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Direly underrated - 93%

YYZ, May 31st, 2005

So here we have Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. It's one of the first Dream Theater albums that I bought, and remains a favourite to date. However, like most Dream Theater albums (with the exception of Awake), it tends to be pretty controversial within the fanbase - there's a pretty distinct split between those who consider it an experimental progressive masterpiece, and those who think it's little more than hyperextended wankery. Personally, I think it rocks to the point it puts many other albums to shame.

Track 1, The Glass Prison, starts off where Scenes from a Memory left off - with what sounds like it's meant to be a downpour of rain, but could equally just be radio static. A bell tolls, and a catchy yet haunting riff builds up, instrument by instrument, steadily growing heavier, until the kickdrums come in, and you can tell the track's gonna be a rocker. And that's pretty much what it is - a solid, heavy track. Makes for a pretty hard-hitting opener. James LaBrie's vocals are great and well varied throughout the track, there's some impressive bass work, the drumming is excellent - the keyboards are the only instrument which don't particularly shine as much in this song, but that's okay, Rudess gets a lot of time to show off later on in the album. The lyrics are great, too: Mike Portnoy's went from the guy who didn't write any lyrics whatsoever for the first two albums, to probably the best lyricist in the band. This is the first of his songs on the subject of the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step program, which continues through This Dying Soul in Train of Thought, The Root Of All Evil in Octavarium, and onwards.

Then, we move onto something very different. James LaBrie provides the lyrics to Blind Faith, a moody attack on religious zealotry. From the first few seconds of the fade in, you can guess this isn't going to be anything like The Glass Prison. It begins quite mellow, with a lot more keyboard influence than TGP had, and far less guitar - that's a distorted six-string bass you can hear Petrucci playing, there. Eventually, it builds up to a more heavy (but still keyboard-focal (and still awesome)) sound, as the chorus comes in, which it maintains in varying degrees until the outro. Around the five minute mark, James LaBrie stops singing, and you're treated to quite possibly the best instrumental section in any Dream Theater song, featuring Petrucci and Rudess taking it in turns to outsolo each other. This is definition kickass, and probably the high point of a great album. A brilliant song, one of Dream Theater's best.

As Blind Faith fades back out, the acoustic-sounding, heart-felt introduction to the pseudo-ballad Misunderstood begins. It continues in much the same vain for a while: soothing and melodic, before building up to a contrastingly heavy chorus, and ditches the soothing feeling for a haunting feel to it. Anyone who thought they were in for a mellow track after three minutes of the song should have learnt their lesson better from Blind Faith: Misunderstood is probably the darkest song on the album. Unfortunately, two minutes from the end, it spoils what was a great song with some horrible... noise. There's no real way to describe it, other than noise, it's dreadful. They'd have done better leaving it out, but at least the rest of the song is a masterpiece.

Moving on, The Great Debate also builds up to its main contingent pretty slowly, but not in the same mellow yet listenable way as Blind Faith or Misunderstood does. Instead, it begins with an overly stretched-out section of modern keyboardy sounds upon a bass line, with samples over the top presenting both sides of the argument against stem-cell research, making great use of the pan. It's extremely dull, so if you want to listen to it all the way through, I advise listening to at least the intro with headphones, as that's the only way this intro is going to be even vaguely interesting. However, once it does build up, this is, musically, exceptional. It's well-orchestrated, melodic, heavy to a certain degree, interesting, and generally extremely listenable - the keyboard and guitar taking equally dominating roles. The lyrics leave a little to be desired, but they're not as cheesy as some make out. The vocals aren't nearly as good as LaBrie is capable of, and the first few lines would have been much better without the robotic vocal effects. The drumming compensates for that severalfold, however. I'll say it straight out: the drumming in this song is unmatched by anything else on this album. Apparently, there's a lot of Tool influence in them, but not being a Tool fan, I'm in no position to confirm. Eventually, it goes into a pretty kickass keyboard solo, followed by a less kickass guitar solo, and closes with what may as well be the intro played backwards. This song probably should have been only nine minutes long, but hey, the bits which aren't unyielding torrents of samples kick sufficient ass to make it an enjoyable track.

Disappear is a song which I always tend to group with Misunderstood in terms of general feel. It took me far too long before I began to appreciate it, however. It starts out with some creepy-sounding effects, followed by a haunting keyboard line, before progressing - quite suddenly - into an acoustic ballad. Unlike Misunderstood, however, this song won't turn around three minutes in and become a heavy track. Which, I must say, I appreciate - this song is absolutely beautiful. I didn't appreciate it at all, originally, but now that I've got used to it, it's the perfect closer to the first disc.

Disc 2 is all a single song, though it doesn't really feel like one. In spite of the often less-than-subtle transitions, however, it's a pretty kicking disc.

Overture is just what it says on the package, an overture. It's slightly... odd for an overture, though. As opposed to the traditional approach, in which the riffs are almost identical to how they're presented in the song, they've designed it to sound extremely orchestral and classical in nature - and they did it quite well, too. It's a majestic opening to the CD, and fits quite well. Eventually, it builds up to a climax, and the beautiful piano intro to About To Crash enters. And, About to Crash is a great song, it was one of my favourites for a very long time; Rudess' piano ability fits in perfectly, and it's harmonious all the way through. It begins with quite an optimistic feeling to it, but gradually becomes more sinister, fitting in perfectly with the subject matter of the lyrics - a bipolar girl. It's a great track, one which I'd kill to hear live.

War Inside My Head is a song about a man mentally scarred by war, and sounds the part, too. It launches with an intimidating, guitar-driven intro, before LaBrie sings a short verse, followed by a kickass call and return chorus, between Portnoy and LaBrie. Followed by another short verse, followed by another short chorus, followed by The Test That Stumped Them All. It's a catchy song, and near impossible not to headbang to, but... where's the length? Totals two minutes, about a minute of which consists of intro. Still, the guitar's awesome, the drumming's top notch, and it flows well - I love this song. I'd love it even more if they wrote an extended version of it, however.

The Test That Stumped Them All has a slightly hysterical feeling to it. It's fast and heavy, but the vocals at the "We can't seem to find the answers...," etc. verses are kinda irritating. That said, the instrumentation is good, and it's a damned good song, all in all. The instrumental section at the end sounds excellent; it fits the rest of the song far better than that at the end of, About to Crash, say.

Goodnight Kiss' first half drags on a bit. The intro takes a little too long, but once you get into it it's got a lot of feeling to it, and it's not exactly dull. The first solo is quite heartfelt, and then, a little over halfway through, the pace changes for the instrumental section, to an extremely kickass darker, faster section. The drum sets a good, foot-tappin' (:P) pulse through it, which flows perfectly into Solitary Shell.

Solitary Shell is a pretty damn cool song, with a good mood, and makes for a more calm, collected interlude. The instrumental break at the end has something of a latin vibe to it in places, and doesn't quite fit with the rest of the song. It's probably the one part of the album I'm least familiar with, it sort of becomes background noise until the intro to About to Crash Reprise comes up.

...which, might I add, rocks. The guitar intro sounds great, the keyboard roll sounds great, and it's got a great feel to it - far more optimistic and fastpaced than ATC was even at the start. A bit shorter, but that's excusable. The instrumental section towards the end almost unravels the overture from the start; you can hear sections of War Inside My Head in it, and it's in much the same style. It only lasts two minutes, however, before making the final transition between songs.

Losing Time is just plain beautiful. It's a mellow, touching close to the disc. The lyrics are stunning, the best on the disc, and the instrumentation is majestic, tying back to Overture extremely well. The lyrics to the Grand Finale are slightly cheesy, but it builds up great, and the gong is the perfect climax to mark the end of an exhilarating album.

In all, this album gets a 93%. The awesome bits outweigh the imperfections (and let's face it, every album has a couple) by a long mark, and there really isn't a single song (or track, should I say) I could say that I'm unsatisfied with. Worth every penny.