The Silly Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Silly Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Silly Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

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Ram Jams: Take A Journey Through Hell In Hozier’s ‘Unreal Unearth’

The mythological is given an eloquent voice through the Irish singer’s poetic new release
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COLUMBIA RECORDS

“Unreal Unearth,” the third studio album from Irish singer-songwriter Hozier — the stage name of 33-year-old Andrew Hozier-Byrne, is a lush, 16-track exploration of the ideas and people that we let consume us. Released on Aug. 18, Hozier continues a legacy with this album of ethereal vocals and heartbreaking lyrics that have come to define his unique musical style following the release of his past two albums — the self-titled “Hozier” (2014) and “Wasteland, Baby!” (2019).

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Hozier discussed how his experiences during the pandemic and throughout intense times of isolation inspired the themes that tie together each track on his latest album. Born from times of hopelessness, the new album works to dig up the parts of humanity, and of ourselves, that have been buried deep. Thus, the beauty of “Unreal Unearth” comes from its thematic depth and the ways in which Hozier utilizes sound and lyrics to continually unearth (and therefore reveal) that which makes us human. 

In this album, Hozier cleverly draws from Dante Alighieri’s epic “Divine Comedy,” — more specifically the poem “Inferno” — exploring Dante’s nine circles of hell. The award-winning musician’s penchant for the mythological seeps into every track. Just as the poets Dante and Virgil travel deeper and deeper into hell in “Inferno,” the themes of the songs in “Unreal Unearth” take the listener on their own sonic journey of love and sorrow.

In true Hozier fashion, however, there is beauty to be found amid the suffering.

In “Francesca,” the fourth track on the album, Hozier draws inspiration from the true story of lovers (and contemporaries of Dante) Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. The illicit love affair between the two, which eventually led to both of their deaths, is fictionally represented in Dante’s second circle of hell (lust) but Hozier seems to look beyond this centuries-old label. 

The song’s use of somber words and an instrument-heavy backing transformed the doomed story of Francesca and Paolo into more than just a cautionary tale of unbridled lust; —  through lyrics such as “I would not change it each time/Heaven is not fit to house a love like you and I.” This revealed a lack of regret and peace in the time they were able to spend together, despite its fatal consequences. 

These feelings of desperation take a different shape in “Eat Your Young,” the sixth song from “Unreal Unearth” and one that has quickly garnered over 83 million streams on Spotify. The track utilizes a haunting vocal motif (repeated in the beginning and chorus) and sweeping violins to welcome the listener to Dante’s next circle of hell: gluttony. 

There is a sense of literal hunger being conveyed here, but also something more symbolic; a metaphorical appetite that leads to the continual sacrifice of the young and powerless in times of distress. Through “Eat Your Young,” Hozier seems to be telling the listener that, when push comes to shove, those in power would gladly “Pull up the ladder when the flood comes” if it means they get to walk away full. 

The Irish singer-songwriter guides the listener to the final circle of hell in a slower and more intimately stripped down track titled “Unknown/Nth,” the penultimate song off the album. In “Inferno,” Dante’s ninth circle houses all those who have committed acts of treachery against people in their lives. Hozier expands upon this concept of betrayal in order to describe a more personal, intimate treachery: being fundamentally misunderstood in a relationship. He confesses that what plagues him is not loneliness, but rather the emptiness that comes with realizing someone you thought loved you does not really know you at all. 

The bridge of “Unknown/Nth” delivers the listener with what is perhaps Hozier’s most heartbreaking lyric from the new album: “Do you know I could break beneath the weight?/Of the goodness, love, I still carry for you/That I’d walk so far just to take/The injury of finally knowin’ you.”

In true Hozier fashion, however, there is beauty to be found amid the suffering. With an outro that plays like a divine hymn, “All Things End” reminds the listener that endings are an unavoidable part of living, but through the pain of loss one can choose to see something powerful and beautiful in the natural, never-ending cycle of life. In the same way that Albert Camus urges us to imagine Sisyphus happy (and thus find joy in the absurdity of life), Hozier encourages the listener to see the ways in which endings, that so often scare us, can be the push we need to begin again. 

It is this dedication to finding and creating beauty throughout times of darkness that makes Hozier, and all that his newest album aims to show us, something special.

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KATIE HOHMAN, Staff Writer

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