CD Review: Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence by Dream Theater

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Dream Theater Six Degrees CD Cover

Artist: Dream Theater
Album: Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence
Release Date: January 29, 2002
Label: Elektra

The music of Dream Theater — a prog-metal blend of Styx drama and ELP grandeur — generates little gray area when it comes to appeal. Listeners either love the band passionately or hate them. (God knows I’ve had my issues with them, having walked out on one of their shows three years ago when the Siegfried & Roy aspects of the Las Vegas-style Rock Extravaganza got out of hand. That is to say, I was bored). The band’s sixth album, an ambitious double CD entitled Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence is unlikely to alter that dichotomy. But here’s the thing, with Dream Theater, you know what you’re getting when you sign on: musical virtuosity and technical perfection. Here’s an example of what I mean: You’ve got Vocalist James LaBries’ narrative command of each song; Drummer Mike Portnoy’s effortless ability to demonstrate as many double-bass-triplet-rudiment-fills as possible from the top of a song to the bottom; Guitarist John Petrucci’s astoundingly fluid, classically influenced playing; Jordan Ruddess’ swelling layers of Rick Wakeman-esque keyboards; and bassist John Myung, who, like John Entwistle, lays down a solid groove and says out of everyone’s way. One can hardly fail to be impressed with any of that.

The five songs comprising disc one have all of the above in spades, with “The Glass Prison” (lose yourself in the Rush influence) and “Misunderstood” (a flawless display of excellent song writing) ranking among the best songs in Dream Theater’s catalog. If you grew up on or have simply come to love the music of Yes, Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Rush, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence will make you lose your mind on the first disc alone. There’s maybe one misstep along the way, and that arrives via the thirteen-minute-plus epic mini-opera that argues over the ethics of stem cell research (yes, I just typed that), entitled “The Great Debate.” It’s an interesting and even admirable idea to be so topically aware, but — while it’s a solid song — I doubt many rock fans want to hear a song crammed with CNN-culled sound bites. It’s way too political, and it doesn’t belong on a rock record.

Halfway through the musical sojourn, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence already sounds like a best-loved favorite. It is on disc two’s all-encompassing title track, however, that the group really bring it on home. Less a ‘song’ than an eight part spiritual pilgrimage of the highest order, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” is a gorgeous conceptual masterpiece exploring the many facets of mental illness. Of course, this theme has been done to death, but before you run screaming, understand that Dream Theater have found a fresh way to spin shining new cloth from this well-worn topic. Despite the seriousness of the subject material, lyrics are poetically matter-of-fact, but never morose or too heavy handed. Musically, influences as disparate as Pink Floyd, Metallica and Yes creep in and, seriously, lend an uplifting feel to the work as a whole. This is a great album, but for true fans of Dream Theater, it is “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” that will separate the zealots from the mere enthusiasts.

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This article was originally written for Rolling Stone’s Online Magazine. Though Rolling Stone remains in print and online, this article is no longer a part of their archive and has been added to the content base of The Worley Gig for our readers’ enjoyment.

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