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Dream Theater: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

Well, the first major release of 2002 is upon us, in the form of a two-disc set from the progressive metal legends Dream Theater. I must admit to being slightly skeptical as to whether this powerhouse band could raise the bar once again after the almost flawless Metropolis 2: Scenes from a Memory. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence may not be a masterpiece, but it's damn sure close, and once again finds the band successfully treading new waters. More than any singular characteristic, this is what keeps Dream Theater's recorded output fresh and innovative. The band continually alters their sound slightly to keep up with the times, yet retains the core of the Dream Theater idea, which is complex and aggressive progressive rock laced with a metal attitude.

It becomes quickly obvious that the band intended to add an extra dose of metal to the songs that make up Disc One. "The Glass Prison" is the heaviest thing they have recorded since Awake, and mixes ultra-complex lead breaks and rhythms with the sledgehammer riff intensity of Slayer or Pantera. At almost fourteen minutes in length, this track takes you through the life of an individual with alcoholism who is struggling to break free. There is even some neat Faith No More inspired vocals from James LaBrie and Mike Portnoy that pop up on a few occasions during the songs middle section. The band changes gears a bit for the opening segment of "Blind Faith" to more of a moody, atmospheric tone (somewhat in the vein of "Peruvian Skies") before kicking it up into the stratosphere with symphonic keyboards from Jordan Rudess and heavy yet groovy guitars from the maestro John Petrucci. There are moments here that make you think that if some of the newer metal fans would give this song a listen, they might be intrigued by the crunchy riffs and really dig everything else going on, especially the lyrics. However, for the everyday listener, all during this song the talents of Rudess are unmistakable, notably evident on his extended solo spot where he jumps from majestic, Wakeman-ish piano flourishes, to raging Hammond licks, and ultimately finishing up with blazing synthesizer runs. Petrucci's song of childhood confusion and alienation, "Misunderstood", begins with gentle acoustic guitars, bubbling keyboards (including some ominous Mellotron sounds) and a wonderful, passionate vocal from LaBrie, before turning into a churning, doomy rocker. In addition to an addicting chorus, there are some "not of this world" guitar solos from Petrucci, powerful keyboards, and the manic drum work of Mike Portnoy, who shows that he is one of the greatest drummers alive today. Lest you think John Myung is being ignored in this review, fear not, as his rock solid, virtuoso six string bass style is all over "The Great Debate", a fast paced heavy prog number dealing with revolutionary scientific discoveries, that effect life and death, in the post 9/11 world. Another mini-epic, this song goes through many time and tempo changes and features hot playing from all, including powerful vocals from LaBrie. The first side ends with a departure for the band, the somber "Disappear." While some of the more acoustic based songs Dream Theater have done in the past have had some commercial appeal, this is a very dark piece featuring yearning, tortured vocals from LaBrie and layers of varied keyboard sounds from Rudess. At just under seven minutes, it is the shortest song on the CD, and ends the first disc on a melancholy note, which is really the calm before the storm.

The forty two minute title track is basically a progressive rock lovers wet-dream. From the opening blast of the "Overture" to the "Grand Finale", this is Dream Theater at their creative best. Which really makes this set as a whole so worthwhile, as on the first disc you get the "songs" and on disc two you get the "mania." Not that "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" is constant jamming or masturbatory overindulgence. It is in this context that the band gets to strut their stuff and wow the listener, but still in a way that is structured and melodic. More so than on the first set, here Jordan Rudess really shines, and demonstrates just as he did on Scenes From a Memory, that he is without a doubt the best keyboard player for this band. Broken down into eight parts, this is the bands magnum-opus, their "Close to the Edge", "2112", or "Supper's Ready." The extended lyrics of Portnoy and Petrucci are well executed by LaBrie, while the band puts forth a complex, melodic, and symphonic performance. Stylistically, Disc 2 is almost the half-brother to Scenes From a Memory, which will be good news to those who still can't get enough of that wonderful album.

In summary, this is another landmark release from perhaps the most talented and well respected band in the genre today, who arguably might have started the progressive metal revival ten years ago. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence will hit you immediately from a musical standpoint, although lyrically it may take a few listens. It does seem that Elektra Records is letting the band do their thing, which can only be a positive sign. In music today, what group can release a 2 CD set on a major label, especially a set with no singles potential? Here's hoping that Dream Theater finds a broader audience, one that is just learning to discover that music is not all just about flashy videos, dance beats, or three chords.

Added: April 29th 2007
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Dream Theater Website
Hits: 18210
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Dream Theater: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-04-29 11:08:16
My Score:

Following the groundbreaking impact of Scenes from a Memory, which was perhaps the most important progressive metal album of the late 90's, everybody was curious what Dream Theater would do next. After nearly three years, the band came up with Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, which couldn't be further from the sound and style of its predecessor. Packed into two discs, the second one being a long-form composition broken into eight tracks for easier navigation purposes, Dream Theater chose to prove they were a truly progressive band. Rather than putting out another album that walked in the footsteps of Scenes from a Memory, they released a double CD album, with three of the five tracks on disc one exceeding the ten-minute mark (and "Misunderstood" clocks in at 9:34 anyway), thus sticking to their artistic integrity rather than commercial stardom.

It baffles me how so many Dream Theater fans have turned a blind eye to this album because it sounds so different from their earlier work. I always thought that's what makes this band so special -- that they never repeat themselves and cater to the lowest common denominator. It is true that the first CD sees Dream Theater turning to their influences, and not only Rush and Metallica this time, but also to bands like Pantera on the groove-inflected "The Glass Prison", easily their heaviest song to date. It begins with the same static sound that finalised Scenes from a Memory and picks up an incredibly beautiful bass figure that sounds almost exactly like an acoustic guitar. Myung's tone is clean, big and uber-heavy. With crushing rhythm guitars, pounding bass, and aggresive vocals, the song is elevated to prog metal heaven when Rudess' understated keyboards appear behind the main instruments, and even Petrucci's shred-intensive guitar that many have lambasted (especially on Train of Thought) makes an invaluable contribution to the excellence of the song. Unlike its successor, the shred parts on this album all emerge after carefully built up sections on this one with an intense keyboard and bass unison; or the superb "Blind Faith", which is graced with a wonderful bluesy shred piece. It is here where Dream Theater comes back to their vintage prog roots, boasting a stunning solo piano performance, protruding bass arrangement, and all-around songwriting brilliance.

The moodier pieces "Misunderstood" and the closing piece "Disappear" are both captured by undeniable Radiohead atmospherics. The flickering synth patches during the acoustic guitar intro on "Misunderstood" help thicken Petrucci's waves of dissonance at the end, adding to its intensity; whilst "Disappear" is arguably the most underrated Dream Theater ballad. The effects, sad piano melody, and Labrie's otherworldy vocals are too good to dislike. "The Great Debate" is the band's nod to the intricate rhythm arrangements of Tool, with both Portnoy and Petrucci providing a solid backbone to the song. Even Labrie's vocals evoke Maynard Keenan during the verses, but Dream Theater does add their own signature to it, mostly with Rudess' rising symphonic keyboard aesthetics and the clever mixing of opposing arguments that blast out from either speaker.

The second disc is far from "let's do a real long one-song album" attitude. It brings forth their unparalleled songwriting ability, highlighting the movements with cleverly arranged recurring musical and lyrical themes. The CD is about different individuals with mental illness, from bipolarity to post-traumatic stress syndrome; to sychophrenia, autism, and separation anxiety. What makes this disc an utter success is that the themes are perfectly summarised at the end; and they are also greatly tied together through a strong melodic theme that is started off with Rudess in the beginning, developed by Petrucci (what a nice guitar tone!) in the middle and climaxed by guitar and keyboards at the end. A bit like Awake in this aspect, the unity is maintained throughout without ignoring strong songwriting ideas. Labrie's excellent singing is backed nicely by Portnoy and Petrucci, portraying the different moods and confusion of the characters. "The Test That Stumped Them All" is unbridled heaviness, underpinned by killer drum staccato and Labrie's unique "diaologue"-style vocals. On the slower paced material, the helplessness of a mother being separated from her child is brought to the fore on "Goodnight Kiss", which begins peacefully and gradually transforms into its tragic finale -- give a listen to both the cries of the baby and its mother under Petrucci's moving guitar solo and Rudess' far-reaching synth colouring. The band's Peter Gabriel influence is demonstrated on the storytelling ballad "Solitary Shell" (note the similarity to Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill"). This proves that, besides mindblowing instrumental wizardy, Dream Theater are also capable of churning out catchy pop songs with strong hooks and a perfect balance between electric and acoustic guitar.

It took me years to fully appreciate this album, but even when I claimed disappointment upon its release, I kept coming back to this disc because I was drawn unconsciously. Now five years after its release, I can safely say this has been my most played Dream Theater CD post-SFAM, and it ranks right up there with their best. With flawless production done by Portnoy and Petrucci themselves, it is among my all-time favourites and perhaps their most detailed work. It's definitely worth the effort -- it will reward you like no other disc once it clicks with you.

» Reader Comments:

Dream Theater: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
Posted by Julian Valentin Hansen on 2008-12-01 09:49:32
My Score:

This is absolutely among my favourit dream theater albums. In my opinion it s with no doubt up with metropolis part 1 and two, In matter of fact i m not the big fan of the earliest stuff what concerns originality, but it s forgiven because it s their first, and images and words is a classic anyway so.
Glass prison and blind faith is two of my alltime favoriete pieces of music of all music!

Dream Theater: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
Posted by Anonymous on 2005-02-17 08:22:53
My Score:

This cd was awsome and all those other people that thought it sucked just od not know music.

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