Exploding onto the scene in 2014 with ‘Take Me To Church’ – a track that put the Irish folk singer on the map – Andrew Hozier-Byrne (better known as Hozier) earned a cult-like following with the smash hit. It’s been a decade since then and his devoted fanbase is as strong as ever, something that was only cemented further by 2019’s ‘Wasteland Baby’, and now, with ‘Unreal Unearth’, he’s reminding people why they became hooked in the first place.
Known for seamlessly blending blues, rock, and soul together, the ambitious sixteen-track record puts Hozier‘s far-reaching vocal range on full display and, at times, reaches cinematic scope with his gospel overtones. The two-part ‘De Selby’ immediately captivates listeners attention, demanding they listen in awe, with its haunting vocals and bewitching guitar work. The luscious acoustic opening paves the way for Hozier’s beautiful vocals, layered on top of an orchestral backdrop, complete with a western feel that sounds like the track could be placed in a periodic drama; most impressively, the second half finds the singer-songwriter expanding on his sound by singing in Gaelic.
While there is a sense of darkness throughout, due to the record being inspired by Dante’s Inferno, such topics never threaten to derail the album. ‘Francesca’, one of the records heaviest tracks, focuses on the pain and anguish of laying your soul bare, and musically, solidifies that Hozier knows his way around a slow burn. The fuzzy-guitar rock stomper details the grief that comes with such loss, the heartbreak painfully evident in his voice as he tells a tale as old as time. “It was too soon / When that part of you was ripped away,” he sings. “A grip taking hold / Like a cancer that grows / Each piece of your body that it takes / Though I know my heart would break.”
Making no effort to shy away from darker subject matters, lead single ‘Eat Your Young’ represents the circle of gluttony and, despite it’s upbeat offering, touches on the satire attitudes towards poverty. The poppier track challenges modern day views of class and generational divides through its ravenous lyrical connotations in the context of biblical imagery, consumerism, and war. “Skinning the children for a war drum,” he sings. “Putting food on the table selling bombs and guns / It’s quicker and easier to eat your young.”
As a whole, ‘Unreal Unearth’ shows that Hozier, as an artist, possesses an enviable fearlessness when it comes to being earnest. He’s not afraid of evolving and expanding. His eclectic and meandering takes on love – though inspired by the nine circles of hell – follow a journey of greed, insatiability, and desire, all of which results in an incredibly engaging and somewhat out-of-body listening experience. With references and visual imagery aplenty, Unreal Unearth showcases Hozier’s penchant storytelling and more. Let’s just hope he won’t leave listeners waiting another four years before dropping more material. His talents deserve more than that.
Words: Shannon Garner