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Dream Theater - Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence CD (album) cover

SIX DEGREES OF INNER TURBULENCE

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.13 | 1884 ratings

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Frankingsteins
4 stars Whether Dream Theater realised it at the time or not, 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' would become the start of a new era for the progressive metal band, a turbulent but highly creative period that so far consists of three entirely different sounding albums. This double-disc release remains, perhaps, the strongest of the band's releases this millennium, but for every plaudit there's a downside; for every successful experiment, a turkey. That's prog rock for ya.

1999's highly ambitious and intricate concept album 'Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory' ranks as one of the band's most acclaimed releases, and was going to be a difficult album to follow. Many artists in similar dilemmas opt to change their style somewhat between releases to avoid repetition: Slayer's 'South of Heaven' was a consciously slower and more technical affair in contrast to their intensely brutal 'Reign in Blood,' while Pink Floyd's sound altered massively in the six years between their two big sellers. Dream Theater's sound is always driven by progression, but 'Six Degrees' is a somewhat confused album, trying to be innovative in places, but attempting to connect with an earlier sound in others. This sound is sometimes the band's own, but more often leads to imitations of other artists.

The double-disc format is important in understanding the album's intention. The first disc features five long songs, none lasting for less than six minutes and several in excess of ten. These five songs experiment with a heavier sound that the band introduced almost a decade earlier with 'Awake,' but never really followed through until now. The second disc consists of an epic forty-three minute suite, helpfully divided up into eight distinct tracks. This disc aims to satisfy long-time Dream Theater fans, but doesn't come close to reaching the heights of 1992's 'Images and Words,' still their most popular release.

Having produced a modern masterpiece with 'Scenes from a Memory,' and toured and performed the album worldwide in its entirety for over a year, it's clear that the band was itching to attempt something grand once again. The 'Six Degrees' suite is the result, but it's really nothing to get excited about. The first disc is far more interesting, despite some real low points, and more progressive in the true sense.

Disc One

The incredible 'The Glass Prison' is Dream Theater's heaviest song up to this point, and holds together for its thirteen minute duration. Written by drummer Mike Portnoy, the song in fact represents the first part of a musical saga that's still continuing, dealing with his struggle with alcoholism. The three movements of the song correspond, lyrically and musically, to the first three steps in Bill Wilson's Alcoholics Anonymous program. This epic continues in the subsequent albums 'Train of Thought' and 'Octavarium,' and will reportedly be concluded in the band's next album in 2007. The song's crushing riffs, thundering bass drums and frantic guitars from John Petrucci mark it out as something special and distinctive in the Dream Theater discography and the greatest song on the album, owing more than a small debt to Metallica. 'Blind Faith' lets some of the heaviness go, but still remains quite hard and powerful, despite feeling overlong this time at ten minutes. Singer James LaBrie doesn't really excel himself here, despite penning the lyrics to this second song about struggle, dealing with religion.

The album takes a chill pill for the slower 'Misunderstood,' the first song from Petrucci, who wrote most of the second disc. The 'Scenes from a Memory' album demonstrated that Petrucci was the softer yin to Portnoy's metallic yang (despite the entire band contributing pretty much evenly on all songs), and the trend continues here. 'Misunderstood' works really well in the centre of the disc, and LaBrie's vocals come to the fore in the high octave chorus. The drawback of the song is that, like most others, it's far too stretched out and loses its impact in the second half, however much Petrucci and the others try to impress the listeners with solos. It's still one of the best songs here.

'The Great Debate' is, right from the start, a Tool rip-off. LaBrie's voice imitates Maynard James Keenan and the whole modern prog atmosphere seems almost lifted from the other band's 'Lateralus' release, an album that could hardly have escaped the band's attention as one of the biggest selling rock albums of the previous year. The eponymous debate itself concerns, of all things, stem cell research. Genuine news interview clips play during the song's introductory sequence, and recur at several points. The intention was for the listener's stereo to embody the left- and right-wing speakers by literally piping them through the appropriate speaker, which would give the added advantage of a dedicated stem cell activist switching off one of the speakers and blissing out for fourteen minutes. It's an interesting song, but certainly sub-Tool, even if Dream Theater are superior musicians.

The final song on disc one is the least impressive of all. 'Disappear' sounds like an attempt, once again, to deviate from the band's trademark, expected sound by becoming a sound-alike for popular artists. This time it's somewhere between the Beatles and Radiohead, a poppy ballad that retains the gloomy atmosphere but doesn't convince me that it was worth the wait.

Disc Two

Grand, bombastic, cinematic, orchestral. 'Six Degrees of' etc. etc. is here, so open up your sound-holes. The 'Overture' is actually a little deceptive, as the full orchestra sound that's achieved here doesn't continue to the rest of the song, and overall this sounds more like a Michael Kamen score than anything from the first disc (I can't escape the mental image of the helicopter escaping the island at the end of Jurassic Park). 'About to Crash' is where the song begins in earnest, although in fairness these segments are all individual songs. just don't tell that to the band. A catchy piano melody from Jordan Rudess is picked up by Petrucci's wailing guitars, and the ominous lyrics of impending doom make this a fun and interesting fast-paced song in the vein of the previous album.

'War Inside My Head' is a short, two-minute affair featuring weird synthesisers and a heavy rhythm that leads seamlessly into the hardest rocking song on this side of the album, the Pantera-influenced 'The Test That Stumped Them All.' This song sees LaBrie's vocals veering all over the place, from squeaks deep yells, to the extent that it almost sounds like Korn. Portnoy and Petrucci deliver the most effective drum and guitar attack since 'The Glass Prison,' and although the neat guitar style is lifted from the late Dimebag Darrell, it makes for a great song in the vein of 1994's 'Awake' album.

As can be deduced from the title, 'Goodnight Kiss' is a slow, soft song, led by piano and soft singing and reminiscent of 1992's 'Wait for Sleep' (I'll stop referring back to past songs as soon as the band stops making me!), but is more drawn out and expanded than a simple interlude. 'Solitary Shell' is the catchiest song on the CD, but I'm unsure whether this is a good or bad thing. The vocals and melody seem more upbeat, despite the 'Dark Side of the Moon'-style lyrics, and remind me of Green Day more than anything, although obviously a Green Day who have learned to play instruments. The chorus is the most notable part, and LaBrie really reaches for the high notes, although it's a shame his voice hasn't really moved on in the ten years with the band.

The reprise of 'About to Crash' is well-timed and even better executed, the band proving that they are the masters in the field of concept albums and call-backs, as if there was ever any doubt. There's a riff that sounds somewhat familiar, like a voice from the past you can't quite place, and then. oh, it's just that piano thing from track two again isn't it? Still, it's very nice, and the song does move on to differ from the earlier instalment. The finale returns to the grand scope of the 'Overture,' and our journey into the human psyche is complete. We haven't really learned anything, but when do we ever?

With 'Six Degrees,' Dream Theater enters the new millennium, and has something of an anxiety of influence. Tool, Radiohead and Metallica are all given a nod of inspiration, but at least the stand-out tracks prove that the band still have what it takes as the driving force of progressive metal music. Beginning here, the band launch into several epic strokes of creativity: first is Portnoy's alcoholic odyssey, second is the band's deliberate experimentation with existing genres - which would continue with the unashamedly nu-metal 'Train of Thought' - and finally, an interesting technique of linking albums together in a sort of daisy chain, or, more accurately and less fluffily, a regular train. The vinyl fuzz that ended 'Scenes from a Memory' is brought in to begin 'The Glass Prison' here, although it's not something you'd notice on first listen. Similarly, 'Losing Time / Grand Finale' ends with an extended string chord that would soon open 'Train of Thought.' This technique will reportedly end at the next album, as will Portnoy's personal magnum opus, ushering in another era for the progressive New Yorkers.

Dream Theater's music is always unpredictable, and consistently defies my expectations even as a long-time fan. 'Six Degrees' lies somewhere in the middle of the road for the band, roughly half a disc too long and lacking in inspiration but still full of energy and technical skill to appeal to a wide spectrum of listeners. The title song is for the stubborn fans of old; 'The Glass Prison' is for the metalheads; 'Goodnight Kiss' is for their mums.

Frankingsteins | 4/5 |

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