When Hozier featured on Meduza’s dance track ‘Tell It To My Heart,’ it was a shock for fans of the Irish singer-songwriter, who know him for his introspective indie-folk songs. The two-part opening of his third album ‘Unreal Unearth’ demonstrates Hozier’s versatility yet again. The dark ‘De Selby (Part 1)’ starts the album with stripped-back acoustic picking and falsetto vocals before shifting into funk-filled electro-pop on the surprisingly fun ‘De Selby (Part 2)’, forming an enthralling build-and-release. Hozier’s sound has always encompassed a spectrum of genres, but just in case there was any doubt: he’s got range.
It’s been a decade since Andrew Hozier-Byrne (better known as Hozier) landed on listeners’ radars with the viral, now diamond-certified track, ‘Take Me to Church’ and since then he’s amassed a devoted online fanbase. Four years after releasing his last album, ‘Wasteland, Baby!,’ Hozier is back with ‘Unreal Unearth,’ an ambitious sixteen-track odyssey inspired by Dante’s Inferno and structured around the nine circles of hell.
‘Unreal Unearth’ traverses a variety of styles from softer piano ballads like ‘Butchered Tongue’ to up-tempo folk-pop ‘Anything But’ and fuzzy-guitar rock stomp ‘Francesca.’ Despite their relative newness to the world of Hozier, synths add a welcome pulsing energy underneath indie-rock ‘Damage Gets Done,’ which features singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile.
Hozier not only navigates different genres on ‘Unreal Unearth,’ but chooses between moments of sparseness, like the minimalist ‘To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuarithe)’ while also making space for expansive tracks. ‘Son of Nyx,’ a sprawling, three-minute interlude, marks a shift from energetic songs to sombre territory on ‘Unreal Unearth’. It sounds like a movie score, complete with swelling strings and haunting distorted vocals. ‘First Light,’ a soaring epic that layers a foreboding choir of voices with quick guitar picking and dramatic strings under a slower melody, is another spacious album highlight, serving as an impressive closing track.
Hozier’s vocal abilities are on full display across ‘Unreal Unearth,’ but much like the album’s instrumentals, it’s his understanding of when to give more understated performances, as on gentle ‘I, Carrion (Icarian)’ or to go full-force, like on the end of pared-back ‘Unknown/Nth’, that make the songs triumph.
He also delivers his trademark lyrical poeticism throughout the album. The ‘First Time’ lyrics, “Infinitely suffering but fighting off/Like all creation/The absence of itself,” are undercut with an offhand “anyway” right afterwards, a taste of the songwriter’s complex humour. Elsewhere, he employs biting bluntness as he looks outwards at the world, becoming who Hozier-Byrne describes as the “unreliable narrator” on catchy, hook-filled ‘Eat Your Young’ as he declares, “It’s quicker and easier to eat your young.”
‘Unreal Unearth’ is a product of going where the song takes you: whether that’s the synth-filled landscape of ‘De Selby (Part 2)’ the different parts of the world mentioned on ‘Butchered Tongue,’ or even to hell. As for what comes next, it’s clear that no matter where he goes, Hozier makes the journey worthwhile.
- Release date: August 18
- Record label: Island Records