This album is about vampires, as ‘The Great Undressing’ glibly admits. Blood Bitch, however, is really an “investigation of blood” and the myths surrounding it; why is it easier to speak of vampires than it is of menstruation? What makes one type of blood-myth less taboo than another?
The vampiric conceit speaks to fantasy, but inscribed in the album is the painful, bloody reality of the period taboo. Amidst the drone-y avant-guard goth pop, which is restlessly expansive at times, resonating with the pregnant thriller sounds of the Stranger Things soundtrack, Hval includes scratching, heavy breathing and other bodily sounds. This makes the references to period pains, fertility, bloodiness, even more powerful. Embedded in the ethereal Julia Holter-esque register of the LP there is darkness and fleshiness. In this way Hval avoids Blood Bitch being a coded homage to blood; blood isn’t made lyrical or poetic, it is frank and unapologetic.
‘In the Red’ is sprawling, structured loosely by breath evocative of running. There is a sense of disorientation and restlessness, yet this pervasive confusion tighly loops throughout the record. Indeed the heavy breath in ‘In the Red’, echoes ‘Untamed Region,’ where upon waking up to bloodied sheets the protagonist touches it “like a dog” marking its territory; here there is an animalistic, visceral feeling that undercuts the vampire’s unbreathiness. As much as this album is an exercise in big concepts, the eternal etc, Hval grounds it because “it hurts/everywhere”.
blood isn’t made lyrical or poetic, it is frank and unapologetic
So, to say the album is solely about menstruation is reductive, even if the tracklisting attests strongly to this theme. As per Hval it’s jam-packed. Desire and confusion grapple through the noise soundscapes that Hval creates with producer Lasse Marhaug. Leading single ‘Female Vampire’ triumphantly tackles ideas of existentialism and female sexuality, through the figure of the eternal vampire. Hval’s soft voice is echoed and harmonized over itself, so it sounds almost as if she is hocketing. The effect is breathy and light over the darkly repetitious instrumentation, which is at once sparse and arrestingly full. It establishes Hval’s voice in a soundscape inflected with 70s horror film warps and drone-y rumbling that struggles against as much as it underscores her. I think this interplay is central to the album, where Hval employs her influences of 70s horrors and exploitation films in order to draw a comparison in the limits of the images and myth-making around vampire-blood and period-blood, and beyond. What we see is an exposure of unsatisfying tropes that don’t attest to Hval’s experience as a woman, but rather frustrates and confuses it. Hval aligns herself with the lusty vampire, not its feminised victim singing “My desire takes place/ Anywhere everywhere/ Everyway.”
The album’s best track, ‘Conceptual Romance’ (maybe because it sounds the prettiest) pits “this blood bitch’s tale” as “stuck in erotic self-oscillation.” It charts the unsatisfactory limits of idealised and sentimentalised ‘love’. Hval then develops this in ‘The Great Undressing’ with the lyric “Late capitalism it works like unrequited love/ It never rests”. In a sense then, Blood Bitch tackles negotiations with the ideas we buy into, yet get nothing back.
‘Untamed Region’ samples the same Adam Curtis documentary clip that Charlie Brooker use on last year’s screenwipe (the one that descended into a nightmarish newsrell that served as a sad gut-punch to us unsuspecting viewers of Brooker’s usually sardonic yearly summaries). Hval similarly points to the immobilising shittiness of the modern condition, of, as Curtis puts it, “a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories” which leaves us “unable to challenge anything because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty.”
Yet for all its ideas and Hval’s sense of confusion and failure towards them, a tangible victory against the narratives of late-capitalism, not least its conflicting taboos around the female body, emerges. Quite apart from being sonically interesting and beautiful, Blood Bitch signposts an unapologetic account of the bloody business of (some experiences of) womanhood.