With the possible exception of the Velvet Underground, no band has had a greater impact on the shape of music in the post-modern era than the Manchester, UK quartet known as Joy Division.

It is not simply that Joy Division fashioned an ambient, heavy-laden and emotionally charged sound since echoed by scores of other bands. It's not that the group itself has spawned an offshootNew Order that continues to push the outside of the alternative envelope. It's not even that founder and lead singer Ian Curtis, who took his life fifteen years ago this May, endures as one of rock's most enigmatic and tragic figures. It is, rather, that the music of Joy Division was so consistently ahead of its time that even today it sounds like nothing so much as a glimpse into the future.

It's a contention amply borne out on Permanent: Joy Division 1995, an aptly titled retrospective album released domestically on Qwest Records. Charting the group's brief but brilliant three-year rise, Permanent more than lives up to its billing with sixteen classic Joy Division tracks, including several rare and unreleased treasures. Also included is the group's breakthrough 1980 single "Love Will Tear Us Apart," both in its original version and in a remix done especially for the album by John Mellencamp/R.E.M./Hootie & The Blowfish producer Don Gehman. Together, these tracks comprise a fitting tribute to a band whose creative contribution is indeed permanent.

Formed by Ian Curtis in 1977, Joy Division's initial line-up included Bernard Sumner (aka Bernard Albrecht) on guitar, Peter Hook on bass and drummer Steven Morris. Spawned in the grimy industrial metropolis of Manchester, the group made their stage debut in May of that year at the city's Electric Circus, at the bottom of a bill with two early punk pioneers, The Buzzcocks and Penetration. Two months later, the group recorded a four-song demo, titled An Ideal For Living, and released it in June of 1978 on their own Enigma Records label. The EP, along with additional live performances, brought them to the attention of journalist Tony Wilson, who had just formed the Manchester-based indie label Factory Records. The group subsequently appeared on a Factory compilation with two original tracks, "Digital" and "Glass."

In June of 1979, Joy Division released their Factory Records debut album Unknown Pleasures, with recording funded by Wilson's life savings. In October of that year, two singles, "Atmosphere" and "Transmission," were released to widespread underground acclaim, subsequently increasing demand for the group's live performances, which, in turn, put additional pressure on Curtis' always-frail health.

April of 1980 saw the release of the above-mentioned "Love Will Tear Us Apart," a single that unquestionably poised Joy Division for mainstream success. (The song has subsequently been covered by everyone from Paul Young to P.J. Proby.) The band completed a second album with producer Martin Hannett and plans were laid for a U.S. tour.

It was in the early morning hours of May 18th, four days before the group was to fly to America, that Ian Curtis hanged himself in an upstairs bedroom of his childhood home. Two month later, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" had reached the Top 20 on UK charts while Joy Division's second album, Closer, reached the Top 10.

That, it seemed, was that. Curtis' suicide, brought on by illness and depression, cut short the career of one of the most promising bands of England's punk and post-punk eras. Sumner, Hook and Morris would go on to form New Order, a group that would continue Joy Division's experimental mandate. Yet the power and presence of the original Joy Division was forever lost with the death of its creative mainstay, Ian Curtis.

But not quite. In the years that followed, additional Joy Division material was discovered and released, serving to underscore their originality and extend their influence even further. In 1981, Still, a double album of live and studio material was assembled, followed a year later by the video collection Here Are The Young Men. Such was the importance of Joy Division to the modern music scene that in 1988, a full eight years after Curtis' untimely exit, a comprehensive Joy Division release, Substance, saw the light of day.

It is from this rich legacy of original material that the music of Permanent: Joy Division 1995 has been collected. Key tracks include both the singles "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Transmission," along with their rare B-sides, "These Days" and "Novelty," respectively. A third single, 1980's limited edition "Atmosphere" and its B-side "The Only Mistake" are also included. From Unknown Pleasures come the tracks "She's Lost Control," "Shadow Plays" and "Day Of the Lords"; while Closer yields "Isolation," "Passover," "Heart And Soul" and "Twenty Four Hours." Two more vintage Joy Division tracks, "Dead Souls" and "Something Must Break," round out the Permanent selections.

The release of Permanent: Joy Division 1995 comes at a time of remarkable resurgence in interest for both Joy Division and Ian Curtis. The book Touching From A Distance, a harrowing look at the life of Ian Curtis written by his widow Deborah Curtis, has just been published in the UK. A new tribute album, Means To An End, is also set for release on Virgin Records, featuring tracks by such acclaimed artists as Moby, Codeine, Face To Face, members of Smashing Pumpkins, members of Red Hot Chili Peppers and others.

Small wonder that, with the recent UK release of Permanent, Melody Maker took the occasion to call Joy Division, "the most influential British band of their time." It's an influence that continues with the American release of this remarkable retrospective.