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Hozier reaches for heaven and descends to hell on ‘Unreal Unearth’

Editor-In-Chief Sean Scott believes Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” was worth the four year wait as the singer explores his own version of Dante’s Inferno.
Editor-In-Chief Sean Scott believes Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” was worth the four year wait as the singer explores his own version of Dante’s Inferno.

Everyone has their own holy trinities in music.

Your trinity doesn’t have to be your favorite or even your most listened to artists. The three just need to share a connection that binds them together so you can’t help but associate them with one another. Think Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker.

My holy trinity music is Florence and the Machine, Ethel Cain and Hozier.

On Aug. 18, Hozier finally emerged from his hibernation (probably sleeping under a field of shamrocks in the middle of Ireland) to grace us with “Unreal Unearth,” his first album since 2019’s “Wasteland, Baby!”

Four years is a long time to cook, but the wait was worth it for Hozier’s most well-done album to date. On “Unreal Unearth,” Hozier perfects his lyricism and fills each track with religious and mythological imagery, backed up by a mix of energetic and melancholic instrumentals.

On an intellectual level, “Unreal Unearth” is a musical exploration of Dante’s "Inferno." Hozier channels each of the nine circles of hell from the epic and turns them into emotional, personal experiences. “De Selby (Part 1)” (a definite highlight of the album for me) and “De Selby (Part 2),” the opening tracks of the album, represent Dante and Virgil’s descent into hell. The transition between the two tracks is otherworldly as Hozier switches to singing in Irish and is joined by a chorus.

The first circle in Dante’s version of hell is reserved for the unbaptized and virtuous pagans. Hozier leans into themes of absence and missed opportunity to represent this circle on “First Time.” It’s not my favorite on the album, but definitely not a skip, either.

Hozier excels at using religious imagery to describe sexual and romantic desire, so it’s no surprise that the second circle of hell, lust, makes for two standout songs. On “Francesca,” a song that builds from a soft ballad to a powerful rock song, he sings about the end of a relationship. He would go through all the bad again for a minute together, he says, adding that “heaven is not fit to house a love like you and I.”

“I, Carrion (Icarian)” feels like a lullaby as Hozier softly sings about the beginning of a relationship through the lens of the Greek myth of Icarus. While Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell back to earth, Hozier hones in on his ascent, singing, “All our weight is just a burden offered to the world,” and, “If anything could fall at all, it’s the world that falls away from me.”

Every circle that follows is similarly high quality. Hozier’s falsetto on lead single “Eat Your Young” (gluttony and greed) is haunting and impressive, while “Damage Gets Done” featuring Brandi Carlile is a complete stylistic shift to upbeat pop.

The standout song of the whole album for me, though, is the interlude: “Son of Nyx.”

The interlude would be at home on the soundtrack for “1917,” with its sonic similarities to “A Bit of Tin” and “The Night Window.” The ethereal and emotional string melody perfectly encapsulates the feel of the rest of the album.

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The back-end of “Unreal Unearth” is equally as strong as the beginning. “Butchered Tongue” feels more Irish than the rest of the album, and Hozier’s falsetto somehow gets even more impressive on “Abstract (Psychopomp).”

The lyrics remain impressive, too. “Unknown / Nth” is especially riddled with imagery and smart writing. On this track, Hozier describes the betrayal of an ended relationship through the lens of the ninth circle of hell, reserved for the treacherous and Lucifer himself. In Hozier’s play on Dante’s hell, the betrayed is the one being tortured, and they would go through everything again for the chance to know their lover.

“Unreal Unearth” may not be for everyone. It helps to have read “Inferno” in advance, and that’s not a fair ask to make of most people as prep work for an album. But every song is thoughtful and beautiful regardless of how many layers you choose to pull back, and everyone should be able to find something to like.

Rating: 9/10