Of all the bands inspired by punk, Joy Division seemed most desperatly to need the music's pure, incediary force as a form of therapy-by-purge. The Manchester band channeled the Sex Pistols' flip alienation into a dark, extreme vision of collapsing civilization and individual dreams of escape. With apocalyptic imagery that draws on the bible, science fiction, and fascist spectacles, Joy Division's dire, stark music can be traced forward to death metal, grunge, and industrial noise. But this is no macabre pose: Ian Curtis's deep vocals and gothic lyrics and the band's intense, atmospheric sounds-crystallized by producer Martin Hannet- paint a chillingly accurate, albeit superdramatic, portrait of a tortured, sensitive soul. Nor was the band simply creating a soundtrack for Curtis's eventual suicide: the music's effect can actually be exhilarating, since its expression of feelings is a victory over obliteration as well as confirmation of shared humanity--Joy Division aspired to heaven even when trapped in hell. On May 18, 1980, on the eve of Joy Division's first American tour, the 23-year-old Curtis hanged himself. Closer, the band's second album, released several months later, was, sure enough, an achingly beautiful testament of an artist in a state of profound despair. Unlike his many imitators, Curtis never wallowed in doom and gloom or threw back at the world the ugliness it fed him. His despondency at the realization of both society and the individual's fall from grace wasn't soured with bitterness or hate, and therefore he put into words and music the pure experience of depressive pain. The dominant themes on Closer are betrayal, isolation, horror, and death. The ominous foreshadowing of the title becomes clear on "Twenty-four Hours", when Curtis sings, "Deep in the heart of where sympathy held sway/ Got to find my destiny before it gets too late." The band sounds accomlished throughout, its rough edges smoothed over, and Curtis sings without the strained quaver of Unknown Pleasures.


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