top of page

A Guide Through The Inferno (Hozier's Version): An Album Analysis


Unreal Unearth

Release: August 18, 2023

Article by Emma Arciola

Hozier's newest album, Unreal Unearth, topped charts within the first week released. Hozier is known for using allusions of religious themes with songs like Take Me To Church, From Eden, and Foreigner's God. Hozier doesn't stray far from his style with this newest album but sings through the journey of Dante's Inferno. Hozier's songs, although heard without the knowledge of the literary works, can be interpreted as an album full of love and beauty; now it's understood to hold a deeper meaning behind it. This is a guide through the Nine Circles of Hell (Hozier's Version).


Before entering Hell

De Selby (Part 1) and De Selby (Part 2) show the first signs of questioning of faith and set the tone for the descent into the Nine Circles of Hell that are created in Dante's Inferno. Although the album is set around the story of Dante, these two songs are references to a book called The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien which follow similar themes of death and existence. De Selby is a character that would speak of theories of life and existence that were seen as unorthodox. In the book The Third Policeman, De Selby's theories are of importance in developing the plot but De Selby is never actually seen by the readers. 

"You take the blackness of air" is one of the opening lines to not only the song but of the album. This line has multiple meanings in it but this is a reference to the footnote from The Third Policeman, where De Selby argues that night is because of "black air". Since De Selby argued that night is to be the "black air" and the line says that "you" are taking it away, it means that "you" bring the light into the world. 

In a later line of the song, Hozier sings, "Your reflection can't offer a word. To the bliss of not knowin' yourself. With all the mirrors gone from the world." Another of De Selby's theories was that mirrors held the secret to eternity. He claimed that with a room of mirrors, he'd be able to see himself as a younger boy. These bring together the song as a space for questioning one's self and their existence in comparison to a higher power. 

In the last part of this song, Hozier sings in his native language, Gaeilge, but when translated says, "You're all bright ease but you come on like night. Entangled; together, transformed." This quote speaks about metamorphosis of the something (or someone) you're around often. Hozier develops the theme of love that's resonating within the song through cryptic correlations. 

This carries through to the next song, De Selby (Part 2), which brings a large shift in tone. In Part 1, the lyrics were yearning for a sense of clarification and untones of fear to the darkness and the unknown. In Part 2, the person in the song is no longer scared of the darkness or unknown, they're actively fighting for their love. This is shown in the chorus, "I wanna run against the world that's turnin'." The idea of running against something destined is an idea from The Third Policeman, it says, "But if you go east on a road that is on its way west, you will marvel at the unfailing bleakness of every prospect and the great number of sore-footed inclines that confront you to make you feel tired." Hoizer is making the point that even though the journey will be tiring, he's ready to take it on for his love. 

First Circle of Hell: Limbo 

First Time represents Limbo. Limbo is the resting place for those who never sinned since they were either unbaptized or lived before the time of Christ. In this circle, they are condemned to "suffer harm through living in desire." Hozier uses this idea of yearning for something that is never to be attained through the next song on the album, First Time. A line in this song goes, "This life mostly underground. Unknowing either sight not sound. 'Til reaching up for sunlight. Just to be ripped out by the stem." This represents of this idea in Limbo that although they are not being punished, they understand there is an unquenchable thirst that will never be satisfied. Hozier leads the listener down to the next circle of hell, similar to Vigil who guides Dante through the circles. 

Second Circle of Hell: Lust 

Francesca represents Lust. This circle is where the lustful are banished to for eternity. Hozier uses the "love" story of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta for the next song titled, Francesca. Hozier changes the narrative of this affair to give it a more loving take. This goes against the narrative that is given in the book by Dante. In this song Hozier says lines like, "That this might've shook the love from me... How could you think, darlin', I'd scare so easily?" and "My life was a storm since I was born. How could I fear any hurricane?" These lines directly relate to the conditions that the ones condemned to the Lust circle endure. This circle is said to have violent winds, implying that lust is unpredictable and aimless. In Dante's Inferno, the affair between Francesca is looked down on since she committed adultery. But Hozier takes a different take on this with the line, "My life was a storm since I was born." Since the day her family discovered she was a woman, Francesca was put in a marriage. The marriage between Francesca and her husband, Giovanni Malatesta, was a political marriage that was made far before her birth. She never had the choice of love and Hozier empathized with her. 

In the next song, I, Carrion (Icarian), is a reference to not only the Lust circle of Hell but also the Greek mythological story of Icarius. With the references in the song of the conditions in the Lust circle of harsh and violent winds, "If the wind turns, if I hit a squall." Hozier alludes to the feeling that Icarius felt while flying which later led him to fly too close to the sun and connects it to the feeling of Lust. Hozier sings, "I've reached a rarer height now that I can confirm... And though I burn how could I fall? When I am lifted by every word you say to me." Icarius is said to have loved the feeling of flying so much that he flew too close to the sun which ultimately led to his wings melting. Hozier takes that story of love and places it into an alternate setting in Dante's  Inferno. 

Third Circle of Hell: Gluttony

Eat Your Young represents Gluttony. This song has many different interpretations but this is one of many. With the opening line of this song, "I'm starvin', darlin'. Let me put my lips to somethin'. Let me wrap my teeth around the world," acts as a transition from the Lust circle to the Gluttony circle. With this line having lustful undertones but transitioning into the endless "starvation" of those who are gluttonous. This song is more of a criticism of modern society and materialism with connections to the conditions that occur within this circle. With the lines referring to the teeth, it was said that the guard of this circle of Hell was Cereberus. He was described as being a "ravenous, three-headed dog," who would rip at them with his teeth and claws. Hozier also sings, "Pull up the ladder when the flood comes. Throw enough rope until the legs have swung. Seven new ways that you can eat your young." These lines represent the underclass being mistreated and used by upper class citizens. By handing them just enough rope to escape the flood and then taking advantage of them since they have no other escape. Hozier uses the philosophies in Dante's Inferno and mirrors them into modern denunciation. The listener can also make the connections of this with the background knowledge of what circle of Hell the song lies in. 

Fourth Circle of Hell: Greed

Damage Gets Done featuring Brandi Carlile represents Greed. This song lies in the most compact and largely populated circle in Hell, Greed, but similarly to Eat Your Young doesn't represent it as directly as others. In Dante's Inferno, when he arrives at this circle he recognizes it as an issue that society places on them. "(...) In their sordid lives they labored to be blind, and now their souls have dimmed past recognition." This is told to Dante when he is first taking in the punishment of this circle. Hozier touches on this idea, that lives aren't actually shameful but society doesn't realize that until it's too late. In this song, Hozier sings, "Wish I had known it was just our turn (we just got by). Being blamed for a world we had no power in (but we tried)." This line pleads with the condemned in this circle, understanding that when we are young we don't want much, but as we grow up and are influenced, we become greedy. The next few lines in the song, "One time we would want for nothin' (one time had it all, love). We knew what our love was worth (when we had nothing). Now we're always missing something (I miss when). I miss when we did not need much," feels like a plea from the condemned. Hozier narrates the position of a couple who ended up in this circle of Hell and didn't even realize it. They were conditioned by society that it was normal to be greedy and it was too late by the time they were done. 

Fifth Circle of Hell: Wrath

Who We Are and Son of Nyx represents Wrath. Dante describes the Circle of Wrath to be filled with people whom anger overcame. This song is a personification of anger in life. In The Inferno, the punishment for those condemned in this circle is to fight each other for eternity. Hozier uses this idea of constantly fighting and having no control in this world to personify anger. "We're born at night. So much of our life is just carvin' through the dark. To get so far and the hardest part is who we are, that's who we are." These lyrics nearing the end of the song, pull together the entire idea that nobody is in control of their life. This again can be seen as a criticism of society and the idea that a person must fight to get anywhere in life. The line, "We're born at night," is relating again to the fact that there is no escaping the bad moments of life and to sustain the good ones, one must fight hard. Through this song, Hozier repeats the line, "To hold me like water. Or Christ, hold me like a knife," which represents the anger of fruitless efforts which could be seen also as a pity for those condemned in this circle. They must fight each other for eternity with no winner and no end. 

The song Son of Nyx stays within the circle of Wrath. When Dante arrives at the river of Styx, he says, "Now we are sullen in this sable mire.' This hymn do they keep gurgling in their throats, For with unbroken words they cannot say it." This context is needed to understand this voiceless and instrumentally hypnotizing song that gives tribute to the people under the river with no voices. The song holds parts that sounds as if a word is going to form but then is cut short and drowned out. The title itself is a reference to Greek mythological goddess Nyx and her son Charon. This song is also said to be a tribute to Hozier's friend's father who died recently. 

Sixth Circle of Hell: Heresy

All Things End represents Hearsay. In this sixth circle of Hell, anybody condemned there believed that the soul dies with the body. This goes against the teachings of the Church and is heresy. Their punishment is to lay in burning tombs for eternity. Hozier uses the song to commit what The Inferno would describe as heresy. The lyrics, "Everything that ends. And all things end. All that we intend is scrawled in sand. It slips right through our hand," is representative of a loss of faith. Since, it is believed that you can control your fate, and Hozier in his song says it's not in our hands. 

Seventh Circle of Hell: Violence

To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe) and Butchered Tongue represents Violence. The circle of Violence is divided up into three rings: violent against others, violent against self, and violent against God. The song To Someone From A Warm Climate is representative of the punishment that is violent to others. Dante says that the punishment for the outer ring (violent to others) is that they are forced to be in a river of blood and fire. Although the song isn't representative of the crimes of violence that usually place someone in this ring, the song acts as a warning and a metaphor of death. The murder of not a person but of a heart that will get broken in a relationship that is going to end. This is hinted through the song with lyrics like, "The feel of coolness only water brings," trying to get the lover to listen. Hozier uses these lyrics to describe these feelings that someone has when in a certain climate and the nostalgic memories that follow. He struggles to explain how to get warm while in a cold place when the person he's speaking to is always warm. Pleading with his partner to stop hurting themselves with a relationship that is bound to fail. Hozier also sings the lyrics, "And I wish I could say. That the river of my arms have found the ocean. And I wish I could say the cold lake water of my heart. Christ, it's boilin' over," which insinuates that the relationship was never compatible and that they must let go. 

The next song in this circle is Butchered Tongue, which is much deeper in meaning. This circle of violence is referenced in this song through the death of Irish culture and the language. The "butchered tongue" is the language that was ripped away from the Irish after being colonized by the British. Hozier sings, "A butchered tongue still singin' here above the ground. The ears were chopped from young men if the pitch cap didn't kill them. They are buried without scalp in the shattered bedrock of our home," which holds the literal meaning. The British would torture the Irish and these effects are still prevelant today. Hozier uses this song as a homage for the language that is barely used and his ancestors that were tortured just for using it. This ends the songs for circle of Violence. 

Eighth Circle of Hell: Fraud

Anything But and Abstract (Psychopomp) represent Fraud. The circle of Fraud is divided into 10 ditches: panderers and seducers, flatterers, simony, sorcerers and false prophets, corrupt prophets, corrupt politicians, hypocrites, thieves, evil counselors and advisors, divisive individuals, alchemists, perjurers, and counterfeits. Each of these types of Frauders have a specific type of punishment. This song at first glance looks like a love song but really Hozier is saying he wants to be far away from the person. With lyrics like, "I hear he touches your hand, and then you fly away together. If I had his job, you would live forever," and "If I was a riptide, I wouldn't take you out," which are similar to many of the punishments that are given to the frauds. They are given a piece of hope and then it is taken away from them and Hozier conveys this same message. 

The song Abstract (Psychopomp) is about feeling like a fraud inside. Of watching someone else doing something that Hozier feels he should've had the power to do. This is also a reference to Greek mythology since a Psychopomp is someone who guides a soul to the dead. This leads into the last circle.

Ninth Circle of Hell: Treachery

Unknown / Nth represents Treachery. This circle of Hell is divided into four levels: Caine (betrayal of family), Antenora (betrayal of community), Ptolomaea (betrayal of guests), and Judecca (betrayal of Christ). This song is representative of being betrayed by one's partner. Hozier sings lyrics like, "You called me angel for the first time. My heart leapt from me. You smile now, I can see its pieces still stuck in your teeth." Hozier shares that in the moment, he is blinded by love. Then he reflects back and sees that the betrayal was always right in front of him. This song is the final descent into the Nine Circles of Hell.

Ascent through Hell 

After Dante finally explores the entirety of Hell that is depicted within The Inferno. Hozier uses his final song, First Light, as a way to ascend back to Earth. "Darkness always finds you either way... but after this I'm never going to be the same. And I am never going back again." These lyrics were a perfect end of not only the album but full circle of Dante's journey. As in the book, it was said that after he traveled down through Hell and ascended the Purgatory that he will "reach the pinnacle of joy and come to the Light of God." Hozier's lyrics reflect back and complete the goal to make sure Dante didn't fall astray. 

Follow Hozier:


bottom of page