by Margaret Bruce
Hozier, an Irish singer-songwriter, first shot to fame in 2013 with his debut single “Take Me to Church.” Over the years, Hozier’s music has been hailed as a mixture of religious themes and folklore, often highlighting aspects of Gothic love. Although Irish, Hozier often accredits his inspiration to American blues and jazz singers like Nina Simone and John Lee Hooker. For this reason, Hozier is often associated with the Southern Gothic. Many of his songs explore the supernatural and the horrific, and many emphasize a particularly sinister side of religion. This is best exemplified through Hozier’s 2014 debut self-titled album. I loved this album when it first came out, and I was really excited to revisit it with a well-informed Gothic lens.
“It Will Come Back” was one of my favorite songs in high school. My sister and I were big Hozier fans, and I was always drawn to this song because of its haunting tone and a general sense of foreboding. The song begins with low, bluesy instrumentals that Hozier often emphasizes in live versions. The riff which opens the song is repeated throughout, constantly calling back to its darker tone. The lyrics themselves take the form of a man warning his lover first about an unidentified creature, then about himself. The song plays with the Gothic setting of a house, which offers protection from the dangerous and malicious creatures that lurk outside.
The first half of the song features the speaker cautioning against his lover treating a creature with kindness. It’s never explicitly said what the thing is, adding to the mystery and folklore typically seen in the Gothic, but it can be assumed that this is some sort of feral animal. At one point, the speaker implies that the creature does not have a soul, alluding to the religious distinction between humans with souls and creatures without:
Don’t give it a hand, offer it a soul
Honey, make this easy
Leave it to the land, this is what it knows
Honey, that’s how it sleeps
The speaker grows increasingly frustrated with his lover’s concern and kindness. She’s painted as a classic Gothic female lover, caring to the point of naivety. The speaker offers a chilling warning if the lover decides to care for the creature: it will come back.
The second verse puts the speaker in the position of the creature. He discloses his own feral instincts, blurring the line between himself and the animal. He warns the lover against showing him any sign of kindness because he won’t be able to tear himself away from her:
I know who I am when I’m alone
I’m something else when I see you
You don’t understand, you should never know
How easy you are to need
Ultimately, the speaker warns that, should the lover allow him in her life, he will continue to come back—further blurring the distinction between himself and the creature mentioned in the first verse. This confusion is cemented in the bridge of the song, where the speaker issues a final warning to his lover:
I warn you, baby, each night, as sure as you’re born
You’ll hear me howling outside your door
The outro of the song is fraught with creepy instrumentals over loud, beating percussion as the speaker asks over and over “Don’t you hear me howling, babe?” The ending implies that the lover will forever be haunted by the speaker, harkening once again to Gothic tropes. The last line of the bridge, however, puts the speaker outside of the house and therefore beyond the realm of protection, where he has been perverted into a feral creature and cursed to howl at his lover until she decides to care for him again.
This song reminded me a lot of “Circumstance.” In that story, a woman is attacked by a creature. At times, it seems that the animal is attempting to rape the woman, conflating the feral instincts of animals with the darker and animalistic instincts of man. Hozier draws upon the same idea in his song: it is ultimately impossible to tell if the speaker is animal or human, only that it is intensely drawn to the woman. In both texts, home represents protection and safety. In “Circumstance,” the woman is attacked while venturing outside of her home and is eventually saved by representations of her home life—her husband and child. In “It Will Come Back,” the creature only ever exists outside of the home. Crossing that boundary and allowing it inside will harm the woman by making it impossible to get rid of.