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The Poetic Genius of Hozier’s Unreal Unearth

Hozier's third album, “Unreal Unearth”, was released Aug. 18, 2023 to widespread excitement. Four years since his last album’s release, his audience had been long anticipating this project. The concept-based album draws from the 14th-century poem, “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri. “Unreal Unearth” includes themes of love, devotion and sin. Hozier himself dissects most of the songs from his album on Youtube in a series called “Behind the Song” and draws the connections between his lyrics and literature.

“The Divine Comedy” was written from the perspective of Dante and is meant to describe a soul's journey after death through the spheres of purgatory, heaven and hell. “Dante’s Inferno” has become the most recognizable part of this poem, as it details Dante’s journey through the nine circles of hell with his guide Virgil, who is representative of human nature. The nine circles are limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery. This journey progresses through the songs in “Unreal Unearth” until Dante’s arrival back on earth. Another relevant note is that Dante’s guide through the eight spheres is Beatrice, who symbolizes divine grace and theology. Beatrice is also the name of a woman who Dante loves in life and immortalizes in other works. This devotion is reflected in multiple songs throughout the album detailing an endless love for a woman.

The first two songs from this album are called “De Selby (Part 1)” and “De Selby (Part 2).” Hozier discusses the meaning behind this song on his Youtube channel where he says that De Selby is a character from the Irish novel, “The Third Policeman” by Flann O’Brien. The easiest way to describe him as a character is a crazed philosopher who doesn’t realize he’s in the afterlife until the end of the book. De Selby believes that the night was a buildup of black air and that the earth is the shape of a sausage, among other things. De Selby’s theory that mirrors are a window into eternity made its way into Hozier’s song “De Selby (Part 1)” in the lyrics, “your reflection can't offer a word / to the bliss of not knowin' yourself / with all mirrorin' gone from the world.”

“Francesca” references the second circle of hell, lust, and a dissertation on the tragic love story of Francesca de Rimini. Francesca de Rimini was a medieval Italian noblewoman who fell in love with her husband's brother, Paolo. When her husband found out about the affair, he murdered them both. Dante describes seeing them in the second circle of hell in his poem. Hozier’s song “Francesca” includes the theme of love versus salvation and the power of love against all else, rules and morality included. This is similar to Hozier's song “Take Me To Church,” which was also about the battle between reverence and love, specifically the stigma against gay people in the Catholic Church.

Perhaps the most striking song (and my personal favorite) from this album is “Eat Your Young.” This song is a clear reference to the satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal,” written by Jonathan Swift. In this essay, Jonathan Swift suggests that to solve the problem of poverty in Ireland, the British should fatten up poor babies and eat them instead of letting them be a strain on the government, even suggesting multiple ways to prepare these children for eating. “Eat Your Young” draws a parallel to this by commenting on the military industrial complex and how it is “eating” young people. “A Modest Proposal” suggests selling poor children to the rich to eat, whereas Hozier suggests that we are already selling young people to a never satiated military to be consumed by war.

The album ends with “First Light,” a song representing the ending of Dante’s journey through hell, heaven and purgatory as he gets his first glimpse of earth again. The song is reminiscent of church hymnals, with sweeping vocals and organ music.

This album was not only worth the wait, but it well exceeded expectations. “Unreal Unearth” is a political statement, a religious commentary and a testimony to the human experience. It is striking, impactful and a piece of modern music history.

By Liese Devine, Features Editor

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