I consider any musical contribution by Andrew Hozier-Byrne to be a blessing. It’s rare his distinct sound and what feels like divinely given talent for lyric writing goes unnoticed by the masses. Since his debut EP “Take Me to Church” released in 2013, and subsequent two albums, his witchy presence and enchanting song writing has left us sonically spellbound. Ten years on, Hozier proves unfazed by the pressure of the notoriously “difficult” third album.
His new 16 track album Unreal Unearth, feels more like an epic poem than a compilation of songs, referencing Irish folklore, philosophical musings, and Greek mythology. Barely over 60 minutes of play, it’s a busy body of work, as the narrator navigates the 9 circles of hell from Dante’s inferno, each symbolising a painful experience of human existence. Everything from the barbarism inflicted on the Irish by the British in the 18th century, to painstaking heartbreaks recalled by the storyteller himself. Hozier muses on the dark side of humanity and the devilish delights that define human desire. The songs intertwine in a musical chiaroscuro; the light, more harmonic moments such as “To Someone from a Warm Climate” and “Butchered Tongue” are contrasted with the lyrically darker but more upbeat bops of “Who we are” and “Damage gets done”, each side proving just as compelling as the other.
The album covers the entire spectrum of human emotion, with particularly strong points in the desperate cries of “De Selby (Part 2)” and the soft sublimity of “Son of Nyx”. The folk style storytelling of “I, Carrion (Icarian)” is dreamy whilst the indie funk of “Eat Your Young” and reverberated rock ballad “Francesca” are no doubt the rabble rousers to stick on repeat.
The wrap up reaffirms the narrator’s battle between the darkness and the light, realising the necessity of both to appreciate the other in “Unkown/Nth”. The solution lies in the submission to pain in order to truly identify pleasure as they conclude that ‘true colours shine in the darkness’.
“First Light”, an apt name for the final song is a slow burn that finishes the album as the narrator and the listener, like Virgil and Dante, walk out of the underworld confessing ‘I’m never gonna be the same, out of darkness, comes the first light’. The take home is surely that light always prevails, as the final few moments leave the listener optimistic and refreshed.
The complex political and personal emotions tackled by this self-conscious collection is a testament to the genius of Hozier’s ability to string together many concepts and link them with astounding lyrical and musical beauty. It truly is a catharsis of human experience and is conceptually immaculate from start to finish. This album reaffirms Hozier’s unshaken title of this generation’s epic poet and songwriter.