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Review: ‘Unreal Unearth’ takes us through hell and back again

Courtesy Rubyworks Records

By Hadley Medlock     8/30/23 12:21am

Rating: ★★★★

Top Track: ‘Francesca’

Four years after “Wasteland, Baby!” Hozier has returned to the studio to release his third full-length album titled “Unreal Unearth.” Topping charts in Ireland and the United Kingdom, “Unreal Unearth” has become the Irish artist’s first number one album. Though sometimes meandering and honestly a little long, Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” is a cathartic journey through the nine circles of hell and back again. 

Hozier explained that “Unreal Unearth” draws on the epic of Dante’s “Inferno” to reimagine the idea of a pandemic record, many of the songs recalling stories of myth to explore feelings of love, loss and human experience. 

The album opens with “De Selby (Part 1),” a swelling ballad taking inspiration from an eccentric fictional character of the same name from a Flann O’Brien novel. A beautiful showcase of Hozier’s smooth vocals, the song ends with a verse in Gaeilge, tapping into his Irish roots. “De Selby (Part 1)” melts effortlessly into the aptly named “De Selby (Part 2),” a more chaotic, tense and upbeat track that explores similar themes of darkness, self and connection. 

This two-part opener leads into “First Time,” one of the best from the album that has an unexpected country music-esque opening. Reminiscent of older Hozier songs like “Jackie and Wilson,” “First Time” is a bouncy, jazzy tune with a foot-tapping beat. 

Based on the story of a woman who finds herself in the second circle of Dante’s hell as punishment for crimes of adultery, “Francesca” was one of the debut singles and is still one of the best tracks on the album. Closing with the lines, “Heaven is not fit to house a love like you and I / I would not change it each time,” Hozier finds sympathy in an often-lost story of romantic obsession, overwhelming love and the resulting eternal torment. 

A slower track but easily a top one, “I, Carrion (Icarian)” takes its inspiration from the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus and is a haunting, soft track with touching lyrics like, “If I should fall, on that day / I only pray, don’t fall away from me.” Similarly, “Butchered Tongue” and “Who We Are” are simply powerful tracks. “Butchered Tongue” references and depicts the brutality inflicted upon Irish rebels by British forces during the Wexford Rebellion of 1798, while “Who We Are” recalls a lover lost.

The album is halved with the soaring orchestral instrumental “Son of Nyx,” an interesting intermission but ultimately forgettable track in the larger album. While soft and beautiful, the same can be said about “To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuarithe).”

When “All Things End” came out, it was already an instant Hozier classic, understanding the finite nature of all relationships in an optimistic light through its lyrics and bringing in a gospel-sounding choir. “Eat Your Young” is another fast-paced and rather sensual earworm taking us through the third circle of hell — gluttony. While Hozier and the featured artist Brandi Carlile sound good together on “Damage Gets Done,” it does somewhat pale in comparison to the other upbeat tracks of the album.  

“Unreal Unearth” closes out with “First Light,” a track that feels like an ascent from the darkness Hozier has led us through. It’s a stellar ending with sparkling, choral production that feels like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Overall, “Unreal Unearth” is a masterful concept album with well thought out lyrics and mythical references. While some tracks may get a little lost in the shuffle and hour-long runtime, not a single track on the album is bad, and each carries such a story. “Unreal Unearth” is crafted with grace, ripe with emotion, complete with powerful vocals and continues to establish Hozier as a musical force to be reckoned with.

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