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As good as Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is, it is a frustrating album because it signaled the start of a trend in Dream Theater’s music that has remained popular to this day. With the success of songs like “The Glass Prison” and “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”, two tracks that pushed the boundaries of their respective genres to the fringe, the band was given the false impression that being bombast and epic all of the time was a good idea. It is for this reason that the record’s greatest strength - its disregard for conventional, subtle (DT) songwriting - is also its greatest weakness.
The songs “Disappear” and “Misunderstood” are two prime supporters of my argument. The former is phenomenal at times, in particular its heart-wrenching chorus, but it’s hindered by sound effects and herky-jerky vocals in abundance. The latter is half great, half boring. The final three minutes of the song stray so far from where they were going in the first place that they become less bearable than nails against a chalkboard. Heck, they sound just like nails against a chalkboard.
“The Great Debate”, unlike the aforementioned two compositions, is devoid of any redeeming qualities (except for perhaps its instrumental section). It starts off with samples, and then it tries out some annoying vocals that are over-ridden with effects, and to finish up, it revisits more samples. Oh, and did I mention that the work as a whole clocks in at just under 14 minutes? It’s an insufferable bore, one that’s placement near the end of the first disc of the record doesn’t help matters.
I cannot stress just how close Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence came to failing. Its two discs comprise what has to be the ballsiest hour-and-a-half of music in the Dream Theater catalog, music that comes close to being too ballsy for its own good. However, because of this recklessness on the part of the band, the album finds a way to work, and demands respect. In particular, there are three songs that not only save the record, but define the most remarkable aspects of Dream Theater’s new millennium sound.
The openers “The Glass Prison” and “Blind Faith” are two of the most interesting pieces of weaponry in the band’s arsenal, and have served as blueprints for many of their more recent outputs. For example, “The Glass Prison”, with its relentless, thrashing nature, was an obvious influence on Train of Thought. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that that entire album metamorphosed from “The Glass Prison” and the fun the band had playing it live. “Blind Faith” also, with its big jam section and ever-changing tones, is structured a little bit like “Endless Sacrifice” and “The Ministry of Lost Souls”.
Where the SDOIT songs go right and their imitators go wrong is in the utilization of Jordan Rudess. Throughout the record’s running length he churns out stunning melody after stunning melody, his soloing still a little shreddy for my taste but undoubtedly memorable. In particular, his piano work on “Blind Faith” might be his signature moment with the band, a rambling of notes that is as elegant as anything I’ve ever heard inside of the progressive metal genre (although, that might not be saying much).
Rudess’s most famous contribution to the album is it’s title track, which he wrote a substantial portion of, and spans an overwhelming 42 minutes. The song is not perfect - its length makes it a chore to get through and some of it’s movements feel out-of-place, in particular “Goodnight Kiss” and “Solitary Shell” - but it’s solid enough to resonate with you. In particular, “Overture”, “About to Crash” and “About to Crash (Reprise)” are great, their free-flowing essence shining through every note, and “The Test That Stumped Them All” and “War Inside My Head” kick all kinds of ass. “Grand Finale”, the final movement of the epic, is excellent as well, although the long fade-out at the end always annoys me.
It has been well publicized that, had Scenes from a Memory failed, Dream Theater would’ve broken up. Thankfully, they didn’t, and the result of their success with Scenes was their best JR-era effort to date. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is a wonderfully mysterious album, one that rewards the listener after each successive listen and consistently reveals new elements of its craft. Still, I cannot stress enough just how close the record comes on numerous occasions to jumping the shark; reaching a point of ridiculousness that is so far-fetched one wonders whether or not Dream Theater has become a parody of themselves.
However, in almost going too far, the band succeeds tremendously, showcasing a willingness to take chances and no concern over cosmopolitan perception of what they should be. It is because of this that Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence divided the DT fanbase upon its release, but has since become one of the group’s most heralded works. The risks that they took in composing it, I think, were clearly worth it, and would be welcome in the future.