Hozier rose to international fame in 2013 after the success of his song 'Take Me to Church'Oscar Anjewierden / Flickr

As the last strum rang out from my speaker, Hozier’s latest record Unreal Unearth left me with an overbearing question: was I truly worthy to experience this? Though admittedly overdramatic, this response felt only fitting for a triumph that slices through current musical trends.

In an era when tracks are shrinking to fit the length of a TikTok video, it is rare to find a record that establishes its merit through its playthrough. However, Hozier’s third studio album is not merely a collection of singles but a structured exploration of human emotion.

“Hozier’s third studio album is not merely a collection of singles”

This structure is based on Dante’s Inferno, which details a descent into the underworld. In Unreal Unearth, each circle of hell becomes a track: ‘First Time’ represents limbo, ‘Eat Your Young’ discusses greed, and ‘Butchered Tongue’ examines violence by looking at Irish political history.

Opening the album with a piercing falsetto in Irish, ‘De Selby (Part 1)’ establishes the record as a love letter to Hozier’s homeland. However, as well as a celebration of the “the River Liffey” – a recurring motif throughout the album – the record is an ode to lost love. This becomes apparent as part one flows seamlessly into part two of ‘De Selby’, introducing themes of passion and adoration through stunning proclamations of commitment such as: “Before the dawn has come, I’d block the sun if you want it done.”

“No Hozier album would be complete without a love song worthy of a first dance”

No Hozier album would be complete without a love song worthy of a first dance and ‘First Time’ achieves this with echoes of classic rock. However, its sentiment is sometimes lost behind flowery metaphors which, while stunning, can become densely abstract. Its flavourful romanticism turns sour in the final chorus where “the first time you called me baby” becomes “the last time”, heralding the introduction of the album’s truly central theme: heartbreak.

Looking back on a relationship, ‘Francesca’ is a passionate refusal to regret what has been lost. Hozier demonstrates his characteristic experimentalism when the outro plunges the song into sonic madness before resurrecting it with a soft a cappella section in time for the delicacy of ‘I, Carrion (Icarian)’. Sadly, despite its potential for beauty, the concept of this serenade is lost once again in the density of Hozier’s metaphors, leaving only the beauty of its melody.

Hozier earned his fame through his political focus, with ‘Take Me to Church’ – a vitriolic attack on Catholicism – launching him to international acclaim in 2013. However, the powerful message of ‘Eat Your Young’ feels misplaced next to the softness and intimacy of the preceding song. Nevertheless, it is easy to see why the grotesque imagery and memorable chorus of this critique of human greed have gained notoriety.

The hopeful riff of ‘Damage Gets Done’ re-establishes the album’s romanticism. Hozier is a master of selecting featured artists, with a keen ear for which voices compliment his own, and Brandi Carlile is no exception. Nor is this the only way the album involved collaboration. Unreal Unearth marks a shift from the solo-writing approach of Hozier’s previous two records, with writers like Dan Tanenbaum and Jennifer Decilveo giving the album a more polished, mature sound.

These collaborations have also served to push the envelope of Hozier’s personal style. Doing away with vocals, the entirely instrumental ‘Son of Nyx’ highlights his talent for composition. This reflects the heightened focus on production throughout the album, drawing upon the expertise of those contributing to it.

With exceptional versatility, Hozier then switches to a simple piano ballad, his vocal talent taking centre stage. With a chorus that sends chills down your spine, this sorrowful lament is peppered with soft twangs of his Irish accent – an accent whose heritage is the central theme of the following ‘Butchered Tongue’. This Irish influence persists within the folk stylings of ‘Anything But’, which, despite lacking any discernible topic, sprinkles an unfamiliar joy into the album.


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Sadly, this elation is temporary as ‘Abstract (Psychopomp)’ offers a heart-breaking reflection on memories of past relationships and an unshakeable refrain. ‘Unknown / Nth’ prolongs this sorrow, while ditching Hozier’s poetic touch in favour of blunt honesty: “It ain’t the being alone … it’s more the being unknown.”

This brings the album to its climax. While the record began with “a darkness so deep”, ‘First Light’ offers “one bright morning”, ending this story of longing and despair on a hopeful note. Between Hozier’s powerful vocals and its rolling percussion, this grandiose finale feels like an apt celebration.

Despite occasionally losing its way in abstraction, Unreal Unearth is well worth celebrating. Like the comfort of “another leg around you in the bed frame” evoked in ‘To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe)’, Hozier’s talent is dazzlingly familiar but generates excitement with its incessant originality and growing production value.