The Irish musician and singer-songwriter Hozier recently released  a new extended play entitled “Unheard” as an extension to his August album “Unreal Unearth.” The poem Dante’s Inferno inspired “Unreal Unearth” and takes the listener through the circles of hell: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery. Hozier revealed that over the pandemic he was hard at work making songs for this next album. Ultimately, he decided on 16 songs for the album, with one additional song, “Through Me (The Flood),” featured only on the “Eat Your Young” EP. This new EP, “Unheard,” features songs that were originally going to be on “Unreal Unearth” but were unable to make the original release. 

The first song, “Too Sweet,” was teased before the EP’s release and quickly became a fan favorite, climbing to #2 on Spotify’s Top 50 U.S. playlist and #10 on the Top 50 Global playlist. In this song, Hozier embodies a man who considers himself to be too serious for the sweet woman pursuing him. “Too Sweet” represents the third circle of hell: gluttony. While he takes his “whisky neat,” his “coffee black,” and he goes to “bed at three,” his lover is seen to be the opposite. She is “bright as the morning, as soft as the rain, pretty as a vine, as sweet as a grape.” Hozier attempts to sway her over to his reckless, undisciplined way of life, asking, “Don’t you just wanna wake up dark as a lake smellin’ like a bonfire lost in a haze?” but her convictions are too strong, something the narrator sees as farcical. Throughout the chorus, bells ring that have been theorized to be either wedding bells or death knells. This ambiguity symbolizes either the love the couple still has for each other or the inevitable death of the relationship, with the listener tasked with deciding which version they prefer. The most prominent sound throughout the song is the funky bass line that adds to the narrator’s “cool guy” persona. Overall, “Too Sweet” is the catchiest song on the EP, and I would even venture to say it’s catchier than the “Unreal Unearth” album. 

The EP’s next song, “Wildflower and Barley,” features Allison Russell and represents the first circle of hell, limbo. In Dante’s Inferno, Limbo is for virtuous people who lived before the birth of Christ as well as unbaptized souls, such as infants who died before their baptisms. The song refers to the stillness of the pandemic. In an interview with El Camino, Hozier described the song as “the stillness and the sort of eerie unhappy quiet of living in the countryside or living in the city, seeing empty streets, seeing empty roads.” The wildflowers in the title refer to plants that grow when a field is left untended, as we saw the Earth start to heal during the pandemic. Barley symbolizes resistance, resilience, and rebirth in Irish culture, as it was used as a food source during the 1798 rebellion and barley would grow over the unmarked graves that the dead were buried in. 

A mellow folk song, “Wildflower and Barley,” tells a story of a world being born anew. From the stillness of the pandemic came the conditions for people to heal and to resist oppression. The chorus begins with Hozier singing, “This year, I swear it will be buried in actions,” reflecting the “barley.” Meanwhile, Allison Russell sings, “The healers are healin’. The diggers are digging the Earth.” The song perfectly combines the hope that springtime brings and the necessity for us to use this newfound energy to “put [our] bod[ies] to work.” As we start to see spring approaching, I’d highly recommend the soulful “Wildflower and Barley” as the soundtrack to  rebirth from the harsh New England winter. 

The third song, “Empire Now,” is a stark musical departure from “Wildflower and Barley,” representing the seventh circle: violence. “Empire Now” is an anthem against colonialism and imperialist powers. The chorus starts the song with “Sun comin’ up on a dream come around/ One hundred years from the empire now.” This lyric is believed to be about the British Empire, commonly referred to as “the empire on which the sun never sets,” and the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which later caused the Irish Civil War and ultimately set the stage for Ireland’s independence. 

The dark instrumental backing is reminiscent of a western shoot-off before delving into much heavier beats in the pre-chorus. Hozier’s tone alternates between his usual deep voice and a very impressive falsetto, with this song being the most technically challenging on the EP. “Empire Now” has a similar theme to “Wildflower and Barley” in terms of its hope for a future revolution coming. The pre-chorus explains: “After all, darlin’, I wouldn’t sell the world the way that things are turnin’. If it falls, I would hold on for all it’s worth, the future’s so bright it’s burnin’.” Hozier shows his belief in turning tides and claims that he would hold on to the world because he is certain that the future will herald brighter times. He references the “martyrs of our revolution” as a nod to the violence that predated this hope. Ultimately, “Empire Now” is an anthem about the belief in a brighter future and the ability to put violence in the hands of colonialism and imperialism behind us.  

The final song of the EP, “Fare Well,” is not defined by the circles of hell but rather by “the outward ‘ascent.’” The song plays on the phrase “fare well,” and the word “farewell” as Hozier compares himself to animals who seek temporary satisfaction that will ultimately kill them like a “kitten-cosy-in-the-engine” or a “dog-deep-into-the-chocolate.” In these situations, he knows he will not fare well, but he will also be unable to leave, hence “farewell.” The chorus elaborates that he will “take any high/ Any glazin’ of the eyes/ Any solitary pleasure that was sorrow in disguise.” He’ll take short-term happiness over self-preservation, refusing to deny himself while living and taking the “joy” and “disaster” that “come unbound here.” The “ascent” is not one of spiritual means but rather a momentary “outward” ascent that will ultimately lead to unhappiness. 

Despite the self-destructive lyrics, the music itself is cheerful folk-pop, primarily featuring an acoustic guitar, giving it a stripped-down feeling as opposed to the production of “Empire Now,” being most similar to “Anything But” from “Unreal Unearth.” Hozier once again proves his prowess in secretly delivering heart-wrenching lyrics covered by the feeling of the song, as previously seen with “Cherry Wine,” which was thought to be a love song, or “Take Me To Church,” being considered a pro-Christian song. 

This EP is an excellent advancement of Hozier’s discography. “Too Sweet” is a catchy single that allows the listener to adopt the “cool guy” persona and dance to the groovy bass. “Wildflower and Barley” is an optimistic and soulful introduction to the coming spring. “Empire Now” shows us that revolutions will always prevail over colonialist powers, a message that is important in these times of war. “Fare Well” is a classic Hozier song with deceptively sad lyrics, comparisons to dead animals and some fun acoustic guitar. “Unheard” is increasingly relevant in the post-pandemic world and an incredible EP with a song for everyone.