Want an album to listen to for the beginning of fall weather?
Unreal Unearth by Hozier encapsulates both the coziness of being by a fireplace on a chilly night, and seeing the leaves turn all kinds of colors around you. Or, if you just want a newer, good album to listen to, this is an amazing choice to do so.
Unreal Unearth is Hozier’s third studio album released on August 18th, 2023. The album overall has 16 tracks, including singles that were previously released, Eat Your Young, All Things End, Francesca, Unknown / Nth, and De Selby (Part 2).
The album has been regarded as generally favorable by other critics. It is arguably his most musically diverse album with elements of folk, rock, soul and blues elements, as well as expressing the height of Hozier’s poetic lyricism that fans like myself have come to know and love. The album has reached No. 1 on UK and Ireland charts, as well as receiving high scores on US charts as well.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Hozier is an Irish musician and songwriter with two previous albums, Hozier and Wasteland, Baby!. He is mostly recognized for his hit song Take Me to Church released in 2013. Hozier himself as expressed Unreal Unearth was written during the COVID-19 pandemic to help him make sense of the whole experience.
Hozier gained inspiration for the album from Dante’s Inferno, a written commentary on Dante’s concept of the nine circles of hell, which he also started reading during the pandemic. The album takes the listener on an emotional journey of heartbreak and the regaining of hope, something that is painfully human.
For this review, I will briefly go over each song in order to explain my personal opinions (because spoiler alert: I appreciated every single track), as well as describe the genre and any summed up themes related to Dante if applicable. Then, I’ll provide my own personal score and lyrics from the song that stood out to me the most. At the very end of the review I will give my top 5 favorite songs with an overall album score. This last part is entirely personal and the numbers are generalized.
Let’s get into it:
- De Selby (Part 1)
The album starts off with a calm sound, represented by a mellow guitar in the background. The vocals from Hozier are soothing as well, beginning the album with a song pleasant to the ears.
This track is a two-parter that has a seamless transition into the next track, which I personally very much enjoyed. This is the first track he has released where he sings in Irish, the first part of the song having English lyrics and the second part having Irish.
The ending notes of the song make you feel as if you’ve entered somewhere or something and you can’t come back out of it. The lyrics represent the feeling of something unknown, though you are still fascinated regardless. Though the song doesn’t start with much energy for the album, this starter track is still indicative of its journey ahead, so I highly respect it.
“Your reflection can’t offer a word
To the bliss of not knowin’ yourself
With all mirrorin’ gone from the world”
- De Selby (Part 2)
This track is the most recent single released before the album, released July 21st, 2023. Contrary to the calm feeling of Part 1, Part 2 amps up the energy with this track. It picks up the pace with guitar and drums to accompany stronger vocals. It feels more exciting and easier to groove too, more closely to like a pop song. The lyrics, contradicting this exciting instrumentation, represent darkness within discovering oneself and a start to this album narrative of entering Dante’s Inferno circles of hell.
Even though it is different from Hoziers usual style of cozy acoustic guitar, it is a fresh, new feeling that represents his ability to reach beyond his normal style and prepares you for what the more hype songs have to offer ahead. I personally think that if this was not a two parter, this track should have been first to open with this to prepare the listeners for the rest of the album.
“I wanna run against the world that’s turnin’
I’d move so fast that I’d outpace the dawn
I wanna be gone”
- First Time
Back to Hozier’s classic pleasant acoustic vibe with this track. The song gives a nice feeling with soft drums and guitar. Definitely feels like a jump back to the calm feeling from the previous track where there was a lot of energy.
This is a cute listen. It reminds me of a song you would listen to on a drive where you’re not particularly going anywhere, you’re just enjoying the time spent. Though not super powerful or incriciate, sometimes a simple song can just exist and it’s still good, which is the case here. I personally wouldn’t search out to listen to this track all the time, however, it is not a skip and I wouldn’t mind listening to it occasionally.
“This life lived mostly underground
Unknowin’ either sight nor sound
‘Til reachin’ up for sunlight just to be ripped out by the stem”
This is another one of the singles that was released May 19th, 2023. It seems like it would be a calmer song initially, but then picks up energy representing some sort of angst during the chorus with heavier drums and guitar, akin to an indie rock song.
It calms down again during the verses of the songs, but picks back up this angst during the chorus, almost if through the song he doesn’t know how to feel. Not only could it be similar to a tumultuous relationship, but also like a rollercoaster of passion and angst.
This track also nods to Dante’s 2nd circle of hell, which represents Lust. This also nods to these ideas of love and commitment and ones devotion to uphold these values, even if there is tragedy or roadblocks involved.
This is one of the stronger tracks on the whole album, as well as being a personal favorite of mine. The song gives off so much emotion and passion and you can tell it through every aspect of the song- instrumentals, vocals, and his lyrics.
The song also ends with an almost heavenly and powerful background, as if there is a feeling of bliss after all this angst, a satisfying conclusion.
“I would not change it each time
Heaven is not fit to house a love
Like you and I”
- I, Carrion (Icarian)
This is a calmer piece of art, a fitting transition from the emotional intensity of Francesca, though still sad. With an acoustic guitar and violin, he expresses his vocals in a serene tone but with almost an echo that makes its expression more gentle and close to the heart.
Though I find the song overall simple, the lyrics on a personal note are very telling and in the right mood it is a tear jerker. The title represents a character Icarus from Greek mythology who was in denial about the end of his relationship. Though inspiration came from a myth, it still can provide relatability to ones who don’t want to let go of something precious and good, even though it may have already left. A tragic, but beautiful track.
“If the wind turns, if I hit a squall
Allow the ground to find its brutal way to me
If I should fall, on that day
I only pray, don’t fall away from me”
- Eat Your Young
Another single released before the album on March 17th, 2023, this is one of the most energetic tracks on the album. This track catches your attention with its pop-like elements and is very catchy. It is fresh in its presentation and can stand on its own being a single, but welcome in the album regardless. This track specifically is representative of Dante’s third ring of hell, Gluttony, which makes sense giving the intriguing lyrics of “eating your young.”
When compared to Selby (Part 2) it doesn’t give the same sense of hype agency, but it is still a unique listen regardless with its story-telling like lyrics which brings more wonder into the song and what its meaning is. On a personal note, other than the Dante interpretation, the lyrics are a bit out there for me according to its meaning, but I can still appreciate the tune and jam out to the song regardless.
“Come and get some
Skinning the children for a war drum
Putting food on the table selling bombs and guns
It’s quicker and easier to eat your young”
- Damage Gets Done
This track has a feature with another indie folk music artist Brandi Carlile. It is definitely different from his typical music, with it being very bright with its instrumentals and both Hoziers and Carlie’s harmonies. It adds color with its hopeful message within the lyrics, both of the artists almost responding to each other with its lyricism.
The song tackles themes of Dante’s 4th circle of hell which represents Greed. It tells a narrative of being young and reckless, but not being conscious of the long term consequences that this could bring.
I really love this track, as it makes me feel a sense of being able to accomplish anything with how bright and happy it is. However, it does feel out of place according to the other songs of the album which present in a more dark, indie folk and or rock fashion. It is not a huge deal-breaker at all, but perhaps this could be a single as well. Still one of my overall favorites.
“Being blamed for a world we had no power in (But we tried)
You and I had nothin’ to show (We didn’t know)
But the best of the world in the palm of our hands (Anythin’, darlin’)”
- Who We Are
This is a very nicely placed song that gives off an alluring feel. The song itself is mellow starting with a piano but gives off powerful more energetic points of the song through its instrumental guitar and drums and showing off his strong vocal ability with beautiful belts towards the end of the piece.
I really enjoy listening to this track when it comes up. It is powerful but not in an overwhelming way, which provides a relaxing break from some of the angsty songs in the album though that itself is not a bad thing. It also calls attention to the aforementioned vocal ability, which I think through this track his breathtaking skill really shines through, enough to give me satisfying goosebumps while listening.
“So much of our life
Is just carvin’ through the dark
To get so far
And the hardest part
Is who we are”
- Son of Nyx
This is the only instrumental on the album, which presents in a beautifully haunting fashion. It is an interlude that feels more akin to an old time-y score, but it is a cool listen nevertheless. The track consists of piano, strings and very much muffled voices that make its sound eerie, but at the same time as mentioned it is also ethereal in its presentation.
This song is most likely supposed to represent the perspective of Chiron, who in Roman mythology is the son of Nyx, the goddess of the night. Not only does this explain the dark but ethereal sensation the song portrays, but in my personal opinion it also nods to the theme of Dante’s Inferno with hell being this dark and eerie place, in which the instrumentals help us as the listener almost be transported into the world the song has in store for us.
Everytime I listen to this track I feel as if I am in the underworld of some sort or in a realm of darkness. This could be a scary analogy to some, but I am very much impressed that a song could make me experience something like this. This title and meaning of the song adds mythology to the piece and does its job perfectly of encapsulating the intended feeling.
Some of the muffled voices from what I can make out sing “That’s who we are” which is a nod to the previous track. Pretty cool.
- All Things End
This is one of the singles released April 27th, 2023. It brings up the energy this time around compared to the previous track and is reminiscent of Hozier’s typical sound, which gives off solo acoustic guitar out in the field vibe. Starting with R&B elements and smooth vocals makes you immediately entranced into the music, and then with the chorus he lets his vocal ability shine. The song is pretty consistent with its levels of energy, keeping it at the same level so it is a nice listen. Toward the end there is a choir giving harmonies to his voice, which makes it akin to a gospel and soul like song.
This track is representative of Dante’s 6th circle of hell, Hersey, implying the the action of the listener not believing what the other is trying to say. Through the lyrics however it is trying to combat this by really driving home the point that not everything lasts forever. However, there is still a chance to build or begin something new for yourself despite of this.
This is also one of his stronger songs simply for how the elements all work together nicely. I like this track personally because of these gospel and soul elements that come and work together. His voice also shines in this track even though there aren’t belts present, it is still indicative of his ability which all and all makes a good track.
“All that we intend is scrawled in sand
Or slips right through our hands
And just knowin’ that everything will end
Should not change our plans”
- To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuarithe)
This song is simply magnificent. With its piano and beautiful vocals, it represents soul elements but in a different way versus our previous track. Lighter elements of strings show up through the middle and end of the song, adding more to its comfy vibe.
The title includes a Gaelic word, Uisecfhuarithe, which means “freezing” but in the feeling of coldness that only water can bring.
This song definitely with even more listens is one that can grow on me. At first I didn’t pay much attention to it, but with each listen it feels more like a warm hug from someone you appreciate. It is not as necessarily haunting as the other slower songs in the album give off, but it is still a cozy track nevertheless.
“And I wish I could say
That the river of my arms have found the ocean
I wish I could say the cold lake water
of my heart
Christ, it’s boilin’ over”
- Butchered Tongue
This track is the most devastating theme that is covered in this abulm. Through only paino and soft vocals, the lyricism is what creates this subject matter about the tragic effects of British colonization of Ireland and rule of imperalism. The lyrics represent a violent history of this imperalism and his complicated feelings on his culture, belonging within it and its importance but at the same time feeling disconnected because of what was lost with time.
The track also has a double meaning relating to Dante’s 7th circle of Hell which is representative of violence. Specifically, it is focused on the concept of the “outer ring,” which is where ones who commit violence against others and their property are now submerged in a river of boiling blood as their punishment. This, in my opinion, is a commentary on the righteous punishment that people who pushed violence onto others would recieve, after the tragedy of this violence toward people and their cultures and heritage.
Everytime I listen to this song, it always gets me teary eyed because of the subject, but at the same time I cannot stop listening because of his poetic genius shining through. This song reaches any audience whose culture and heritage have been affected by colonization or lost to time because of it or those at least sympathetic to the topic at hand. Even though there is this loss, there are points where he feels reminded again of this culture even though it is not fully there anymore- a “butchered” tongue, something blocked from being able to speak again.
The connection to a culture so dear while also feeling an erasure of it is something that unfortunately a lot of people can resonate with, no matter the origin. The topic is heavy, but it is presented in a hauntingly powerful way.
All of the lyrics stand out to me because of how incredible it is, but I’ll share these lines:
“You may never know your fortune
Until the distance has been shown between what is lost forever
And what can still be known …
In some town that just means ‘Home’ to them
With no translator left to sound
A butchered tongue still singin’ here above the ground”
- Anything But
This song is upbeat and gives off happy vibes, very much a mood change from the previous track. It is more folk in its presentation with drums and claps to accompany the peppy vocals. From this presentation you would assume that it is similar to a love song, however the lyrical content shows that the singer wants to get away from this person or lover in any way he can.
The track has elements about Dante’s 8th layer of hell, Malebolge, which is essentially people who commit fraud against others whom they had no special bond with. It is further representative of this narrative of disconnection the singer has, an interesting contrast between the lyrical content and the sweet sound of the song.
I really love this track, it’s one of my favorites for how upbeat it is and how the elements of the song are put together smoothly. It makes me feel like I’m on an adventure and there’s so many things to do and experience.
“I wanna be the shadow when my bright future’s behind me
I wanna be the last thing anybody ever sees
I hear he touches your hand, and then you fly away together
If I had his job, you would live forever”
- Abstract (Psychopomp)
Another musical piece from Hozier with a mellow but powerful presentation. The chorus picks up energy with louder drums and its vocals are incredible, showing his ability. It follows a similar pattern from the previous songs of a slower verse and then picks up energy in the chorus, but this does it well.
This is a track that initially didn’t stand out to me much but I do think it is pleasant to the ear. When it comes up in the shuffle I wouldn’t skip it and enjoy hearing the beautiful vocals in the song, especially during the chorus.
“Darling, there’s a part of me
I’m afraid will always be
Trapped within an abstract from a moment of my life”
- Unknown / Nth
This is another single that was released on June 23, 2o23. A really beautiful piece that is very mellow in its presentation with a soft electrical guitar and calming demeanor. His vocal ability also shines through in this track, but it still feels calming and nice to the ear. It also has a nice transition into the final track of the album, which I appreciate.
The songs themes are about distance, betrayal, and this feeling of being unknown within a relationship. It also has the theme of Dante’s 9th circle of hell also known as treachery; acts of betrayal.
This track definitely grabbed my attention and grew on me as well. To me it is more reminiscent of Hozier’s old sound and doesn’t feel that overproduced as a track. The lyrics also make me stop to think of how much love the song possesses, one of if not the most representative of his poetic mastery.
“You know the distance never made a difference to me
I swam a lake of fire, I’d have walked across the floor of any sea
Ignored the vastness between all that can be seen …
Of the goodness, love, I still carry for you
That I’d walk so far just to take
The injury of finally knowing you
- First Light
This is the last track of the album, and that concludes everything almost angelically. The song consists of an acoustic guitar but with a sense of agency and hope, accompanied by an ethereal choir of vocals. Each listen feels magical, as if you are experiencing this “first light” after a journey of darkness, which the album with its darker indie elements was meant to represent.
This song makes me feel as if I’m a traveler reaching the end of one journey, but possibly going onto the next with a new found sense of hope. It is the most indicative, in my opinion, of this concept of journeying through these various circles of hell, and then finally finding the light by reaching the end.
This is a satisfying conclusion for the album, as it feels like not only have we wrapped up the album, but the message of the album itself is a journey which we as the listeners have finished.
“Darkness always finds you either way
It creeps into the corners as the moment fades
A voice your body jumps to calling out your name
But after this I’m never gonna be the same
And I am never going back again”
I highly recommend Unreal Unearth for its musical journey, Hozier’s poetic lyricism, and a more defined version of his elements of indie and folk that were previously shown in his past music.
Compared to Hozier’s previous albums, this one is most definitely his way of trying something new with his music. This is mostly enjoyable, reaching beyond just one genre of music, adding elements of multiple such as rock, R&B, soul, alternative, and indie that overall make the album very flavorful and well worth listening to. I also hold the themes of Dante’s Inferno being incorporated into the album in a high regard, as it personally makes me think of alternative meanings to the songs and also highlights Hozier’s creativity that he has proved within his music.
The album however misses some of the acoustic elements his music commonly possesses, leaving the songs from Unreal Unearth to feel a little more hyper-produced or less personal at times. It is definitely an emotional rollercoaster but in a good way, with its mellow and hype songs almost always alternating each other. Though I appreciate the different feel of each song back to back, when listening to the album all the way through, sometimes this change could feel a little jarring.
Nevertheless, the songs are incredible and definitely stand on their own as all well received and noticeable pieces in their own right. A lot of my points in some way could stem from bias coming from someone who has listened to his music for a while and is now comparing it to his past work. I still appreciate this new direction he is going for as it helps to make all the individual pieces shine and have their own light to them.
Long story short, do I recommend this album? Yes. Yes, absolutely. If you like a mixed album of indie based genres and beautiful instrumentals, lyricism and overall messages: the journey that goes into musical listening, Unreal Unearth by Hozier is perfect for you.
Top 5 favorite songs:
- Francesca (10/10)
- Damage Gets Done (9.8/10)
- Butchered Tongue (9.7/10)
- I, Carrion (Icarian) (9.6/10)
- Anything But (9.5/10)
Honorable mentions: First Light, Son of Nyx, Unknown / Nth
Overall album score: 8.5/10
Gab Neal is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.