Inspired by Dante’s “Inferno,” Hozier’s third album takes the listener to hell and back with a new take on indie-folk music. “Unreal Unearth” is an unexpected twist on the artist’s style that results in an overall lukewarm experience.
With his breakout single “Take Me to Church,” the Irish singer stood out among singers with his palpable hurt and vulnerability paired with ethereal vocals and unmatched lyrics. And after four years without an album, the newest addition to his discography was highly anticipated by fans.
The concept of “Unreal Unearth” immediately had me hooked. As a fan of classic literature, the idea of someone drawing from Dante’s masterful writing to create music was genius. The historic poem “Divine Comedy” had inspired classical music for ages, but to see it paired with modern art was an intriguing idea. Unfortunately, I felt this theme was not as successful as some had hoped. Since religious imagery was a throughline from Hozier’s previous work to this album, the metaphors about God and Hell did not particularly stick out. Even when more specific references to characters were made, like Icarus or Nyx, it almost felt forced for the sake of the theme. As a listener, it seems like the concept of the album was developed before the songs, and, consequently, each song was bent in some way to fit. It seemed like the lyrical genius that fans loved about Hozier had quickly dissipated.
This is not to say that the entire album was bad; in fact, there were songs I particularly enjoyed. “De Selby (Part 1)” beautifully incorporates the Irish language with guitar in a way that I wish had continued throughout the album. “Francesca” was a must-add to my playlist for its addicting feelings. On the other end, “Unknown/Nth” was unmemorable.
Noticeably, Hozier was the solo writer on only two of the songs on this album. The addition of more voices was definitely felt through each song’s muddled, unconcentrated lack of direction. Hozier’s distinct style of writing and voice was missing, replaced instead by what seemed to be a loose imitation. The album was not bad. It simply lacked the uniquely intimate nature that comes when singers are also songwriters.