader strokes. However, if you’re a Blood Angels player you should be pretty happy with this book. Because of all these heroes, less time is spent on heraldry and organization and more time on the Brothers and models you can paint. There’s also a Warzone breakdown detailing some recent battles and a two-page narrative presenting the final thoughts of a Blood Angel as he dons his armor before battle.