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Hozier’s ‘Inferno’-Inspired EP Goes Through Hell And Back But Still Rejects Redemption

Hozier talks into microphone
Image CreditApple Music/YouTube

Even after rising from terrible experiences, Hozier admits he won’t reject the sins that led him through hell in the first place.

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Hozier, the singer most famous for criticizing the Christian tradition in his 2013 song “Take Me to Church,” depended on Dante’s “Inferno” as the inspiration for his 2023 album and most recent EP, “Unheard.”

Released in March, “Unheard” features four songs intended for Hozier’s third studio album, “Unreal Unearth.” Using Dante’s epic poem about his journey through hell as a framework for the album, Hozier describes the cyclical nature of human beings as we experience grief and loss and attempt to recover. 

This album contains relatable songs for listeners in every stage of life and reveals some of Hozier’s intimacies to which the public often isn’t privy. But the most interesting revelation is Hozier’s theology, especially when considered alongside its influential source material.

“The poem is a few centuries old; it’s a very significant piece of literature,” Hozier told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in an interview. “If you live long enough in this world, you will pass through your own hell realm, and you will come out the other side. And I think all of us do that in our own ways.”

Dante’s poem is most famous for organizing hell into nine circles, each of which represents a different sin: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. As Dante travels through these nine layers of hell, he meets individuals facing punishments for the sins they committed during their lifetimes.

Hozier’s album works its way through the scenes of Dante’s “Inferno,” telling stories and sharing the mindsets of those who fall into those sins. While the album is a masterful work of poetic lyrics mixed with captivating melodies and evolving genres, the artist’s EP is the perfect bite-sized version. 

“Too Sweet,” the first song on “Unheard,” takes an honest look at our desire to feed our gluttonous nature while we have the chance. Kicking off with a strong bassline and kick drums, Hozier embraces a grunge style that complements his lyrics of rejecting the right way to live. 

You treat your mouth as if it’s heaven’s gate
The rest of you like you’re the TSA …
I’d rather take my whiskey neat
My coffee black and my bed at three

Hozier compares gluttony and abstinence throughout the piece, singing about how he might as well engage in drunk and lethargic behaviors while he can. Especially because abstinence and heaven’s gate are like the TSA — they possess unachievable and arbitrary standards meant to keep people away. 

This leads into the next song on the EP, “Wildflower and Barley,” which describes the first circle of hell: the state of limbo. In his “Inferno,” Dante describes limbo as a place for those who lived good lives but were not baptized or did not believe in Jesus. These individuals live together in a castle but are neither here nor there — they don’t suffer in hell but also don’t thrive in heaven. 

We all went through some form of “limbo” during Covid-19 lockdowns, a theme Hozier wanted to express through this album. As he explained to Lowe: “Here’s a journey that I felt was worth crediting in the last three years that I think all of us experienced in one way or another.”

During the lockdown, it was common to wait at home in a seeming state of in-between. We could no longer work and play the way we were used to, but we were unable to step into the future and resume normal life because government mandates and quarantines kept us all at a standstill. Yet as Hozier considers this in-between state, he communicates to his audience that their entire lives of work and striving can simply lead to nothing. 

Not wanting to be forgotten or live for nothing, Hozier describes how man takes life into his own hands through his track “Empire Now.” With a beat resembling war drums that rise in intensity as the song progresses, “Empire Now” tells the story of the rise and fall of imperialism. The Irish singer writes how his ancestors could only dream of a world like ours today. 

Sun comin’ up on a dream come around
One hundred years from the empire now

Relying on his skillful falsetto, the singer seems to reference his Irish heritage, specifically focusing on the state of his home country 100 years ago. This harks back to the violence of past civilizations before martyrs shook the foundations of how we live. 

With this hope, Hozier leads into the final song of the EP, “Fare Well,” which at first glance would appear to be a goodbye to the hell through which he leads his listeners. The song features a light melody, but when you pay close attention to the lyrics, Hozier’s outlook on the human condition becomes clear:

Joy, disaster, come unbound here
I’ll deny me none while I’m allowed
With all things above the ground

Even after rising from terrible experiences, Hozier admits he won’t reject his vices or the sins that led him to these layers of hell in the first place. Once he’s out, he will just re-engage in the sins and behaviors he did before. 

In his interview with Apple Music, Hozier describes human nature, like the layers of hell, as cyclical. He believes man walks through difficult experiences and rises out of them, just to fall back into those struggles. 

For writing an album based on part one of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hozier seems to miss the rest: the poems “Purgatorio” and “Paradiso.” They show the hope of redemption and the life man can have after death.

Thus Hozier gets it wrong. Life does not have to be one large cycle. We can learn from the vices that lead us through trials and come out changed on the other side. 


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