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Hozier’s nine circles of hell

By Myra Mulongoti, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Critically acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter Hozier released his third studio album, “Unreal Unearth” on Aug. 18. The album was preceded by five singles: “Eat Your Young,” “All Things End,” “Francesca,” “Unknown/Nth,” and “De Selby (Part 2).” Hozier is currently on a tour promoting the album with 39 shows across Europe and North America. 

The album is loosely based on Dante’s 14th century epic poem “Inferno,” specifically Dante’s concept of the nine circles of Hell. In the poem, the nine circles are limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery. On “Unreal Unearth,” Hozier traverses through the nine circles as a source of lyrical and thematic inspiration.

The most popular songs with people on campus are “Unknown/Nth” and “Francesca.” “Unknown/Nth” takes inspiration from the ninth circle, treachery, and explores betrayal and misunderstanding in a relationship. “Francesca,” the debut single from the album, is inspired by a story from the second circle, lust. 

Fans of Hozier on campus shared their thoughts on how knowledge of “Inferno” informed and improved their listening experience.

Senior biology major Lexi Smathers read “Inferno” many years ago, and shared how her knowledge of the text affected her appreciation of the album.

“If he hadn’t explicitly said that the album was based on “Inferno,” I don’t think I would’ve put it together. It’s a very loose connection. But since he did say it, I can work out what he’s referencing. I think this adds to my enjoyment of the album but even without that, if I didn’t know anything about Dante’s circles of hell, the album would still be fantastic,” Smathers said.

Adjunct Professor of English Andrew Schlosser, who read “Inferno” in preparation for the album, wishes Hozier used Dante’s “Inferno” as more than just loose references sprinkled across the album. 

“My one critique [of the album] is I wish there was more of a connection to “Inferno”. That being said, I still think it’s cool when I’m listening and can identify the references; it informed the way I was hearing the songs. Like on “To Someone From A Warm Climate” where he talks about the violence circle. If I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t have made that connection. But there’s also other songs where he references the circles that I think he could’ve done a better job with and gone a little deeper. For example on “All Things End” which is supposed to be about the heresy circle, I think he could’ve done better,” Schlosser shared.

Photo courtesy of Neon Tommy/Katie Buenneke

The album’s sound ranges from folk-pop to funk to R&B/Soul. In a statement prior to the release of the album, Hozier described the album as having an “eclectic sound.” However, a review from “Pitchfork” labeled it “disjointed.”

Schlosser shared his thoughts on the variety of genres present on the album.

“I do think there is a specific Hozier-sound but on this album he stepped outside that more. I also don’t think people realize how much R&B and Soul influence his sound. People tend to expect more of a folk and country influence and sound from him but really, his greatest influences are all Black American artists. I can see why people are saying the album is disjointed but I don’t mind the different sounds. On his first album, all the songs have a similar sound, whereas on this one, it was more varied,” he said.

Smathers echoed this opinion.

“I feel like his past albums have had more of the sense of being one form but this one is a little bit more spread. But I like the different paces and genres. I think the album does have one unified theme and inspiration so I wouldn’t say it’s disjointed,” Smathers shared.

Hozier’s complex, cryptic, and haunting lyrics are what brought him fame with his hit-song “Take Me to Church” and have remained a main attraction to his music in the time since. 

Smathers shared her thoughts on how much Hozier’s lyricism influences her appreciation for his music.

“I think my first few listens I just listen to the music and then later on I’ll sit down and start looking deeper and analyzing all the lyrics. With Hozier there’s always a lot of meaning and intention behind everything and with the language he uses, it’s a bit of work to figure out what he’s saying but once I do, it makes it all a lot better and adds to the experience,” she said.

Schlosser shares a similar opinion, with Hozier’s lyricism being the main reason he’s such a big fan. 

“That’s why I like him is because of the lyrics. You can pull them apart and there’s always a deeper meaning there. I think this album is his most significant lyrical effort. He has an amazing sound as well but I’m all about the lyrics,” Schlosser said.

He also shared his lyrical highlight on the album from the song “Anything But” where Hozier sings, “Look, I wanna bе loud, so loud, I’m talking seismic. I wanna be soft as a single stone in a rainstick. I wanna be the thunder of a hundred thousand hooves moving quick. If I was a stampede you wouldn’t get a kick.”

“Unreal Unearth” has received generally positive reviews from critics, with a weighted mean of 76 out of 100 on Metacritic. People on campus gave the album an average rating of 9/10. 

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