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Irreal Brendan Telford , January 20th, 2015 14:02

I have been teaching Year 8 students about dystopian narratives the past few weeks, and while YA novels and films are replete with the generic tropes of a society gone to hell in a handbasket, there are varying levels of this netherworld that people are willing to spiral into. The catharsis gained from connecting with someone who rises against and succeeds against an unflinching, barbaric, alien Other – often a reflection of the Self – is the popular option. You can come out the other side, a little world weary, a little wiser. Me though? I feel that the catharsis is much greater and more fulfilling when someone rises against a dystopic Other – and loses.

The lurking, metronomic myopia that Chicago's Disappears have been inexorably drawn to since they released Lux in 2010 has reached an apex on most recent longplayer, Irreal. The emphasis on Kraut-rock repetition on past 2013's Era, all slowly, inexorably lowered into the viscous black ooze of decadence and decay, is effortlessly realised here – an aural equivalent to the creeping dread one encounters when witnessing the desecrating implosions of Scarlett Johansson in last year's Under The Skin. There is that sense of alien sensuality that permeates Irreal also – a stuttering roboticism fused with human DNA, as if Cold Cave and My Disco were dissolved into one quivering Cronenbergian mess – and the visceral results are stunningly hypnotic.

That distinct metronomic channel breaks in from the very beginning, on opening track 'Interpretation'. A chain-link riff and crashing cymbals coalesce before the echoing thump of Noah Leger's snare takes centre stage. This sepulchral, pulsing echo is both hypnotic and threatening, pummelling a platform for Brian Case's disembodied monotone vocals to haunt. "I want to remember," he murmurs, and this plays into the metallic walls that the music seems to cannonball off of – an isolation tank, bereft of emotion or feeling, yet rife with relentless purpose. The shift in the second half of the song mirrors Case's droned "Anything can happen" – it's as though through losing identity, the walls melt down and a new frontier is presented. Not so. Disappears are intent on crafting a steely exercise in iron-clad control – not a note out of place, irrepressibly bearing down, with no sign of letting up. The constant reference to metals hold up when the band maintain Irreal is about eternalism, roboethics, identity – the relentless monotony, the sharp resonances, the industrial intensity, the clicks, bangs, drags. 'I_O' is sparse, a skittish susurration of the blood, that Case kicks up with his barked "It's just a feeling". 'Another Thought' expands this harsh palette, a harbinger of post-apocalyptic exactitude and desolation.

Yet to know Disappears, you need to know the title track. The sepulchral pall cast over the album is eviscerated here, an atonal squall exacted by colossi draped in shadow and fire. Case's vocals are never clearer as he growls "Future is death", whilst the band either build homunculi of abrasion or weave chaotic tapestries of gothic pomposity. Elsewhere, 'Halcyon Days' maintains the sadomasochistic lurk, a stripped back Gothic heart murmur, and closer 'Navigating The Void' carves a funereal procession through the ashes, both melancholic and Machiavellian.

Disappears are intent on creating rhythms and atmospheres that are endlessly claustrophobic, and Irreal proves to be an exercise that is as gruelling and exact on its audience as it is on the participants – an aural dystopia of shifting, unfathomable paradigms that seem to exist merely to paralyse, to captivate, to control – but the reward is hugely cathartic.

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