Horseshoe Magazine

The Long-Form Journalism Source of the University of New Haven

Horseshoe Magazine

Horseshoe Magazine

To put sound to suffering: Walking through the levels of Hell with Hozier’s ‘Unreal Unearth’

Unsplash/Jr Kopa

It takes a certain semblance of nuance, as well as a particular type of bravery, to take something as finely crafted as Dante’s levels of Hell and generate a sonic experience that heightens the pain attributed to this eternal suffering. Andrew Hozier-Bryne takes the power of music to new heights to convert the Biblically-inspired “Inferno” into a four-dimensional production in just 62 minutes.

“Unreal Unearth,” Hozier’s latest full-length album, reimagines the levels of Hell developed in Dante’s “Inferno” in ways that both modernize and eternalize the fatal flaws of the human condition.

Hozier crafts his album so that it chronologically leads you deeper into Hell, ending with a full-circle ascent back toward Heaven. He has clarified this in multiple interviews.

The Descension into Hell
The two-part masterpiece of “De Selby” starts listeners on their journey with the album. “De Selby Part 1” leads directly into “Part 2” through a transitional melody, and grows with intensity.

Hozier goes on a Gaelic tangent about the transition from light to darkness, saying (in loose translation) that “although you are bright and light, you arrive to me like nightfall” in what he calls a metamorphosis. This transitions into “Part Two,” in which he talks about desires to “outrun” the light of the world and dive into the temptation of this darkness in his life. He is welcoming the entrance of Hell and of human sin as he leads us deeper into the rest of the album.

What is important to note in “Unreal Unearth” is that Hozier takes the levels of Hell and tells their story in the form of an immense ballad of love. His medium of creating a layered metaphor is through a profession of consuming, inherently sinful love.

This phase of the story ends with the lines “I’d block the sun / If you want it done.” If his love wants him to abandon God, he will. This is fascinating, as it plays into the common themes of the Devil drawing people away from God. Hozier’s love is one that mirrors the nature of the Devil, luring people through his doors.

To find yourself in Limbo lands you among some of history’s heaviest philosophers, including Homer, Socrates and Plato. To be unbaptized leaves you too impure for Heaven, but not unclean enough to stand in a deeper level of Hell, at least in Dante’s mind. In “First Time,” Hozier delves into the idea of losing your purity, and the feelings that are elicited from exploring the “dirt” of the natural, inevitably human condition. Not everyone is meant to be baptized out of sinning.

Hozier writes, “The first time that you kissed me / I drank dry the river Lethe,” implying that a natural urge of man was one that had him seeking immeasurable forgiveness, as that is the river’s purpose in the Bible.

In “First Time,” he only kisses his lover. The line “this life lived mostly underground” implies that we must dive deeper into Hell to uncover most of the layers of the development between Hozier and his muse.

The song transitions from “some part of me” dying “the first time,” to “each time,” to “the last time” that she “called [him] baby.” With each beckoning from his love, he lost some of his purity, inevitably further banishing him to Hell’s disposal.

“Francesca” introduces us to the second level: Lust. Here, we explore the willingness to sacrifice for love.

To be willing to subject yourself to immense pain in the name of love is an intense sacrifice, and yet he writes, “if I could hold you for a minute / I’d go through it again.” This even later develops into his saying that “Heaven is not fit to house a love like you and I,” a line he repeated exhaustively until this song fades out.

Just “a minute” is all he is seeking; a fleeting experience is all he wants, that the peaks of energy always fade down, is what captures the essence of Lust.

The title of the song models the life of Francesca De Rimini, a woman created by Dante who infamously resides in the second level of Hell. She is sent to Lust for pursuing her true love through adultery. (Which, for the record, was an affair with her husband’s own brother, Paolo. The pair of forbidden lovers are murdered by their husband/brother Giovanni.) In this story, there are multiple instances of people being punished for loving (lusting after) the wrong people as they search for those they were truly meant to love. Francesca was punished for loving who she was meant to, as opposed to who she was told to, and she shows that true love can still be punishable by death by those who don’t understand it. Despite this, Hozier delves into the willingness to live the ultimate sacrifice all over again to be able to hold onto that love a little longer.

“I, Carion” leads us deeper into Hell through the life of Icarus, son of Dadelus. Daedalus gave his son a pair of handcrafted wings in order to escape the maze that they were trapped inside of, however Icarus, curious about reaching heights beyond the realm of humanity, flew much higher than necessary. Flying too close to the sun melted his makeshift wings, and he plummeted to his death. Icarus was merely human, and his death, marked as a tragic one, still works to highlight the detrimental nature of all-consuming lust.

“I’ve reached a rarer height now” is juxtaposed with “all our weight is just a burden offered to us by the world,” breaking down walls on the human condition that set us up for a natural downfall. The weight of humanity can only be countered with a lack of conventionality, but in trying to defy the limits of human existence, we are only left to fall from higher than we would within our natural limits.

Hozier creatively integrates details from Icarus’ story into his song, like the metaphor of the “feather on the sea” that pays homage to Icarus’ gifted wings being made by feathers glued together.

At the end, Hozier admits, “I do not have wings, love, I never will.” We cannot pretend to be more than human. There is beauty in the limits of humanity, and in lusting after being more, we only hurt ourselves and those around us. Hozier realizes this, saying “if I should fall […] / I only pray, don’t fall away from me.” If he acts as his raw, flawed, limited self, potentially in an ego-death plight, his love should not fall away from him as he sheds wings he could not fly above her with.

“Eat Your Young” is perhaps the perfect way to title a song embodying the level of gluttony.

We crave, and crave, and crave as humans. “Let me wrap my teeth around the world” — I need to indulge in more than I can wrap my mind around in order to be satisfied.

“Seven new ways you can eat your young” is one of the most powerful lines in the entire album. There are seven deadly sins, and each one is inflicted upon the next generation before they are old enough to break the generational cycle of eternal sin.

“I want to race you to the table” is also fascinating. Humans are competitive, and we feel the need to claim what’s ours. Returning to Hozier’s theme of love, to overindulge in love is to lay yourself on the table for your lover.

“Damage Gets Done” plays further into the motif that most of the punishable sins are inevitable in the human condition.

Hozier pronounces that “being reckless and young / is not how the damage gets done,” and yet punishment comes from this behavior. Instead, he explores the suggestion that when the recklessness wears off, we go numb, and we seek more and more from life to fill the void. Simple things like “sleep[ing] on somebody’s floor” no longer have you “wak[ing] up feeling like a millionaire.”

We exit this level of Hell with the lines “All I needed was someone / When the whole wide world felt young” repeated twice through.

We continue to venture deeper into tHell, as “Who We Are” brings us to both the rough halfway point in the album and in the journey to the bottom of Inferno. Wrath is fleeting, and it seeks out in a manner that is “after the fact,” for lack of a better phrase.

Hozier’s interpretation of Wrath, seemingly, is that life is laced with it, and we have to escape it. In “Who We Are,” he juxtaposes conditions of life in ways that capture the vengeance that grips human existence. “hold me like water / or Christ hold me like a knife,” plays with the idea that we crave both gentle consolation and brutal honesty, a pairing which ultimately stings us. Life places us into circumstances that should spark vengeance within us, fueling us to do and become more.

“Son of Nyx” transports us from this stage, representing the boat that transports Dante and Virgil into this level. In this song, you can faintly hear lines pulled from songs that capture different levels of Hell, you can catch glimpses of fleeting pieces of different phases of the album.

“All Things End” transfers us into the level run by heretics.

The power we have as humans is limited, and endings that are meant to be cannot be changed by us. Heretics encompass the human belief that we are not bound to God’s laws, and that we can act freely. This song counters that, highlighting how limited we are as people and how we cannot control our final destinies.

Hozier turns to his love story here, despite the love and energy. And yet, he says that “We should not change our plan / When we begin again.” Humans are meant to behave as humans, even if that means committing heresy with full knowledge of God’s power to condemn us to Hell. We should love as if we have the power to control it, because we can enjoy the moments as we experience them. Everything has some sort of end, even if that end is ultimately no more than death. But with each end, Hozier highlights that we get the opportunity to “begin again,” and that must be seized to its fullest extent.

The heretics in Dante’s rendition of Hell were people who did not believe in the immortal soul — they believed that all things did end. Life therefore was meant to pursue happiness within it, without wasting it paying regard to what some believed would come after.

According to Dante, there are different levels of violence that humans can execute: the first tier is violence against others, the second violence against oneself, and the deepest, violence against God and nature.

“To Someone From a Warmer Climate” is also entitled “Uiscefhuaraithe,” or “water-cooled” in Gaelic. In this song, Hozier repeats the idea of being shamed out of dreaming. This returns to some of the motifs of the higher levels of Hell, where Icarus was killed for aiming too high, and people were punished for trying to be who they are. “To Someone From a Warmer Climate” addresses the idea of violence from other people, where we are physically and metaphorically harmed by the “climate” (political/social/ethical) in which we live.

His details are spot-on here again, where in the bridge he writes that the water in his heart is “boilin’ over,” mirroring the way that those who enact violence on others are boiled in the Phlegethon, or river of blood, as their eternal punishment.

“Butchered Tongue” displays our ease in hurting other people, and hurting ourselves. It uses themes surrounding misunderstood culture and barriers provided by not sharing native language to display the ease in disconnecting ourselves from other people. The song highlights timeless themes in human nature: loss of land, loss of language, loss of people, assimilation and so forth.

Deceit takes two forms, the gentler being fraud, and the more intense being treachery.

The circle of Fraud houses ten Bolgia, each which highlight different forms of fraudulent behavior as specific sins. These include seduction, flattery, political corruption, thief and falsification, to name a few.

“Anything But” mostly plays with deception and flattery. Hozier wants to appear desirable. The sounds are upbeat, and mimic the feelings of spring.

The song also alludes to the Hebrew Bible. Hozier writes the line “I’d lower the world into a flood, or better yet, I’d cause a drought.” God struck droughts onto the Israelites countless times. He flooded the world in the name of Noah and ultimately repeatedly wiped out his own humans in the name of their wickedness. This is deceit — he made them in his own creation and then punished them for living in his design.

“If I was a riptide, I wouldn’t take you out” in the first verse, and “If I was a stampede, you wouldn’t get a kick in the second are paired to show the deception and almost seduction of love, in a way that mirrors God’s. He is promising his love that no matter how much he destroys the world around him, he’ll spare her. However, in this promise from God, he spared nobody, even those he claimed to care for most.

“Abstract (Psychopomp)” shows that fraud is sometimes necessary. Foremost, a psychopomp is a guiding spirit that comforts animals through their death. This song falls between the penultimate and final circle of Hell — the pain lingers somewhere in between.

“See how it shines” alludes to an image where a wounded animal is comforted in its final moments before death, the lights of a car identical to the one that hurt it being used to create false safety so that it can die with peace. The animal is being distracted (yes, therefore deceived) from the pain of their death to only see beauty while it goes.

“The memory hurts, but does me no harm,” deception can be achieved within yourself. You can lie and convince yourself of a false reality in an attempt to protect yourself. The only way to heal from that is to accept the reality of your life and to stop living memories that hurt you.

There is also a hypocrisy to this song, where the animal in the road is being comforted by the same species who broadly ruin their own kind. We as living parts of nature sometimes find comfort in the places that hurt us, because we have no choice. The inherent state of the natural world, of interactions between feeling creatures, is hypocritical. The world itself also exists in a state of fraud, returning to the lines “The Earth from a distance / See how it shines” — from afar the Earth seems beautiful and blissful. It isn’t until your face is pressed into its surface that you see its true colors: the bloodshed of your own kind, the damage done to those inhabiting it.

“Unknown/Nth” is a love song to the Devil himself. Hell’s first victim holds the most tragic story. “Do you know, I could break beneath the weight of the goodness, love, I still carry for you” is a letter from the Devil to God — he still loves his leader, even though he hurt him. God is all-knowing according to the Bible and, therefore, would have created Lucifer knowing he was to betray him. Lucifer was meant to betray the man he loved the most, and, yet, he cannot help but still love him. That is truly treacherous.

He calls knowing his love an “injury.” The song then ends with the statement that “there are some people, love, who are better unknown.” He still does not believe this, though. This piece makes it clear that you cannot regret knowing the people who you valued at one point, even if they hurt you.

The Ascent
“First Light” brings us around to the ascent. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but does this mean that the cycle is over? Perhaps we are not meant to be able to tell.

Leave a Comment
Donate to Horseshoe Magazine

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of New Haven. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Horseshoe Magazine

Comments (0)

All Horseshoe Magazine Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *