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Unreal, Unearth is a characteristically charming third instalment from Hozier

"Unreal Unearth"

Release date: 18 August 2023
Hozier Unreal Unearth Album Artwork
16 August 2023, 13:30 Written by Caitlin Chatterton

Hozier’s third record follows his established pattern of tracing fable, folklore, and the high drama of Greek mythology onto the landscape of modern politics, whilst simultaneously entangling himself in a series of tender love affairs.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s first and self-titled album led with the unexpected runaway hit “Take Me To Church” – a deceptively radio-friendly protest against the Catholic Church that overshadowed a debut packed with treasures, and was still obscuring reactions to his sophomore offering Wasteland, Baby! five years on. His cult following, however, was cemented by that second record; his croons of rage and adoration earned him the status of beloved woodland man in chief.

Unreal, Unearth begins with the creaking of a guitar, before strings and wandering percussion join for a starkly intimate introduction – worlds away from the blazing guns of previous album openers “Take Me To Church” and “Nina Cried Power.” A passage of the lyrics on “De Selby (Part1)” are in Gaelic, Hozier’s mother tongue, which is also celebrated a while later on “Butchered Tongue;” the gentle ballad mourns the loss of language and oral histories, while grateful for Gaelic’s survival.

As well as uplifting Irish culture, the album is keen to demonstrate that Hozier is well versed in the classics. Enmeshed in a love story, the delicate, acoustic guitar-led “I, Carrion (Icarian)” revives the imagery of Icarus, ecstatic in death – similarly conjured for the 2019 cut “Sunlight.” Elsewhere we’re introduced to Charon (“Son Of Nyx”), who carries souls across the river between worlds, while several of Dante’s circles are referenced. “Eat Your Young” toils with gluttony, “All Things End” dabbles in heresy, and “Francesca” – with its booming chorus that falls into a wailing, gale force outro – recounts the immortalised lust of Francesca da Rimini.

While seemingly demanding prior reading, an English Literature degree isn’t required to enjoy this record. The rich backdrop of references do enrich the songs’ meanings, but it’s the familiar lilt of Hozier’s voice and his veteran’s command of string arrangements that pulls it together. From the folk twang of “First Time” to the torrential clapping on “Anything But,” this is a Hozier album to the hilt: considered, earnest, and moving.

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