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Hozier’s ‘Unreal Unearth’ takes concept albums to new levels

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Collegian | Charles Cohen

There are many things that come to mind when thinking of Andrew Hozier-Byrne, the Irish folk musician known best by the general public for his 2013 song “Take Me to Church,” a metaphorical comparison between his lover and religion that consumed pop radio.

For the more folk- and blues-inclined, Hozier’s first two studio albums have produced sleepier hits such as “Would That I” and “Work Song,” both of which are finding fame on social media, the latter almost a decade down the line.

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The new album he’s been teasing since December 2022 was announced this past March and released in August, and fans were ecstatic. Following the viral release of his first single from the album, “Eat Your Young,” he explained in a Rolling Stone UK article that the album was a concept album based on Dante’s “Inferno,” the first of three poems in the epic poem “The Divine Comedy.”

“Unreal Unearth,” a concept album based on Dante’s “Inferno,” was ripe with potential — both to break the music scene as well as raise discussion regarding the heavy-handed Biblical metaphors. The die-hard Hozier fans in company with curious casual listeners waited for Aug. 18 with bated breath.

But the fretting was for naught — Hozier has done it again.

In some of his most heart-wrenching work yet, Hozier has gifted listeners with a concept album that loosely follows the nine tiers of the famous “Inferno” but is structured with tales of excess, sorrow, heartbreak and love to the point of destruction from his own time above ground.

One thread woven throughout the album that fans have attached themselves to is the singer’s use of Irish Gaelic. This use of language was banned several times and has become something of an obscurity due to violence against the Irish by the English.

Hozier’s use of Gaelic in “De Selby (Part 1)” and “Butchered Tongue,” is intense and purposeful — Hozier’s tone in these songs fluctuates between mourning and vengeance, mocking and rage. It deeply stakes the musician’s claim in his homeland while still exploring the intersections of romance and darkness.

Aside from this, the album contains heart-wrenching songs that evoke a self-destructive love story in every single layer of the inferno. “I, Carrion (Icarian),” Hozier explained in a recent interview with Apple Music host Zane Lowe, was once a song written for a partner about the meaninglessness of death and loss when the one you love is with you; however, it can now be understood as a weaponized ignorance, missing every warning sign in a relationship because one is so blinded by love.

Other songs on the album follow this similar narrative, but there’s a flip side: a torn-open exposure of when relationships become more painful than they’re worth when the anxiety and distrust pit lovers against one another, but they’re convinced it would hurt more to let go than to stay.

Overall, there’s something in this beautifully constructed album that everyone can cling to, whether it be a past relationship with the one that got away or a connection to a childhood memory — Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth” is vulnerable and allows the listener to reflect and process new emotions with each listen.

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Reach Hailee Stegall at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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