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Ah, Noise Marines. How much more 40K can you get than guys who play the guitar so loud it kills people? They are, for me at least, the quintessential “old” 40K unit, from back when the game was intentionally a bit goofy and grimdark had not yet made the game completely serious. The new models are unfortunately way less fun and their guns look more like actual guns rather than weirdo musical instruments.
Still, for all of that they’re a great unit even now. In fact, the last couple editions have seen some major improvements in them, dropping the unit’s overall cost and in many ways improving the functionality of its weapons. Although the ability to ignore cover is no longer the be-all end-all that it was previously, a variety of other changes have put Noise Marines in perhaps the best place they’ve ever been in terms of being a unit in competitive armies.
Like most of the “cult” units, Noise Marines have a fairly typical statline for a MEQ- they start with one extra attack but are otherwise pretty unremarkable. Coming in at 15pts a pop, they are the cheapest of the cult units and only marginally more than basic Chaos Space Marines. Like most Chaos units, squads start at five models and can go all the way up to twenty if you are a crazy person.
Wargear, Abilities, and Options
This is where Noise Marines start to shine. They have several possible weapon loadouts, each of which offer distinctly different roles for the unit and ways in which to play them. Stock standard, Noise Marines come with a basic Boltgun, Bolt Pistol, and Frag/Krak Grenades. The Boltgun can be swapped out either for a Chainsword (for free) or a Sonic Blaster (for 4pts)- the latter of which is a much-improved shooting weapon with three S4 shots that ignore cover bonuses. I don’t think there’s much of an argument for keeping your Boltgun basically ever; if you want a flexible unit with the ability to shoot hard and still fight effectively, pay for that Sonic Blaster. If you want to keep them cheap or as melee specialists, go for the Chainsword.
The Champion in a Noise Marine squad has all of the usual options for such a model, and like other members of the squad can swap for a Sonic Blaster. He also has the option of adding a Doom Siren, a S5 AP-2 flamer that (like all sonic weapons) ignores cover; it’s rather pricey at 22pts, but in a larger squad it can be pretty good, so there’s a reasonable argument to be made for it. Finally, one member of the squad (two if it’s 10+ strong) can take a Blastmaster, the unit’s heavy weapon; it either fires an anti-tank mode (S8 AP-2 DmgD3 Heavy D3) or an anti-infantry one (S4 AP-1 Assault D6), both of which are solid choices and both of which ignore cover. The Blastmaster is functionally equivalent to a Missile Launcher in terms of its profile, though its numbers work out slightly better overall even without the ability to shrug cover saves- if you’re taking the “shooty” version of the squad, it’s well worth investing into.
One squad member can also take an Icon of Excess, which improves their Death to the False Emperor to triggering on a 5+ rather than only on 6+; it’s not expensive (10pts), but since you won’t be getting much out of it most of the time, I generally don’t bother.
However, there is one final ability that I haven’t mentioned yet that really carries Noise Marines this edition: Music of the Apocalypse. A completely new addition to their repertoire, it means that any time a Noise Marine is killed they get to immediately make a shooting attack before they die but after all of the attacks have been resolved (in the same fashion as Ynnari.) This explicitly allows every member of the unit to throw a grenade if they wish, and they can make this shooting attack even if an enemy unit is within 1″ of them- they aren’t required to target that unit unless they use a pistol. Note, also, that due to the wording on their Death to the False Emperor ability if they use Music of the Apocalypse during the Fight phase, rolls of 6+ will trigger bonus attacks with their shooting weapons.
So, as should be obvious, Noise Marines are quite a package this time around and can put some real hurt on the enemy. They put out large numbers of attacks in either close combat or melee and can be pretty solid at a lot of jobs depending how you kit them- however, understand that they are not specialists and will lose in a fight to dedicated shooting or assault units if they are forced to face them on the enemy’s terms. In the wargear section above we talked about two basic ways of equipping them, and I think those correspond with two general ways to use them.
First of all, you can use them in the “traditional” fashion- sonic weapons for everyone in the squad. Here you’re probably taking full Blastmasters as well and likely a Power Axe or such for the squad champ; the basic gist here is to use their high volume of shooting and melee attacks to be a great hybrid unit; with a volley of sonic shots before a charge you should be able to down most other infantry squads and with some help from Veterans of the Long War you can even put some serious damage on vehicles or monsters (as long as they don’t have a 2+ save.) Music of the Apocalypse acts as a deterrent for enemies looking to pick on the unit due its high-ish cost, and you will occasionally get to play shenanigans with doing the out-of-sequence attacks to finish off a critical unit, etc. Don’t underestimate their melee potential, though- since they are almost certainly going to be in an Emperor’s Children detachment, they always strike first in the fight phase and with two attacks apiece they are not an enticing charge target for the enemy, who will have to eat overwatch, a full round of melee attacks, and then any Music of the Apocalypse triggers should they decide to go after them.
The other option, though, is to focus on this ability to inflict damage even as they die and keep their price as low as possible while playing them very aggressively. In this variation, you give every member a Chainsword and ram the whole unit directly into the enemy’s face as quickly as possible. With 15-30 attacks for a unit, triggering extras against Imperial units, the unit is no pushover at the most basic level (though they are not exceptional, either.) But the real fun comes when the models inevitably start dying, as every member of the squad can throw a grenade when they go down- and with both Frag and Krak Grenades, you have some options. 10d6 free throws on the enemy for losing the unit can be quite a lot of punishment, even against MEQs and the like, and that’s in addition to whatever damage they’ve already done with their boatload of attacks.
Regardless of how you decide to equip your Noise Marines, I think you be purchasing them a Chaos Rhino for them to ride in. Though the range on their weapons is respectable (24″ for Sonic Blasters, 36″/48″ on Blastmasters depending on which mode you use) it is not particularly exceptional and chances are you won’t be able to fire them at the targets you want turn 1. More importantly, Noise Marines are not particularly cheap, clocking in at over twenty points a head for a squad with sonic weaponry. A Rhino is very clutch for keeping your investment alive and going where it needs to, whether that means putting them into midfield or depositing them onto the enemy’s doorstep.
There are other options for transporting them as well, though they vary quite a bit in cost, consistency, and effectiveness. A Chaos Land Raider is a bit overkill, since it costs nearly twice as much as the squad it’s carrying. It’s a much better option than in past editions, but still probably not one that is worthwhile as a competitive choice at the end of the day. Forge World also offers the Dreadclaw Drop Pod, which is guaranteed to put the Noise Marines where they need to be on the first turn of the game with no chance for the enemy to take them out first. However, like the Land Raider it is almost prohibitively expensive (nearly 200pts) and unlike the competition it does very little on its own for the price tag. Lastly, an Alpha Legion army can use the Forward Operatives stratagem to put them into place after other units have been deployed; this is a powerful option due to its flexibility, but if you are running multiple units the command point cost can become prohibitive quite quickly, especially since you want to be saving CP to spend on the many other excellent CSM stratagems.
Noise Marines’ main specialty is taking out other squads of infantry, especially light infantry; though the Blastmaster can put some significant damage onto vehicles and monsters, with a maximum of one gun per five models in the squad it’s never going to be the mainstay of your firepower. No, what Noise Marines do best is laying down some heavy beats on enemy troops with their masses of S4 shooting. S4 may not sound exciting at a first glance, but the sheer number of attacks they can make- especially combined with stratagems like Veterans of the Long War or Endless Cacophony (or both!) Even when engaging enemy MEQs, Noise Marines can more than hold their own- at ranges over 12″ they put out triple the firepower of their opponents without even counting in Music of the Apocalypse. They may struggle with T5+ targets, but anything less is a great target for them, so try to avoid wasting their shots on large prey unless you are in desperate need.
Don’t forget about their melee capacity, either- while it can be tempting to sit back at the edge of 24″ and shoot away (and at times this may be the right decision), against a lot of foes you’re going to want to close the distance and make use of those two attacks per model to get some extra work done. Stuff like Conscripts, Horrors, Cultists, etc, are not going to pose a significant threat to you and especially throwing in a stratagem you should be able to overwhelm lesser foes in pretty short order. Now, if it’s something tough you may want to think twice about locking yourself in combat with it, because while Noise Marines are alright in combat they certainly aren’t great in combat, and if you have to choose you’d rather be shooting every turn- but you don’t have to cry too hard if it happens, nor will it generally be worth giving up your attacks to escape.
Noise Marines can play well with a variety of different HQs and support units; the Chaos Lord is an obvious choice, since you’re making lots of attacks that benefit from his ability to reroll 1s. A Sorcerer can also be a good option in order to give them Delightful Agonies or Prescience. Prescience deserves some special note here, since it combines with Death to the False Emperor to trigger bonus attacks on a 5+ (4+ if you have the banner), including the triggers from your Music of the Apocalypse. A Daemon Prince can give you the best of both worlds for a reduced cost, and bring some real melee punch to boot. An Exalted Champion or Dark Apostle can add some melee punch to the unit if you’re going that route, though other, more focused units will generally benefit more from them.
Though any legion can field Noise Marines (apart from the dedicated legions of Death Guard, Thousand Sons, and World Eaters) some benefit a lot more from them than others. Emperor’s Children is for sure the strongest choice- they let you bring Noise Marines as troops and let them always swing first in fights. (Note that even if you aren’t fielding a “pure” EC detachment, any EC Noise Marines will still be troops choices.) Alpha Legion excel at a mid-to-long range shooting game and have an excellent delivery stratagem to boot. And finally, though it’s an unexpected choice, Renegades make for fantastic Noise Marines- the unit can advance and both shoot (thanks to its assault weapons) and charge (thanks to the legion trait), making them incredibly mobile while still staying dangerous.
It’s hard to say at this point exactly where Noise Marines fall in the overall scheme of things, but I think they are good enough to be a solid contender for making an appearance in many CSM army lists. They can chew apart the cheap bodies that a lot of armies are fielding these days to help get at the characters behind them and are themselves dangerous on a number of levels. If you’re looking to rock out, 8th edition is a prime time to do so.
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