Escape the Furnace, Vol. 1 & 2 
Artist:  Various 
Label: Blacklight Records 
By Jeremy Choi 
 
This is indeed a delectable treat for fans of industrial, darkwave, and ambient electronic music.  Blacklight Records has been so kind as to garnish listeners with a two-CD set which features an all industrial and industrial-influenced line-up, packed with more punches than a Don King promoted bout.   If you were one of the folks who snatched up Flaming Fish Records's Full Frontal Lobotomy, you'll find a number of bands on that disc made their way to Escape the Furnace (a name derived from Matthew 13:49-50). 
 
There are 30 songs on this compilation, which begins with fan favorites The Way Sect Bloom, and their offering, "Frustrate," from their current Effloresce album.  The song starts out with keyboards, then adds  guitars and a simple beat, with ominous vocals lurking all the while.  A few listens to Audio Paradox's track "Parasitic" will no doubt conjure up memories of industrial veterans Front 242 and Front Line Assembly, with heavy drum machine use and an aggressive machine-like vocal delivery.  For sheer intensity, "Parasitic" ranks right up there in year-end reviews. 

For the listener who prefers variety, Cybershadow's "Shattered Trust" sounds more like vintage new wave-influenced, albeit darker, Depeche Mode.  Those who are familiar with Cybershadow will no doubt appreciate  their non-predictable approach.  While Dave Gahan-like vocals are heard throughout much of the song, near the end of the track Cybershadow unleashes an aural assault, feeding wailing vocals through a distorter. The result is strange, if not downright spooky.  There is a bit of laughter, and shortly after that, the song cuts off.  Yes, spooky would be the word to describe this. 
  
People who have stereo capabilities on their system will enjoy Sleepy Hollow's "Legacy."  This track takes full advantage of "the stereo effect," echoing the music and vocals from left to right.   Phase's song, "Big Empty Space," is also fairly interesting.  Quite somber, with a simple keyboard in the background until the vocals change from sung to shouted, and the beats come forth, the only thing that would have added more guts to this track would have been stronger vocals.  That said, the experimental sound of Phase is definitely worth some consideration.  Similarily, Ash Wednesday's instrumentation would suit a sci-fi or horror flick. This track is notable because for the most part, the vocals and the music never mix.  Each take their turn and then switches to the other.  Powerlab relies heavily on soundscapes and sampling to create their piece "Copper Boy."  Although initially impressive, the constant repetition becomes mundane after a couple of listens.   
  
Another interesting piece on the first disc is the heavily sampled "Modern Man in Revolt," which slaps a spoken social commentary against a backdrop of drumbeats, cymbals, and whatever else Welt Washer can conjure.   Engrave, in contrast, is purely instrumental, using darkwave sound to musically paint pictures open to one's own interpretation. Think Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus here, with a much more ominous sound.  This music would be well-suited for the soundtrack to dark computer games like Quake, or could be slipped into the musical score for the X-Files or Millenium.  This track, "Visions of Martyrs" will no doubt leave listeners confused, bewildered, impressed, moved, scared...perhaps all at the same time. Following Engrave is Twitch, with the experimental sound-filled "The Insane Creatures of My Mind."  With such an eerie and bizarre finish to the first disc, some listeners may be hesitant to plop disc two into the player.  
 
Of the two volumes, Volume One (or disc one) is much, much better.  Disc Two does have its highlights, though, including Incorporated's "F#-99mm," which sounds a bit like Clock DVA at times, mixed in with a hint of Meat Beat Manifesto and Download, and a vocal style at times like the late shock-rocker El Duce.  This track has very nice beats.  Same for Industry Eleven's "Purity," which sounds even more like KMFDM, mixed in with Skinny Puppy.  Lots of vocal distortion, and with an innovative industrial slant, Industry Eleven is sure to impress.  The same goes for Tempestuous All's track "Innocence," which is surprisingly clean in terms of sonics.  Everything, including the vocals, is quite audible and discernable.  The only thing this song could have lost was the operator message and the phone-off-the-hook-tone, which has been used in one too many songs.   
 
Pivot Clowj was also impressive, with Cevin Key-like vocals and a fairly evident darker synth-pop sound.  Black Face's "Sin Disease" track incorporates the occasional Circle of Dust-like metallic guitar sound, while NuCre8tion sounds like a musical mix between Erasure and New Order, with a bit of Human League thrown in.  However, the vocals could be stronger and more prominent, sounding here like they were recorded in someone's basement.  Signal Bleed plays a rather distorted (or poorly sampled) version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in the background while a host of sounds, beats, rhythms, and a wolf sound emanate from the foreground.  This does not really sound the greatest, though it is indeed interesting to hear maybe once or twice. 
 
Some disappointments for this listener include Cult of Jester's Pimp Remix of "Retro O.G."  This sounds more like something that would make the soundtrack of Boogie Nights than something that belongs on an industrial compilation.  Similarily, Blackhouse's "TG-2" was not overly impressive, with a simple "chorus" and simple instrumentation.  A far cry from their previous releases.  Jagged Doctrine's "So Inspired" leaves this listener feeling anything but.  It seems thrown together at the last minute; the sampling doesn't seem to gel.  Perhaps this is the industrial version of Danielson. 
  
Overall, Escape the Furnace Vol. 1 and 2 is a welcome addition to this listener's music library.  Some songs will instantly impress, while others may take some time to grow on a person.  There is a lot to see, hear, and do on this album, and from all signs this is just the beginning.  There will be four more double CDs coming, with 30 songs slated for each set.  Escape the Furnace will be a massive compilation of 10 volumes (CDs), eventually issued as a box set.   
 

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