Dealing with a band like Drowning the Light can be a daunting task, because they've constructed such a massive discography in such a short period that one must question the quality of the individual releases. This is Azgorh's 10th full-length album since 2007, 11th overall, not to ignore the dozen or so demos, splits and EPs he's also conceived in the interim, yet he also serves in Pestilential Shadows and Baal Gadrial. That much productivity is difficult to ignore, and while the urge to dismiss this as some hack who needs to compensate quality with quantity, that is absolutely not the case with Azgorh. Granted, a number of the albums have come and left us without much but a shadow of potential; with Catacombs of Blood, that is clearly not the case, as Drowning the Light seems to have finally come 'of age', producing a work of grim splendor that is rare and valuable.
Like a Striborg, Xasthur or Leviathan, this band excels in stripping all of the past 20 years of black metal down to the roots and then exploring it deep into their own evolutionary cycle. Sure, what you're hearing on the surface is derivative of the Norse/European fathers of the 90s, but it nonetheless is given an intangible freshness. Drowning the Light doesn't sound exactly similar to those other bands, but they're great comparisons as all can channel their imagination into something uncanny, cerebral, and addictive. Catacombs of Blood is actually a mix of styles, alternating its pure, melancholic black content like "As Plague Upon the Sheep" and "Such Cruelty Never Rests" with the ringing acoustic post-rock of "Autumn Morning" or the piano ambient poles of "Fragmented & Unrealisable" or "Requiem of Honour & Glory", several of which are contributions from the Brazilian pianist Lebensessenz. It's interesting that the beats of Blackheart's drums are so crude, yet layered in such methodical, glistening agony by the vocals and guitars, and it's wise of Azgorh to open the recording to his allies, worthy satellites to his grim gravitational pull.
I've only heard about 5 of the Drowning the Light full-length albums, which I realize is only a small portion of the catalog, but I can honesty say that Catacombs of Blood is the most gripping I've yet experienced, a lo-fi adventure with a surprising level of musicality. As usual with this genre, it's best to just let yourself succumb to it. Drop the critiques and comparisons from your mind and just let the grisly beauty erupt through your ears. It's an engaging 51 minutes, but not necessarily for audiophiles, or cultist whiners who dutifully fail to accept anything raw like this post-1994. Here are anthems to regret, pain, passion and awaiting evil, and if your mind should wander, you can occupy yourself with the booklet. Beyond the gruesome cut out collage of Nosferatu, nun and all manner of skulls and infant corpses that 'graces' the cover, there are some fascinating images within courtesy of artist Maxime Taccardi, and also the dark, simple and thoughtful lyrics. Catacombs of Blood isn't perfect, and it doesn't pretend to be, but it's worth the experience, and I'm glad Dark Adversary sent it my way, or I would have missed it. Don't make the same mistake.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (revealing the hidden forbidden)