Hozier’s new ‘Unreal Unearth’ is unskippable

In “Unreal Unearth,” Hozier encapsulates Virgil, taking the listener on a journey into hell parallel to Dante’s “Inferno.” // Photo courtesy of Julia Johnson

Andrew Hozier-Bryne, known as Hozier, released his third album titled “Unreal Unearth” on Aug. 18, 2023. The Irish singer-songwriter deviated from his previous two albums by having several collaborators working on each song in production and writing. 

The album is just over an hour with five singles and is an eclectic collection of 16 tracks brought together as a journey through hell based on Dante’s “Inferno.” In “Inferno,” the poet describes nine circles of hell where each circle has a specific punishment based on the sinner’s misdeeds. 

Another unique feature of this album is Hozier singing in his native tongue of Gaelic. The foreign language is first heard in “De Shelby Part 1,” which is the opening song of the album. The first two songs act as introductions to the sounds and lyricism the audience is about to be thrown through; sonically, the transition from part one to part two sounds like falling into hell as the third song in the album represents the first circle. Every song after represents the next sequential circle. 

The single “Eat Your Young” was first released in an EP of the same name on March 17, 2023. From the EP, “Eat Your Young” and “All Things End” made it onto “Unreal, Unearth.” “Eat Your Young” is a pop/blues track from the gluttonous (third) circle of hell. It follows the scheme of “Take Me to Church,” Hozier’s most famous song, with its social commentary and unique vocal riffs. This song is primarily about making short-term “solutions” without understanding the long-term effects that turn into catastrophes. With lines like “Skinning the children for a war drum” and “putting food on the table selling bombs and guns / It’s quicker and easier to eat your young,” Hozier continues his critiques of worldly violence. 

The following track is a collaboration with Brandi Carlile called “Damage Gets Done,” which is the response to “Eat Your Young” from the perspective of the youth. Carlile and Hozier’s voices beautifully lace the lyrics, which depict the greedy circle of hell. 

The last song of the album, “First Light,” represents the ascent out of hell and  restores everything the album has taken from you. The lyrics describe how cyclic day and night are; the cycle is what we should embrace. Hozier sings, “But after this I’m never gonna be the same / And I am never going back again.” As the album closes, this line aligns with how many listeners feel at this point. 

Overall, this album exemplifies Hozier’s refined ability to create incredible contrasts within his music, and despite not being the most articulate, Hozier’s lyrics weave and elevate songs into musical masterpieces. The answer to the question: “Is ‘Unreal Unearth’ truly unskippable?” is a resounding yes. This album has a wide range of genres, deep storylines and incredible lyricism, and the overarching theme of going through hell and back is relevant, as we all are living in a world newly emerging from the pandemic. Folk, indie and blues music listeners will take a greater liking to the album, but anyone can listen and be encapsulated by the storyline alone.