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Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

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Dream Theater’s latest 2 CD studio epic, produced by drummer Mike Portnoy & guitarist John Petrucci. Elektra Entertainment.Never a band to do things by halves, Dream Theater here delivers a two-disc extravaganza with a title track that clocks in at a prog-tastic 42 minutes. Very much in the style of its 1999 studio predecessor, Scenes from a Memory, the ”Six Degrees” piece, which occupies the entire second disc, is divided into eight movements beginning, of course, with the overture. It’s meaty stuff, though musically it alternately noodles and thrashes about in a somewhat haphazard manner while singer-lyricist James LaBrie’s struggles to make an impression over the stunning instrumental onslaught. The first disc serves up five pieces averaging about 10 minutes each that hearken back to the grungier sound of 1994’s Awake. The result is an album that fulfills fans’ expectations. These guys have found a formula and they’re sticking to it. –Mark Walker

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  • Being a fan of the group since before “Pull Me Under” broke through, it is sometimes hard to be objective about artists that you have admired for quite some time. But after listening to this latest release from our modern day protagonists of music theory, I can’t imagine any DT fan being disappointed in this.Without getting bogged down in a track by track analysis, Six Degrees contains everything that fans of this band are looking for……and there’s lots of it! Disc one contains 5 tracks, most around the 10 minute mark. Disc two is home to the behemoth title track which is 42 minutes in length and is presented in 8 parts that flow together in an incredibly musical fashion.As previously mentioned, the staples of any Dream Theater recording are here: instrumental performances of the highest caliber, the expressive vocals of James LaBrie, and a production job by Portnoy & Petrucci that is immaculate. The thing that amazes me about these guys after all these years, is how they continue to push the envelope musically as a band. They are always looking to incorporate new influences and ideas into their work. For example, on “The Great Debate”, you will notice one section of the song that has almost a TOOL type of feel to it, vocals included. On the more subtle side, “Goodnight Kiss” has a very atmospheric, almost Floydian soundscape within which the band weaves some incredible textures.Even if you’re not a fan of this type of self-indulgent song writing, you have to respect the fact that these guys love to play music that not only challenges them, but their listeners as well. Buy it, and prepare to be impressed.

    Posted on January 19, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Progressive rock in general tends to attract comments such as pretentious, bombastic and self-indulgent. This CD shows little reluctance to refrain from these appellations. The length of the music, the threading of the elements into a complex tapestry, the effusive explosion of ecstatic instrumental energy and alternating between obscure lyrics and descriptions with moments of diamond clarity come together to provide fodder for even the most benign of critical detractors. In summary, this CD is fantastic.

    The opening track to this two CD masterpiece, “The Glass Prison,” has some of the most phenomenal guitar work of any band I have ever heard. Every time I listen to how quickly the lead guitar is being play I am in awe that human fingers can move so fast. The style combines hard rock, progressive rock and a flavor of nu-metal to create an original, technical, and yet artistic song. There is much in this song to commend it to a much wider audience than is typical of any one of these individual genres. Progressive long at nearly 14 minutes, the group uses a variety of influences to create an evolutionary song that is simultaneously challenging and listenable. This song is the antithesis of shy.

    The second song, “Blind Faith,” is generally much mellower than the dynamic and explosive first song. The song begins slick and smooth with less heaviness than the first song, sounding almost pop. However, the build up to the chorus puts to flight the thought that this song is anything other than a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing. The charging guitars in the lengthy bridge cracker crunch into the notes leading to a lovely (yes, that is what I meant) piano piece before getting into a bass driven run-up to instruments enthusiastically alternating for the lead until the last vocal set is reached. This song is well-crafted with an excellent balance of art and technical skill.

    There is Moody Blues transition between “Blind Faith” and the “Misunderstood.” Unless you are watching the track changes you could easily miss the beginning of this track as there is no pause between tracks. “Misunderstood” is one my favorite tracks on this CD. The quiet, slow, introduction lulls you into a passivity that is instantly and violently blown away as the instruments and vocals shatter drivingly into your brain. I think I hear a mellotron in this song, which I always enjoy.

    “The Great Debate” takes on the challenge of human stem cell and other human cell research. The song begins with speakers stating portions of the opposing viewpoints, coming from opposite speakers. The complexity of the song matches the complexity of the subject, and the tone of the song is somber and sincere. The music and the lyrics provide ample opportunity to contemplate the content of the lyrics, which summarize the opposing viewpoints nicely (moral and ethical versus practical and beneficial), and suggest that we as a race are at a crossroads of sorts and we need to make a decision. The song suggests that we need to “turn to the light,” which I take to mean we need to face this issue rather than turn away, as our decision may define who we are.

    The heady moral complexity of the previous song contrasts with the simpler, and yet emotionally more powerful content of “Disappear.” Since this song deals with death and loss, some of the lyrics in the previous song are put into perspective, because you sense by the position of this song on the CD that failure of science may have led to the loss felt in this song. Every word sung is painfully wrought and pulled from a deep secret place where you may have thought they were secure. The song has hopeful elements, but the dark nature of the music indicates that the singer is still grieving over the loss of she who gave him hope. This song is one of those that you should listen to only when you are not already feeling morose.

    Thus far I have only discussed the first disc of this CD. The second disc deserves its own, completely separate review because it bears no relationship whatsoever to the first disc. In the classic tradition of progressive rock, the second disc is a concept with an introductory instrumental overture that combines some classical elements with hard rock, and an exit finale that sums it all up. In between is an exploration of the human mind, and what can appear to be insanity, or sanity, as there is no single definition for sanity. The music ranges from contemplative to crispy, from idle slow to light speed fast, from quiet to blast-off. This disc contains a concept album to rival some of the best progressive rock music concepts.

    When I listen to this two-disc set I hear influences from an array of groups, and I hear something completely new. When I was introduced to this music by another reviewer (now going under the name Samhot), it was so different from anything I had previously heard that it has taken me more than a year to come to grips with the music. This music is faster paced and more complex than early progressive rock. This music brings in modern rock elements, along with music from several other groups, to revitalize progressive rock, which had become somewhat moribund in the 80s and early 90s. The modernization of progressive rock is welcome to an old-timer like me, who has followed progressive rock from its roots in “Sgt. Pepper” to the seminal “Days of Future Passed” and its explosion into a separate genre populated by King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and a few select others. This new generation of artists is giving a new generation of listeners and an old generation of listeners a reason to return to progressive rock.

    Posted on January 19, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • I’ve been a Dream Theater fan now for about 2 1/2 years. I own all of their releases, and it seems to me that with every new album, they just keep on progressing musically & lyrically. In my opinion, “SDOIT” continues this trend in fine fashion. The music is very mature, combining all of the great talents of each band member and molding them into something completely new. While I think they were able to accomplish this on their other albums, they really hit the jackpot here. Basically, the music absolutley ROCKS!!!! While I think every song is great, my favorites are “The Glass Prison” (a thrash-metal like song, basically it’s Rush meets Metallica), “The Great Debate” (very cool song about Stem-Cell research), “Disapear” and “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence” (like SFAM, but with more of a broadway feel to it). John Petrucci continues to impress me as one of the great guitarist of all time. John Myung does some amazing things on this album. I’m glad his bass is included more in the mix then it has been on past albums. Mike Portney, what can I say that hasn’t been said about him. He’s just great. Even with the talents of the others, the music would not be the same without him. James LeBrie, whom I thought really came into his own on “SFAM”, suprised me with what I consider to be his best vocal performance. Also, it was nice to hear Mike Portney as a more prominent back-up vocalist on many of the songs. His work on the Transatlantic albums was great and made me hope he would continue to participate in that respect. One more thing…DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM ON A CRAPPY STEREO! Get a good pair of earphones, sit back and enjoy the ride. There are so many little details that one can miss, it really takes 2 or 3 listens to really appreciate what’s going on. Overall, this album is an absolute masterpiece and proof that Dream Theater is here to stay. I hope that you all give it the chance I think it deserves. I’m sure you won’t be dissapointed with the results!

    Posted on January 19, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • People hailed the appearance of Jordan Rudess from Liquid Tension Experiment as what DT truly needed. As much as I agreed, some found the resultant concept album “Scenes fromA Memory to be thrown-together and somewhat uncohesive, despite containing some amazing moments. I personally waited to see what the new lineup could accomplish on a traditionalalbum, hoping they would be able to top “Scenes”. Guess what–they did. Some will call this disc (discs!) self-indulgent, long-winded, or bombastic–labels which have been used to caricature progressive rock, and Dream Theater in particular,since time immemorial. All of which I’m sure Mike Portnoy &company would proudly admit to–smiling. Some within DT’s diehard following have accused the band from straying from its progressive metal roots–meaning the epic, image-laden mini-operas present on “Images and Words”. Dream Theater, despite being no less ambitious, long since changed theirdelivery from that pseudo-Maiden drama to a cutting, manicethos more in tune with postmodernity. They do not resemblejust prog-metal anymore as much as they do the Dixie Dregs–a bona-fide anti-commercial collective which, musically speaking, can do pretty much whatever the hell it wants. The seconddisc shows this most especially, with passages that call to mindeverything from Steve Vai to Yes to Queen to Andrew Lloyd Webber to Return to Forever. The first disc shows a DT which, contrary to an Entertainment Weekly charge that they reference no music “since 1976,” is remarkably in step with the times, serving up Pantera-volume thrash on “Glass Prison” to “Disappear”’s brooding, melancholy strains recalling Radiohead to manic-depressive thunder on “The Great Debate” which you’d swear could be Tool. Notwithstanding the extreme length and some of the ridiculously unreal instrumental pyrotechnics which have become Dream Theater’s trademark, all the members of Dream Theater are in better form than in a long time–bassist John Myung is actually audible up in the mix, Jordan Rudess blends neoclassical technique with unbelievable synth patches, James LaBrie actually does someof his best singing since the “Awake” album, but the realsurprises here are John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy. At timesPetrucci is actually coming into his own with a recognizablysymphonic style (I won’t quite say “melodic”) which sees him moving past the Steve Morse/Al DiMeola influences intoa unique sound and style. Portnoy throws out some of his best playing to date, with drumming that easily puts himinto the same league as Bill Bruford or Neil Peart–hiswork on “The Great Debate” is some of the best drummingI’ve heard from him, ever–not to mention an increasinglyimproved tuning and sound quality from his drum kit, backing off from the tinny, poppy production which marred”Scenes from a Memory”. If you love this band (and you do,or you wouldn’t be reading this) then GET this release as ifyour life depended on it. This has to be the best DT album in years, against which only Images and Words or Awake can compare.

    Posted on January 19, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • The cover art is grimy and enigmatic, intimating a sense of violence and aggression. The album’s name is bold and maybe somewhat pretentious. What have we here? It seems to be an open invitation for rock critics to assault a haughty progressive rock band. This album seems to fit every critic’s definition of “indulgent”: a double album, the progressive disposition, and a 42-minute song. And it’s Dream Theater. Direct your derision elsewhere, critics. This may be a strong statement, but I have to venture to say that Dream Theater’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is the most dynamic afflatus of progressive music since Yes’ Close to the Edge. The band mines a rich vein of influences and amalgamates them into something utterly intense and inventive. The music in this 2CD set possesses the devastating technical chops we expect from the band, this time directed towards a more experimental release than was Scenes from a Memory. At the same time, Six Degrees encapsulates a sense of brutal beauty and depth, with an assertive and clear artistic vision that defies any standard the genre has ever set.”The Glass Prison” will probably surprise a few people. It opens the album with a metal fury of frightening velocity. No doubt the heaviest thing the band has ever done, it is dark, heavy, punishing, and despairingly intense. Because of its pulverizing heaviness and its lyrics (which deal with fighting alcoholism), comparisons may be drawn to “The Mirror”. But this song is far more brutal and poignant (and at 14 minutes, it’s twice as long). The song’s speed is forcefully carried by Portnoy’s alien-hummingbird double-bass, as well as Myung’s chiming bass arpeggios. Vocals by both Portnoy and Labrie are fierce, and Petrucci’s solo is desperate, shattering, schizophrenic, and shred-intensive. Petrucci also proves he is adept with the pen as well as the guitar. His lyrics on “The Great Debate” (dealing with stem cell research) are great — his use of metaphor and cleverly ambiguous phraseology makes him, I think, progressive metal’s best lyricist. (Consider the double-meaning of the “turn to the light” lines). The music accompanying his poetry is equally sophisticated. Samples from news broadcasts flesh out the subject matter. This evolves into fiercely heavy grooves, delicious rhythmic phases and accents (at once evoking Tool and Rush), and slaughtering furies of guitar/keyboard leads. A clever mix puts right- and left-wing arguments on the appropriate side in stereo (cool!).It’s been proven that the band is capable of bone-crushing technical wizardry, but they also command restraint and concisely developed melodic progressions. “Disappear” is the album’s shortest song, not quite reaching seven minutes. This one is presented with an avant-garde, Radiohead-like production. It is a frigid requiem frail vocals and the sad, seductive susurration of longing melodies, built around gorgeous acoustic guitar and exquisite pianos. Labrie’s lyrics and performance are masterful; I believe the fugitive poetry is perhaps attempting to mask emotions the delicate vocals betray.”Blind Faith” is an outstanding work of songwriting, musicianship, and vocals. It’s one of those “perfect songs.” The melodies are so liquidy during the verses (with great synth inflections), but it kicks into high gear for an awesome, rocking chorus with a big hook that doesn’t let go. There’s hooks everywhere, even in the instrumental interlude, which is technical DT at its best. Petrucci plays a simmering, catchy riff which (I think) is on baritone guitar…it’s the best! Buy the album to hear this riff. The keyboard/guitar unison part here is the most difficult they’ve done. Before this, though, Rudess plays an elegant piano solo…he’s so talented, and his touch his beautiful. “Misunderstood” is a very difficult song to classify…it almost passes as a killer rock ballad but it also sports some trippy jamming that reminds me a bit of King Crimson’s weirder moments. Petrucci’s lyrics about feeling isolated are great in rhythm and metaphors. After the last imploring chorus, the final few minutes of this track are a crazy, dissonant blend of sounds that mess with the head.A full review should be devoted solely to the phantasmagoric and discursive 42-minute title track on the second disc. “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” is the band’s exploration of mental illness. Each section is devoted to a different person’s struggles, gracefully enriching the lyrics with character-specific leitmotifs. This is possibly the band’s finest moment, countervailing thrashy metal riffage (“The Test that Stumped Them All”) with more melodic, pop-influenced movements (“Solitary Shell”). Individual sections show more effort and detail than the sum total of entire albums, but Dream Theater manages to keep everything very concise and coherent. “Overture” is an exhilarating prelude, formed by a grandiose orchestral section, heated interplay, and stormy guitars; “Goodnight Kiss” is an achingly sorrowful elegy where Labrie’s vocals are at their emotional best (beautiful guitar work too); “Solitary Shell” is a major-key, hook-laden piece that evokes Peter Gabriel, while Labrie’s vocals soar on the power chorus; “About to Crash (reprise)” is an awesomely infectious anthemic rock piece. “Six Degrees…” is so intense in music and pathos that it virtually blows me away note after note for 42-minutes, leaving me physically weak at the end. Yes, it is long…but it is not a song (or album, for that matter) of nimiety. I don’t think there is one immaterial note or second. Heck, to some Dream Theater fans it might even be considered exiguous — there is considerable restraint here.All throughout, Jordan Rudess proves he is the most inventive keyboardist in progressive metal. He goes through so many different patches rather than sticking to the same tired strings, organs, and pianos. No one can compare.When a band releases an album so adventurous, it’s always a risk that they will create something so self-indulgent that no one will enjoy it. Just remember: Whenever a work of art attempts to transcend the boundaries of its style, it’ll likely alienate those looking for the same old, same old. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is not for those who just want another good “prog” metal album. It is not for those who want another Images and Words. It is for listeners who want to experience the artistic challenge with the band, to celebrate the meaning of “progressive music.” There are those who fear that “progress” makes good songwriting null. Have no worries — Dream Theater’s prime songcraft has been polished to an impossible gleam for this album. Yet again Dream Theater pushes ahead of the pack in terms of creativity and resourcefulness, without ever losing touch with their ability to communicate their sophisticated music to their audience with emotion and sincerity. The kings of progressive metal yet again prove why they are the genre’s best band. This release adds another jewel to Dream Theater’s crown.

    Posted on January 19, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now