Hozier – ‘Unreal Unearth’ Album Review

Photo Credit: Julia Jackson

Irish musician and songwriter Hozier (full name: Andrew John Hozier-Byrne) didn’t quite score the same success on his last release, Wasteland, Baby! (2019) as he had achieved with his enormously successful self-titled 2014 debut album (or his debut single “Take Me to Church”). But continuing his apparent practice of taking several years between full-length releases, Hozier no doubt hopes that the third time’s the charm with his new album, Unreal Unearth. As the title might suggest, Unreal Unearth largely represents the artist presenting both himself and his music in terms of contradictions, this is apparent right off the bat, as the album opens with a pair of tracks entitled “De Selby (Part 1)” and “De Selby (Part 2).” The former is the “quiet” track, a slow, acoustic number that starts out with the fitting lyrics, “At last when all of the world is asleep… “ “Part 2,” however, is clearly intended to be the wake-up call, a bouncy uptempo rocker with a near-funk bassline, an almost sinister-sounding guitar, and an in-your-face chorus. The album is off to at least a promising start.

Most of Unreal Unearth lives up to that promise through its generous – if somewhat exhausting – total of sixteen tracks. Despite still being best known for the grandiose “Take Me to Church,” ballads do remain a strong suit for Hozier, as evidenced here by songs such as “I, Carrion (Incarnion),” and “Butchered Tongue,” along with “Son of Nyx,” a haunting piano ballad backed by a full orchestra. The nicely titled “To Someone from a Warm Climate” is essentially a male version of a classic torch song (and a good vehicle for the artist’s voice, which remains as solid as ever). However, Hozier certainly doesn’t skimp when it comes to the album’s numerous uptempo tracks. “Anything But” is anything but boring, utilizing a big ’80s-style production sound, while “Damage Get Done” is a pleasant and bouncy duet with very welcome guest vocalist Brandi Carlile.

Indeed, while the artists’ production remains as slick as ever, Hozier does seem to be consciously attempting a bit more of a raw edge (relatively speaking) on Unreal Unearth. “Francesca” starts out disguised as another ballad but then reveals itself as the album’s “loudest” song, yet definitely ultra-catchy and would have been right at home on ’80s AOR radio. An ’80s influence can also be detected on “Eat Your Dreams” (great title!), which incorporates another funky beat and falsetto vocals. The same psych-out method (what starts as a slow song then picks up) is also used effectively on “First Time.” Not to mention “Anything But,” probably the album’s “happiest” song.

All of this ultimately leads up to album closer “First Light,” which is just the kind of grand finale that the listener would inevitably come to expect after making their way through all one-hour-plus of Unreal Unearth. The song starts slow before rocking out, and then codas with an acoustic guitar, as if Hozier is trying to emphasize one last time (this for this go-round) that there are these seemingly contradictory yet ultimately aligned levels to his work. To be certain, Unreal Unearth is consistent in both its tone and feel even while executing a variety of tempos and lyrical approaches, which is to the album’s further credit. It’s hard to tell whether the long gaps that Hozier tends to place between new releases are helping or hurting him. But as far as Unreal Unearth goes, it’s safe to say that his hardcore followers won’t be unsatisfied, and even casual fans won’t be unimpressed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Written by: Richard John Cummins

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