Arts & Entertainment

REVIEW: Hozier’s ‘Unreal Unearth’: A journey through the 9 Circles of Hell

Hozier’s new album Unreal Unearth tells a compelling, narrative story inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Epic poem, Inferno.

With crisp leaves, foggy mornings, and pumpkin spice lattes, fall quarter has finally come back to UWT. But what makes this lovely season even more enjoyable? Great music, of course. How else can we run our long commutes to school without the perfect background music? 

Unreal Unearth by Hozier has one overall theme which refers to the “great love” or “darling” that he has sung about through the entirety of his previous discography. This 16-song album explores the ups and downs of Hozier’s own relationship, as well as his inner turmoil with his identity and desires all structured according to the great epic poem of Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.”.  

Cover photo for Hozier’s ‘Unreal Unearth’ album. | Photo Credit Julia Johnson

The album’s songs correspond to the nine circles of hell, in either sets of two or in singles. “De Selby” part 1 & 2, the first two songs of the album, follow Hozier’s initial descent to hell. Both songs are representative of the album’s coming themes: a passionate, boundless love, a nod toward his heritage and conflicting emotions regarding this love.  

“First Time” captures the love Hozier has descended to hell for in an effortlessly sweet manner. Completely enamored by this subject and how a “part of him must have died (and come alive) the first time that they called him baby”. Finding himself between life and death during the entirety of this song ties back to the circle of hell this song corresponds to, Limbo.  

We quickly move onto the next circle, Lust, with the songs “I’Carrion” and “Francesca”. I’Carrion is a direct reference to the story of Greek Myth involving the flying Icarus who “flew too close to the sun”. Francesca was a character in Dante’s poem who was involved and condemned to adultery. Hozier refers to himself as Icarus and if they were to “reach a squall” how he would “allow the ground to reach its brutal way to him.” Similarly, Hozier states how if there was even the smallest probability that he could hold this love again, he’d willingly go through “a storm.” In both instances, completely disregarding his well-being just to touch the person he loves again.  

In the next circle, we have “Eat Your Young”. Self-explanatory, this song speaks about craving more than what you are being given. This song perfectly translates from Lust to Gluttony, with its seductive melody and use of sexual innuendo.  

In the circle of Greed, we have “Damage Gets Done”. A misleading, up-beat instrumental masks the true nature of this song. We hear singers Hozier and Brandi Carlile. This is the first time we hear one of Hozier’s “loves” and their perspective of this relationship. As a love that blossomed during their youth, the flame has since gone away despite how feverishly they wanted it to work. They now desire much more, and that’s where the “damage gets done”.  

Inside the circle of Wrath falls “Who We Are”. Hozier explores his rage and frustration to the loss of this love, and lets it bleed into the rest of his life. Speaking of how a collective we “spend our lives carving through the dark”. Aimlessly, feverishly, and passionately trying to survive; just for all of it to “fall through our fingers like water” or be plunged into someone “like a knife”.  

In the circle of Heretics, we have “All Things End” and “Son of Nyx”. Hozier emulates church gospel and includes a whole choir for emphasis. Hozier has accepted the finality of love. Everything ends, no matter what it may be it all begins anew, alluding to reincarnation. “Son of Nyx” is a transition song that has no lyrics but evokes a feeling of hopelessness. Darkness. We hear a reverbing piano merge into floating violins, and echoes of unintelligible words, until it gives way to a grandiose orchestra. 

We are followed by the circle of the violent. ‘‘To Someone from a Warm Climate” describes the opposition of each other’s natures in the name of love. Hozier describes himself as the cold, and his lover, warmth. Despite the stark contrast, there was balance that kept them together. But as we know, this love has since gone away. He is left in what feels like an eternal winter. Though not outright violent, the cold from this metaphor contrasts with the punishment set for sinners in this circle: the eternal rain of fire.  

“Butchered Tongue”, is the second song in this circle. It is a more literal interpretation of violence. Hozier shares with his listeners the passion for his Irish descent. He shares how certain dialects from his hometown have fizzled out over the years. Vowing to continue to speak and sing with his “butchered tongue”, despite experiencing the loss of this intimate culture.  

The fraudulent circle houses two songs: “Anything But” and “Abstract (psychopomp)”. At first glance, “Anything But” seems like a playful tune about love. However, Hozier reminds us that this song is fraudulent. When he sings such lines as “If I was a rip tide, I wouldn’t take you out” or “If I was a stampede, you wouldn’t get a kick,” he is lying. This is the first instance where Hozier shows resentment towards his “love”, through sarcasm, disguising it underneath “cute” quips. 

“Psychopomp” is a term used in Greek myth referring to a being that guides others into the afterlife. Hozier reminisces on a moment where he witnessed an animal being run over. 

He then uses this impactful moment to set the stage for who he believed to be his lover. Their love was this dying animal. When it was first healthy and thriving, eyes glistening, nose wet; it was struck down by a tragedy. His lover took it upon herself to carry this “love” or “wounded animal” to the afterlife. Shouldering the burden, and her tears “catching the light”.  

It’s insinuated that she had something to do with this tragedy, as “psychopomp” is in the fraudulent circle. This is confirmed in the next circle’s song: “Unknown/ nth”. The entirety of this love story is pieced together as Hozier realizes that this “great love” he has been “swimming lakes of fire” for has betrayed him. He put aside turmoil and differences, would go through all the circles of hell to find her. Even after all the treachery, he continues to carry the weight of all the love he still carries for her. This is the final circle of hell.  

Hozier does not end his album here. Accepting the truth, he has ascended and left the depths. This is where “First Light” closes the album off. He “lived his whole life before the first light” but has now been born anew. He realizes there is more to this life than romantic love. There is hope, and a new beginning in store for him.

Despite the complex story, this album is easy to get into and enjoy. Hozier adds in some folk elements that haven’t been as prevalent in his past works (which have been mostly inspired by gospel). He also uses the native tongue of Ireland, Gaeilge in a few songs, which emphasizes the earthiness that this album exudes.  

This album is out on all music streaming platforms. Hozier has emphasized that though certain themes in this album are canon, others are open to interpretation. So, we encourage you to give it a thoughtful listen and think about what each song means to you!