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Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

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  • 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