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Dream Theater has long been recognized as progressive metal's favorite whipping boy (now sharing the spot with Opeth..), yet rarely was the band actually guilty to the extent of what they were charged by the critics.... up until this album.
Unlike most of their previous work, a good deal of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulance is the embodiment of everything DT's detractors despise: overlong compositions with too much fat on them, uncomfortable vocal moments, good ideas that never come to full fruition. Being a 2-CD album, with lyrical concepts dealing with mental illness/struggle, Dream Theater had the potential to create a rich, expertly sculped album that could draw in the listener to dive deeply within in it and revel in it's expression. Instead, many parts of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulance tend to be a chore to listen to, and this hinderance seems to grossly compete with the great points of the album for attention. Rather then meshing layers of smooth oil paints together in a complex and beautiful sonic swirl - as can be found on their best work - Dream Theater now has more messy watercolor then ever before, occasionally even straying way off the canvas sloppily onto the wall.
That's not to say the good points of the album are completely overshadowed. On Six Degrees, DT has finally progressed their sound somewhat, integrating longer and more experimental song structures, balancing out their heavy and light elements better, and adding some more varied keys, programming, and orchestration to the mix. There are great moments throughout both discs, and moments of brilliance. However, in almost every song with great moments there are also awkward, forced sounding, and generally bad parts that spoil or come close to spoiling the song, and this can make for a hard listen.
The Glass Prison opens the album with promise, turning from a classic sounding keyboard/guitar harmony intro into a fast double bass assault shifting into cruise control when James LaBrie's computerized vocals enter from opposing sides of the speakers. Very nice, and more then a sign of creative life. Unfortunately, the first hint of things to come is contained later in the track, as the band is not able to pull off all 11 minutes while retaining the same quality and unity throughout. The chorus-like lines in the song, for the most part, have a very positive and uplifting melody to them, which wouldn't be bad in itself but the problem is that The Glass Prison is a song based around the struggles of alcoholism. The victory over addiction only comes at the end of the song, and so there are a good deal of odd sounding parts beforehand that don't fit the lyrics whatsoever. Blind Faith is next, and is excellent for the most part, with airy programming and instrumentation that brings almost mountain/canyon like imagery to mind. The different passages that pop up repeatedly show a great amount of chemistry within in the band and keeps the music richly layered and interesting. The chorus is another matter however, being much too hard rock sounding to fit in well at all with the rest of the atmosphere, but the band makes it a focal point. Misunderstood is another good piece lyrically, dealing with the misconceptions of an outsider's view of fame, and the isolation of the person being misunderstood. Again, unfortunately the music - while being competant on it's own - does not fit well with the subject matter, sounding instead like some lazy ballad in poetic contentment. The vocal melodies, like others on the album, sound uninspired and thrown together. Next comes The Great Debate, and this is where everything comes together for Dream Theater. A 13 minute analysis and summarization of the controversial stem cell research issue, the song manages to be haunting, rocking, and intense at once, with John Petrucci's lyrics exploring both sides of the debate and simply presenting the facts. There is a little Tool-esque sound to parts of the song, but the band retains it's own vision well and fuses their ideas perfectly to make The Great Debate the best song on Six Degrees. The verses are almost sinister, the sampling of various people's comments on both sides of the issue emerging from different speakers is engaging, and all the lyrics are presented in a contemplative, yet heavy context. The band also flexes it's instrumental muscles well between the lyrics, the bass and guitar lines creating a good base atmosphere to work off of and take the song to places justifying the length. The last song on the first disc, Disappear, is also good, one of the darkest songs on the album lyrically and musically. The keyboards and guitar are spacey and filled with misery, Jordan Rudess's keyboard work being the driving element of the song and carrying LaBrie's sad lyrics about the loss of a loved one very well.
While the first disc of the album is good though annoyingly inconsistent throughout the songs, the second disc is somewhat of a disaster. The 42 minute title track of the album takes up the entire second disc and is divided into 8 smaller songs. Very obviously, this is quite an ambitious effort, but unfortunately also the kind that usually ends up a masterpiece, or a complete pain to listen to thanks to excess filler within. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulance is, for the most part, of the latter group.
Overture starts the disc, and when looking at the dark subject matter - which includes the effects of war on the mind and antisocial helplessness - of the other 7 songs that make up the title track, the song makes little to no sense. Instead of the song sounding like a prelude to various explorations of hard mental struggles, it has an almost Disney-esque motif to it despite the more seriously theatrical feel, and in some plain goofy parts I keep expecting a lounge singer to croon a bit about the joys of a good martini. After 6 minutes of the laid back, semi classical instrumentation going absolutely nowhere, About to Crash comes in, betraying it's title and lyrics by sounding at times like sugary pop-rock - and the extra sugar on LaBrie's voice here may help prevent a calm stomach. War Inside My Heard and The Test That Stumped Them All thankfully darken the mood a bit - though the former is much less interesting then the latter, which features some good acting by LaBrie as different characters, and some of the catchiest music to be found on the second disc. Unfortunately, by the time the heartfelt, somewhat disturbing ballad Goodnight Kiss rolls around it becomes completely apparent that the title track, when treated as one track, is incredibly weak and poor in structure - sounding as if the band recorded 8 mostly different songs and taped them together with a thin adhesive of instrumental excess. Fortunately the situation improves as the end draws near, with Solitary Shell easily being the strongest section of the piece, featuring excellent lyrics and great, atmospheric guitarwork. The final two tracks that make up the title song vary from mediocre to pretty good, the first being a reprise of About to Crash that is not too much better from the original, and the second, Losing Time/Grand Finale manages to close the second disc with more well written lyrics and a tasteful amount of climatics, eventually fading out gently with Jordan Rudess' soft synth.
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulance is not a terrible album, but it came much closer to being so then it did to being as good as it could have been, especially being a 2-CD album. Way too much left of the middle here, in way too many places.