Butchered Tongue, Third Listen


Though “Butchered Tongue” is a newer release, and thus does not have quite the backlog of musical versions, alternatives, and covers that some songs do, it does have a rich vocal performance in both its regular studio recording and in its live performances. These are the texts I have chosen to draw from.

Studio Recording

In Hozier’s studio execution of the track, the lyrics are delivered in a stoic and haunting manner – the emotion in his vocals is a high wire act underneath a mournful delivery. The willingness to engage in devastating emotion is present, but almost unacted on, as if it is too difficult to touch. This gives the song even more weight as an emblem of lost culture – something so terrible and precious that it almost can’t be spoken aloud.

This text speaks primarily to the world as a whole – this is the formal released version of the track, and makes itself an ally to many cultures that have lost parts of themselves, and especially language, to the brutalities of colonization. It also makes a loud point within the music industry, as does the greater body of the “Unreal Unearth” album: that the Irish language is not dead, nor is its influence in music. Many songs throughout the album feature the Irish language and use it to tell beautiful stories rooted in Irish heritage – “Butchered Tongue,” though it does not actually use Irish, does the same, in a public forum and unabashed manner.

Live Version

However, Hozier’s live version of the track is elusive. The only version I could find was recorded on a cell phone in a concert crowd, where the artist performed the then-unreleased track in near silence as the audience went quiet and listened. The live version uses a softer instrumentation, and the emotion, as in many live performances, is far more palpable. Standing nearly stock still on a scarce stage, Hozier’s voice rings out.

And because this performance is so hard to find, is a performance of a track that did not officially exist at the time, it feels that much more for the fans. This version is a small capture of a moment between Hozier, a couple musicians, and a roomful of dedicated listeners, determined to catch every brand new word. While the studio version is full of tamped down anger and restraint, this rendition is raw and heartbreaking, just a man on a stage singing about the things he has lost at the hands of a tyrannical oppression. This version, though it is technically, lyrically, and structurally the same, or at least very similar to, the final studio performance, is like a glimpse into a single, breathtaking production.


Hozier singing a new unreleased song off Unreal Unearth called ‘Butchered Tongue’ at his show in Toronto last night (May 21, 2023) #hozier #live #hoziertok #unrealunearth #fyp #hoziercore #hoziersvocals #hoziertiktok #hozierofficial #butcheredtongue #toronto #newsong @Hozier

♬ original sound – Hozier’s Vocals


Though on the surface, they are relatively similar versions of the same song, these two performances each carry very distinctive weights with their audiences. Hozier has proved himself time and time again to be a relevant and eloquent performer, and that is made plain in the way he chooses to distribute his work.