Joy Division never sounded happy (their band name was inspired by a prostitution wing in a Nazi concentration camp), so its no surprise that their gloomy music features lyrics with images that seem to come from your deepest nightmares.
Also impossible to forget is the fact that the lead singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide before the group actually broke into the mainstream. This paints a black shadow over their entire oeuvre.
- "She's Lost Control": Curtis wrote this song about an epileptic woman he once knew. The nervous rhythm closely follows her own mental breakdown.
- "Day of the Lords", a disturbingly haunting song with a proto-Doom Metal riff about what seems to be either childhood trauma or the PTSD of a war veteran.This is the room, the start of it all / Through childhood, thorough youth, I remember it all / Oh, I've seen the nights filled with bloodsport and pain / And the bodies obtained, the bodies obtained / Where will it end? Where will it end? Where will it end? Where will it end?
- "Wilderness"; Curtis singing as if he's an ancient traveler who saw nothing but mankind's misery and despair around him:I traveled far and wide through prisons of the cross / What did you see there? / The power and glory of sin / What did you see there? / The blood of Christ on their skins.[...]I saw the tears as they cried. THEY HAD TEARS IN THEIR EYES. TEARS IN THEIR EYES!
- "I Remember Nothing": A loosely structured 6 minute dirge based around sinister chanting and murmuring, punctuated briefly by broken glass.Weee... Were strangers...
- "New Dawn Fades" is haunting, the almost apathetic delivery and heavy pulse contributing to the atmosphere. The lyrics are particularly eloquent, especially:I've walked on water, run through fire, can't seem to feel it anymore...
Directionless, so plain to see, a loaded gun can't set you free — or so they say...
- "Atrocity Exhibition": About people who pay to see a barely living man in an asylum. "For entertainment they watch his body twist / Behind his eyes he says, 'I still exist.'"
You'll see the horrors of a faraway place / Meet the architects of law face to face / See mass murder on a scale you've never seen / And all the ones who try hard to succeed...
- The Reality Subtext makes it even worse, as the line likely refers to people coming to concerts to see Curtis have epileptic seizures on stage.
- Not horrifying enough? The second verse indicates that the asylum inmate is forced to fight in deadly Gladiator Games:In arenas he kills for a prize / Wins a minute to add to his life / But the sickness is drowned by cries for more / Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.
- Special mention for this track goes to Peter Hook's guitar playing note and Martin Hannett's sound editing of said guitar. The gibbering clicks and weird wails sound like a chorus of deformed souls moaning in agony. Did I say a chorus? I meant a cacophony. It's horrifying and it totally fits in with the lyrics.
- "Heart and Soul": Something about the song feels so ancient, and Ian's mind-state at the time really shows. It doesn't help that his vocals are slightly off-key the whole time.An abyss that laughs at creation,A circus complete with all fools,Foundations that lasted the ages,Then ripped apart at their roots.Beyond all this good is the terror,The grip of a mercenary hand,When savagery turns all good reason,There's no turning back, no last stand.Heart and soul,One will burn
- "Isolation" is quite disturbing, in the literal sense of a feeling of anxiety: The distorted vocals and stabbing synths adding to the almost Tear Jerker lyrics.I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through, I'm ashamed of the person I am.
- "Decades" is a haunting closing track to the album, filled with bone-chilling instrumentation.
- "Twenty Four Hours". The instrumental, and the lyrics... It sounds like Ian already made up his mind about his life, and anytime he says "Just for one moment...", you're bound to get intense chills.
- "Dead Souls": The lengthy, ominous instrumental intro sets the stage for one of Curtis' most terrifying lyrics, with a performance to match. He sounds like he's been obsessing on man's inhumanity to man while in a museum or church, and it's deeply affected him:Where figures from the past stand tall / And mocking voices ring the halls / Imperialistic house of prayer / Conquistadors who took their share...
- The haunting refrain of "They keep calling me!" just tops it off, especially since Curtis sounds like he means it.
- "In a Lonely Place" was recorded a few days before Ian Curtis hung himself, and boy is it unnerving. Mind you, the New Order version is pretty creepy as well, but the production work, and Curtis's slightly ghostly sounding voice just cranks up the nightmare fuel factor to a whole new level. And it goes without saying that the final lyrics of the song are eerie as all hell.The hangman looks round as he waits.The chord stretches tight, then it breaks.Someday we will die in your dreams.How I wish we were here with you now.
- Similarly, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is very dissonant and unnerving, especially with those eerie synths. While it's arguably the band's most critically successful song, very rarely has a discussion of the song passed without someone mentioning that it's basically a suicide note set to music.