Andrew Hozier-Byrne was in a gift-giving mood when he turned 33 on March 17. Unveiling to the world the transcendental EP Eat Your Young on his birthday, the Irish singer-songwriter — known onstage as Hozier — seemed more prepared than ever to devour the music industry. The three-song collection is the musician’s fourth EP, which, inspired by a slew of classic texts (including Dante’s “Inferno” and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”), follows Wasteland, Baby! and prologues his upcoming album Unreal Unearth.
In title and opening track “Eat Your Young,” a rhythmic vocal riff loops around an accumulating maelstrom of throbbing bass and mid-tremolo strings, blanketing the song’s sonic stage in echoing anticipation. When Hozier’s lyrics breach the noise, they’re punctuated by a desperate archness, contoured by the singer’s curling vowels and breathy enunciation: “I’m starvin’, darlin’,” he sings, letting the words chime in time with the backtrack’s tolling downbeats. The lingering resonance of the track’s imposing uncanniness and the deliberateness of its stylization underscore its thematic underpinnings, which, in a manner signature of Hozier, interrogate the sin of gluttony through erotic metaphor and cannibalistic imagery.
As the song’s mounting intensity figures in serrating violins and an unfettered chorale of background vocals, its second verse compounds on the first’s daunting motifs, bleeding into the free-floating pre-chorus. Though “Eat Your Young” is lyrically sparse and vocally undemanding relative to his other works, Hozier’s pivot to simplicity is the opposite of artistic regression — rather, it demonstrates that while the singer has mobilized excess in the past, he also understands how to weaponize restraint. The opening track’s rejection of maximalist production might seem like a contradictory choice for a song about greed, but its streamlined approach and ominous declarations recall the calm before the storm, or a stalking predator waiting to strike.
For the second song in Eat Your Young’s musical trilogy, contented finality replaces the previous track’s menacing avarice. Swathed in only stripped chords and timed claps, Hozier ponders making peace with romantic rupture in “All Things End,” welcoming emotional anguish as evidence of having lived a life fulfilled. With a contemplative musical progression that lends the track a bittersweet tenderness, the songwriter’s poignant melodies and melancholy optimism evince more luster than his lyrics, which at times veer into formulaic verbiage (for instance, waxing on the tenuousness of sand).
While Hozier certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel or venturing into untread musical territory, the singer seems to be solidifying his musical footprint with the newly released EP. The aural and thematic elements that define his oeuvre are as strong as ever, displaying vocal richness and forward-faced vision even in areas that could be ostensibly refined. Rather than act as a magnum opus, Eat Your Young serves as the musician’s creative playground, allowing him to build on his multivariate exigences in ways that hone his craft, define his artistic boundaries and extend a hand to his waiting audience.
This is a sentiment perhaps best proven by the EP’s thunderous finale, a pandemic-era reflection titled “Through Me (the Flood).” Though starting inconspicuously with a warped, reverberant backtrack flush with muted organ pipes and a sonorous verse, the song builds from its introspective commencement into a boisterous, surging chorus. Souring its euphony with a billowing melody and croaking synth, effusive choric intonations merge with a ribboning bass line to round out the instrumental interlude. The track, equal parts swimming in modern sound and tethered to a distant, gregorian chant-filled past, displays both audacity and sensitivity in its efforts to capture the hostilities of worldwide struggle.
If all things must end, as Hozier posits with the record’s second song, Eat Your Young’s roiling terminus is a grand conclusion, arresting down to its final cymbal rattle. Though an entrancing feat of songwriting and performance even as a standalone project, the tripartite EP remains but a mere glimpse into the artist’s capabilities, offering just a taste of Unreal Unearth’s far greater whole.