As far as Progressive Metal is concerned, no one can doubt that DREAM THEATER have cemented themselves a position at the very top of this musical sub-genre. However, as in many cases, with great power comes great responsibility, and in DREAM THEATER's case, this is no different. After releasing one of the most astonishing works this genre has ever seen in the form of 1999's "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory", the quintet of Petrucci, Portnoy, LaBrie, Myung and Rudess were faced with a daunting task of creating a worthy successor that would hopefully meet the incredibly high expectations of fans and critics alike. Well, after three years in hiding, the band has responded with a follow-up album of epic proportions that should without a doubt please any who claim themselves to be Progressive Metal Fans.
Just as "Metropolis Pt. 2" ended, "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence" begins with the sound of a needle on vinyl, but before long, the song takes an aggressive turn and continues on this path for its duration. Dealing with alcoholism, "The Glass Prison" is told in three parts (Reflection, Restoration, Revelation) and is quite simply a stunning work from beginning to end. Whether it's the undeniable level of heaviness, or the stunning performances of each individual member, this song quickly casts aside any doubts regarding this album's brilliance. After "The Glass Prison" reaches its crashing conclusion, "Blind Faith" follows in a more subdued manner, without losing any of the prior emotion and intensity apparent on the opening track. Dealing with the issue of the (blind) faith many have in God, this track lyrically tackles the questions that we have all asked ourselves (in one form or another) regarding the existence of such a being. Musically, this is another gem, with the highlight coming in the form of a captivating solo halfway through from none other than Mr. Jordan Rudess. The mood and atmosphere of this track contrasts very nicely with that of "The Glass Prison" to display to the listener the versatility so obviously apparent in this band.
"Misunderstood" then continues where "Blind Faith" left off with another, less aggressive, more ballad-like track that deals with the feelings of alienation that we have all felt at one point or another in our lives. The way that this song slowly builds itself up until reaching its crescendo once again prevents it from ever seeming boring, or uninteresting (though I am sure that was never a worry). The band then displays their awareness regarding political, and social matters as "The Great Debate" lyrically deals with the issue of whether or not embryonic stem cells should be used for scientific research. Complete with sound clips covering both sides of the argument, this incredibly intricate song once again turns the heaviness up a notch, with the end result being a piece of music that does what Progressive Metal is meant to do: make the listener think. While some may find this track either stunning and captivating, or just plain boring, I proudly place myself in the former. Disc 1 then ends on an incredibly sombre note with "Disappear", a relatively short track (by DREAM THEATER standards) that is quite soft, yet at the some time incredibly moving. Dealing with the emotions felt by a man who has just lost his wife, this song once again displays the versatility possessed by these four gifted individuals. While there is easily an album's worth of stellar material to be found on Disc 1, the band decided to (once again) prove that they are not afraid of a challenge; a fact that is more than apparent on Disc 2.
Clocking in at over forty minutes long, it comes as no surprise that "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence" is a song that is nothing short of epic. Divided into eight parts (including an intro and an outro), this song deals with six different cases of psychological disorder and trauma. Though an explanation of each individual part of this song would no doubt be helpful to those too lazy to actually listen to the song itself, I will refrain from giving any such explanation, for part of the brilliance that is "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence" is the fact that only by listening with the lyrics in hand will you be able to fully comprehend this song's content and complexity. Suffice it to say that over the course of the song, the band succeeds at covering a wide-range of musical styles beyond just Metal (though there is plenty of Metal to be found). This sort of unpredictability is just what fans of Progressive Rock/Metal are (or should be) looking for, which is why those who have frowned upon this type of music in the past will (unfortunately) continue to do so, while genre fans will embrace this ambitious work in all of its progressive glory.
If you loved "Metropolis Pt. 2", you should not have any difficulty finding a place in your heart for "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence". Now one might ask: is this album better than it's predecessor? Well to be honest, I have neither the time, nor the energy to accurately research and answer such a question, but if you find yourself stuck on this same question, you have unfortunately missed the point. However, if you perceive both albums as monumental testaments to DREAM THEATER's unquestionable brilliance, you are in for an experience that you will not soon forget. If you consider yourself to be an open-minded music fan in search of a challenge, the choice could not be any simpler. "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence" was my first encounter with DREAM THEATER, and I have been grateful ever since. (Online August 7, 2003)