Album Review: "Unreal Unearth" - Hozier
Photo Credits: AP News
Releasing his third studio album, Hozier takes us on a journey through light and darkness in Unreal Unearth. The 16-track record reflects on Hozier's experiences in recent years, especially during the four gap between this album and his previous album, Wasteland, Baby! Tying in personal experiences with his love for literature, Hozier uses Dante's Inferno to lay the groundwork for Unreal Unearth. The album voyages through the nine circles of Hell, focusing on the story through the lens of modern struggles. Hozier weaves this tale by exploring themes of love, death, and life after death.
1. De Selby (Part 1)
2. De Selby (Part 2)
3. First Time
5. I, Carrion (Icarian)
6. Eat Your Young
7. Damage Gets Done (feat. Brandi Carlile)
8. Who We Are
9. Son of Nyx
10. All Things End
11. To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe)
12. Butchered Tongue
13. Anything But
14. Abstract (Psychopomp)
15. Unknown / Nth
16. First Light
Continuously gracing our ears for a decade, Hozier exploded onto the music scene in September 2013 when he released his debut single, "Take Me To Church." The Irish solo artist had mostly recorded the track in the attic of his parent's house in Wicklow, unaware of the chokehold he'd soon have on the world and the international fame he would achieve. Now, Hozier has garnered billions of streams and many impressive achievements, including multi-platinum album sales, multiple awards, a Grammy nomination, and innumerable sold-out live shows around the world. His previous studio ablums, Hozier and Wasteland, Baby!, were masterpieces in their own rights, but every time it seems Hozier has created his magnum opus, he rises above with something even more breathtaking. Unreal Unearth is an enthralling new addition to the majestic artist's catalog and shows off some of Hozier's best compositions yet.
Starting off on a solemn note, "De Selby (Part 1)" begins Unreal Unearth with an ethereal ballad. The track features Hozier's gentle voice over an acoustic guitar and strings driven background, guiding us through metamorphosis and darkness. It's one of several tracks on the album that pay homage to his home country and feature him singing in Gaelic. Following the softer sound created in "De Selby (Part 1)," "De Selby (Part 2)" takes over with a disco-inspired track. The song features funky bass lines and driving rhythms, juxtaposing the prior part's solemnness. "De Selby (Part 2)" also depicts a theme of descending into darkness, but does so with groovy melodies and belting vocals. Both tracks are two sides of the same coin, being based on de Selby from Flann O'Brien's book, The Third Policeman.
Moving in a lighter direction, "First Time" showcases a classic, upbeat Hozier sound. While the lyrics are still on the melancholy side, the music is joyful and optimistic. "First Time" is reminiscent to some of Hozier's previous releases, like "Jackie and Wilson." Going back to a darker sound and theme, "Francesca" comes up next on Unreal Unearth. The track ties into the Dante's Inferno theme, drawing inspiration from Francesca da Rimini, a woman condemned to the second circle of Hell (lust) for having an affair with her husband's brother. "Francesca" is an exuberant and boisterous indie rock track, featuring powerful vocals and explosive choruses. The end of the song slows down dramatically and splits into multiple melodic lines, giving the ending a polyphonic feel. It's one of the most gorgeous and impactful moments on the album, making "Francesca" a song to remember.
Immediately contrasting "Francesca," the album moves on to the next song, "I, Carrion (Icarian)." The track is soft and acoustic, beginning with lush vocal harmonies that soon shift to Hozier's deep, whisper-like voice carrying the peaceful melody. He's backed by flowing guitar lines and rich strings, making "I, Carrion (Icarian)" one of the most relaxing songs on Unreal Unearth. Inspired by Greek mythology, "I, Carrion (Icarian)" is a retelling of Icarus, a tragic tale where Icarus is so mesmerized by the sun, he flies too close and melts his wings. Shifting again sonically, "Eat Your Young" moves us in a jazzier direction, beginning with an infectious falsetto melody that recurs throughout the song. "Eat Your Young" is upbeat and lively, contrasting the darker subject matter in the lyrics. Lyrically, "Eat Your Young" represents another circle of Hell, symbolizing gluttony. The juxtaposition of the music and lyrics gives the track a cynical feel, revelling in greed.
While many of the tracks on this album may be steeped in gloom and somberness, "Damage Gets Done (feat. Brandi Carlile)" gives us a break with a breezy power ballad. The track tells a coming-of-age story, happily reminiscing about the days of being reckless and young. "Damage Gets Done" is a fun duet between Hozier and Brandi Carlile, pairing her soaring vocals with his deep, sultry voice. It's a brilliant collaboration that we all needed to hear. Taking us back to a grimmer mood, "Who We Are" represents the fifth circle of Hell—anger. Hozier passionately belts out his sorrow and heartache in this touching track, reflecting on our destructive natures and how we allow our traumas to impact other people. Giving us a break from the heavy material on Unreal Unearth, "Son of Nyx" is a peaceful instrumental track that serves as the first glimpse toward the light. The cinematic track begins with a contemplative piano, later progressing into lush orchestral harmonies with distant vocal interjections that callback various moments on the album. Bearing a double meaning, "Son of Nyx" is a reference to the Greek goddess of the night, Nyx, and her son, Charon, who serves as Hades' ferryman and guides newly deceased souls across the rivers Styx and Acheron. The song also serves as a tribute to the late father of Alex Ryan, Hozier's close friend and bassist.
Getting back to Hozier's soulful vocals, "All Things End" gives us a track with an R&B feel. The mid-tempo ballad tells a story of heartbreak and how relationships can scar us when they end while also representing the sixth circle of Hell—heresy. "All Things End" starts off soft with Hozier's mellifluous voice carrying captivating melodies over piano and light percussion, later ending with a powerful choir that gives the track a gospel sound. The next three entries on Unreal Unearth draw inspiration from Hozier's knowledge of Irish history. "To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe)" is a beautiful, soulful ballad that sheds light on childhood secrets for bearing harsh winters. With the solemn ballad, "Butchered Tongue," Hozier delivers an ode to those who fought and died in the 1798 Irish Rebellion. The somber song also mourns the loss of indigenous languages to colonialism. Brightening the mood a bit, "Anything But" is a peppy track depicting Hozier's daydreams of floating down the River Liffey or being a mayfly on the River Tay. The lively ditty has a contemporary folk sound, featuring Hozier's flawless vocal undulations and lyrics telling a love story.
Bringing us closer to finding the light on Unreal Unearth, "Abstract (Psychopomp)" is a mid-tempo ballad that takes us through fleeting moments in life. The line "See how it shines" is repetitive through the song, representing optimism even during hard times. Continuing to reference mythology, 'psychopomp' refers to a being that is responsible for guiding souls to the afterlife. "Abstract (Psychopomp)" seems to be guiding us out of the dark and into the light, intertwining Hozier's powerful vocals with hopeful melodies. Taking us through the ninth and final circle of Hell, treachery, "Unknown / Nth" narrates the story of experiencing heartbreak at the hands of someone you loved and trusted. The track explores repetitive mistakes, thinking you learned from a previous heartbreak to find your heart broken again. "Unknown / Nth" has a sparse soundscape, featuring bluesy guitar riffs and Hozier's belting vocals. Wrapping the album up and bringing us to the light at the end of this tunnel, "First Light" is one of the most striking tracks on Unreal Unearth. Hozier's arresting vocals soar on the stunning hymn-like composition, reaching the album's climax and the moment we've been waiting for. Unreal Unearth has been a daunting journey through Dante's Inferno and the nine circles of Hell, finally reaching liberation in "First Light." Ending the song with feelings of celebration and relief, "First Light" explodes into a triumphant choir, giving Unreal Unearth a breathtaking finale.
After listening to Unreal Unearth, it's not surprising this album has been getting overwhelmingly positive reviews. This album has been well-received by critics and fans alike, many claiming it's Hozier's best work yet. While Hozier and Wasteland, Baby! were both incredible albums, Unreal Unearth shows the Irish artist reaching for new heights. This has been some of Hozier's most compelling music, diving into deep themes and refusing to shy away from even the darkest of topics. Through Unreal Unearth, Hozier shows us it's possible to rise from the ashes of pain and overcome whatever may torment us.
Written By Cheyenne Johnson
*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.