To Hell and Back – Hozier’s Unreal Unearth
Hozier has always been magical. There is an ethereal quality to his work that has earned him a reputation amongst fans as a fey being, or a woodland prince. His third studio album, Unreal Unearth takes it a step further by diving underground into a chthonic crucible of human experience as he follows in the footsteps of the Italian poet, Dante.
Informed and inspired by Dante’s Inferno and the Nine Circles of Hell, Unreal Unearth has a far more sombre and reflective quality to it when compared to his earlier works; the 16-track album has a much softer, gentler sound on the majority of tracks.
In a way, Unreal Unearth mourns our collective loss of innocence as we come through the darkness of the pandemic to stand in the light.
Hozier has a lovely rich voice, and his vocals take on an appropriately eerie and unearthly quality, but they can be overwhelmed by the music and the lyrics lost as they flow into each other. This does, at times, work in his favour – such as with ‘De Selby’ which is split into two parts that blend seamlessly together.
Stand out songs on the album include ‘Francesca,’ ‘Eat Your Young,’ ‘All Things End,’ and ‘I, Carrion,’ which is told from the perspective of Icarus after falling. The album tracks follow the Circles of Hell from Limbo (‘De Selby’) right through to Treachery (‘Unknown/Nth’) and out the other side with ‘First Light,’ which mirrors Dante and Virgil emerging at the end of Inferno to greet the first light of dawn.
Fans of Hozier will of course appreciate the album for what it is – an expression of humanity. It’s a beautiful album that explores the vast range of human emotions and experience as Hozier takes us through hell and out the other side, but it feels understated and quiet.
Unreal Unearth has a unique concept that it does exceptionally well, but it’s subject matter and mournful tone will not resonate with everyone. Yet for those who enjoy the darker, bitter-sweet tone, Unreal Unearth delivers on its promised premise.