Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known as Hozier, first captivated the world in 2013 with the international success of his debut track, “Take Me to Church” – a powerful, mid-tempo soul song that addresses difficult socio-political realities of the time.
Since then, the Irish native has achieved musical acclaim with a slew of inter-genre chart-topping hits in rock, blues, folk, pop and dance.
With the release of a third album, “Unreal Unearth”, Hozier caps a decade of stellar lyricism and expert musicianship with a deeply introspective love letter to the humanity of humanity where he seamlessly shape-shifts between familiar genres and dives into a distinctly new soundscape: soft and ethereal.
Take Me to Hell (And Back)
In 2013, Hozier was taking us to church. In 2023, his third album pays homage to Dante’s journey through Hell in “Inferno”. In its totality, the album embodies a quest for light in the darkness.
It suggests itself to be the musings of the musician in the midst of a global pandemic. To mold the mood, Hozier relies on signature guitar riffs and superb story-telling grounded in rock and blues, while exploring new instrumentation and a soft and ethereal vocal.
His pride for his homeland is front and center, with nods to Celtic influences through classic Irish song-writing and use of the Irish language on multiple tracks.
An Album Born in Darkness
Hozier begins his introspective musical journey with “De Selby (Part 1)”. This soft, meditative track hits all key features of the album, flaunting familiar blues notes and acoustic guitar while a new, breathy vocal adds depth, supported with light strings and percussion. The effect is ethereal, spiritual, almost menacing. A refrain in the Irish language, lyrics describing images of darkness and transformation.
Crystal clear vocals and a funky bass line cut through a darkness in “De Selby (Part 2)”, with strings evolving a sound that is otherwise definitively Hozier-esque. A lyrical urge to run is mirrored in the music, and the album officially takes off.
Ready for Francesca
The third track on the album is an original love song, “First Time”. With scenes set in Ireland, the lyrics are delivered with breathy vocals in a strong Irish accent, and phrasing typical of an Irish ballad. A break from the darkness of the first two tracks, “First Time” progresses the story and sets the stage for “Francesca”, track number four.
“Francesca” is nothing short of a modern rock anthem, blossoming at the chorus and reaching new heights with ethereal, gospel-inspired vocals, akin to the powerful soundscapes of Icelandic group, Sigur Rós. For fans of previous albums, “Francesca” is a natural addition to Hozier’s discography.
Eat Your Young
Following “Francesca”, the energy is relaxed again with track five, “I Carrion (Icarian)” with a cappella harmonies opening this acoustic guitar, folk song. Strings and ethereal vocals ensure this track has a home in this album, and not a previous release.
The mellow vibe doesn’t last, however, as the single release, “Eat Your Young”, comes next on this list. An instant hit, this rock/pop track layers a foundation of blues notes and a funk undertone with a strong and catchy, ethereal reprise. Dramatic strings come through once more, promising this track stays with you long after hearing it.
Hozier, With a Twist
To follow the stand-out track, Hozier calms the energy again with track seven, “Damage Gets Done”, a modern rock single release featuring Brandi Carlisle. An ethereal bridge adds interest to this mellow track that begs the listener to sing along.
Staying on theme, a piano intro opens track eight, “Who We Are”, a rock ballad featuring ethereal vocals, dramatic strings and a percussion swell. Blues notes and electronics are the crux of this track’s interest.
Ninth on the album is “Son of Nyx”, a solid interlude between storytelling tracks. Quiet, melodic and meditative to start, the mood is contemplative and menacing, encapsulating an introspective exploration of the soul. Strings and percussion pitch this track as a possible feature in a Bond film, with an overall sound reminiscent of Massive Attack.
Track ten, “All Things End”, opens with a Hozier staple of guitar and funk, before invoking some surprising late 90s and 00s nostalgia with R&B vibes, as well as more dramatic strings. This song strongly invites a gospel chorus to finish, and the track delivers.
Grá d’Éirinn (A Love for Ireland)
Hozier pays an ode to Irish songwriting with the classic ballad, “To Someone From a Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe)”, eleventh on the album. Featuring piano, cello, and a lower vocal register, this romantic love song is both beautiful and poetic.
Poetic beauty strings through the Irish language in this lyrics and title as well, and the concept of “uiscefhuaraithe”, an Irish word that captures the cool feeling that only water can bring.
Tapping into all things Irish again with track 12, the gentle ballad, “Butchered Tongue”, tugs on the heartstrings and truly speaks to the expat heart. This song oozes Irishness with Hozier’s native accent and the Irish language, and a loving nod to Irish culture in lyrics and phrasing. A heartfelt number that might just bring a tear to the eye.
“Anything But” injects a welcome change of pace on track 13. This upbeat, folk/rock song makes for pleasant, easy listening, reminiscent of “Sweet Music”, from his second album, “Wasteland Baby”. There’s an international quality to the soundscape of this track with dramatic percussion, and an overall sound that reminds you of music by Francis and the Lights.
Track 14, “Abstract (Psychopomp)”, feels definitively Hozier, a strong track with an insistently classic refrain. Soft ethereal vocals feature once more with vocals soaring in a higher register, fitting in with themes explored throughout the rest of the album.
Dawn of A New Day
A choral bridge crashes into “Unknown/Nth”, an otherwise mellow track that showcases the electric guitar, making for an exciting penultimate track to the album.
Closing the album, “First Light” shines as a matching bookend to opening track, “De Selby (Part 1)”. Vocals evolve from soft to soaring in this rock track, decorated with blues notes. Interesting vocal transitions ensure this song is not just another rock track. Leaning on Hozier’s choral experience, gospel vocals burst with life in this show-stopping finale which is certainly film-track worthy.
Strong and ethereal, “First Light” is the wild and energetic light born from the darkness of “De Selby (Part 1)” that closes “Unreal Unearth”, and introduces an exciting new chapter to Hozier’s musical journey.