Tom Hayes 19-Aug-2006 Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

Six Degrees of Turbulence is appropriately enough Dream Theater’s sixth studio album, and as of this writing a couple of albums later, represents their most ambitious work to date. No group polarizes the progressive rock community the way Dream Theater does. And due to their relative popularity and easy access to their body of work, it seems EVERYONE has an opinion. Similar to how Miles Davis dragged the traditional jazz crowd to incorporate rock, Dream Theater has been at the vanguard (over 15 years and counting) of fusing traditional prog/pomp (Yes, ELP, Rush, Kansas) with heavy metal and other more recent forms of popular music. And Miles was fond of the double album idea, to utilize as much space as possible to make his musical point. So it makes sense that Dream Theater would also go for the gusto, and embark on a lengthy, close to 100 minutes, two CD set. Before anyone pulls a gun and starts to shoot, since I dared mentioned the iconic Miles Davis in a Dream Theater review, let me just say that’s where the similarities abruptly end. While Miles was always pushing the envelope of sound and creativity, Dream Theater definitely aren’t “living on the edge”. And rest assured they have their eyes fixed on the Billboard charts. So they are commercially and financially far more savvy, but artistically Dream Theater always manage to underachieve. Let me clarify further. An underachieving Dream Theater is still a very (very) good album, but I feel this band is one of the few modern bands that could pull off a Gnosis 15. And they haven’t even gotten close. As if to prove the point, listen to the 14 minute album opener ‘The Glass Prism’. Everything that is great about Dream Theater can be found here. A highly creative composition, crazy metrics, good melodies, monstrously KICK ASS heavy, and a sense of adventure. And when it comes to technical chops, even most musicians will, and do, take a bow to the mighty DT. These guys can flat out play, in a jaw dropping manner, that even impresses people not into music at all. I can only imagine what a whole album of this kind of insane music would produce. It might just be too much to handle. And everything that is wrong with Dream Theater are brought forth in the next two tracks ‘Blind Faith’ and ‘Misunderstood’. The whiny style of crooning from singer James LaBrie immediately brings to mind everything some of us were escaping from the beginning: 1980s corporate rock. Given that both tracks clear the 10 minute mark, naturally one can expect the usual exciting music breaks. If these weren’t so much better than average, then no DT album would be worth owning. ‘The Great Debate’ follows, yet another near 14 minute opus, and is another creative piece that is partly satisfying and greatly frustrating, as in “why not all the time like this?” Because no chart chances sonny boy. And really, when would you have a chance to put up your Bic lighter anyway? Closing Disc 1 is the pathetic and cloying ‘Disappear’. Just skip it, unless you miss bands like Europe and Night Ranger. As I said about polarizing, there are plenty of reviews that will state how “deep” the track is. I think I saw recently on a ‘Where are They Now?” episode that Loverboy was saying the same thing about their own work. So we now flow into Disc 2, the 42 minute title track, broken into eight parts. Tired yet? Might be a good time to go get another drink… If you were to believe the fanboys, SDoIT is their 'Close to the Edge', or 'Supper’s Ready'. Don’t buy it. Like many bands today with lengthy concepts, Dream Theater in reality have composed 8 more (OK 7 and a reprise) distinctive tracks, that had they been listed separate, I would never have linked them together as a suite. So, in the end, you get the same thing you get with all Dream Theater tracks: Jaw dropping compositions and playing, radio friendly ballads, Yes like Moog driven songs, well… just read what I said about the first disc. I bought this album immediately upon release, and four and a half years later, my opinion has changed little. In conclusion, despite what it may seem from my comments above, SDoIT is a very fine album and one of the better Dream Theater works. It would be negligent to write them off as a pure money driven pop band. Their professionalism is unquestioned, and talent almost unmatched. We’re fortunate that they are at least trying (and succeeding) to be creative, and not content to produce bonehead commercial rock. An amazing band. Who still manages to underachieve.

Dan Casey    18 August 2003 Awake

The 2nd album by this part-prog, part-metal outfit with vocalist James LaBrie follows in the footsteps of its predecessor Images and Words without changing much. LaBrie tries to sound more gruff and harsh in a few places, but basically still strives (successfully) for that gimmicky, glam, operatic crooning style typical of the radio-friendly pop-metal frontman. The opener, "6:00," shows off keyboardist Kevin Moore with a lead solo that is so totally guitar-like it seems that he would rather bang his head with a 6-string ax than the good old ivories. The real shame, of course, is that he's got great chops but little sense of what it means to play a tasteful line with finesse. In fact, that could easily be said of the whole band, particularly drummer Mike Portnoy, whose lack of craftsmanship is apparent on every tune as he mindlessly plods along with rigid double-bass drumming so cold frost may form on your speakers.

The production is equally as glossy (all surface glitter, no real warmth) and typical for this brand of music. One exception worth noting however is lead guitarist John Petrucci, who has some truly incredible guitar tones in his palette, and rips off some stunning solos. But even he falls into the traps of the stereotypical metal guitarists when he tries to see how many meaningless notes he can cram into a 2-second lick. The song structures here are perhaps even more formulaic than they have ever been, often resting on traditional verse/chorus pop structures for lack of anything more inventive. At the worst moments, LaBrie does some vocal harmonies in the chorus sections which rival the lowlights of Journey or Kansas.

As an aside, most people may already be aware that keyman Moore has bailed out of the band. His replacement? Ex-Alice Cooper keyboardist Derek Sherinian. Clearly, Dream Theater have a major challenge in front of them as they attempt to assimilate Derek and his background. Awake is the work of a band with a lot of talent and potential but less than mediocre delivery. Perhaps that's due to having one eye on the profit meter, or perhaps an ego fixated on the perceived importance of image. Nevertheless, die-hard Dream Theater fans are sure to enjoy this album while the rest of the prog world continues to shake its head in frustration at the fact there are many people who think this is what prog is all about.

(Originally published in Expose #6, p. 33-34, Edited for Gnosis 8/11/02)

Mike Grimes    18 August 2003 Awake

Over the past few years, Dream Theater has become one of the most talked about bands in several music circles. Dream Theater is a band about which most people have a strong opinion. If you like heavy metal or hard rock, they won't disappoint you. If you get annoyed at machine gun drums and lightening fast solos, you'd better look elsewhere. Awake, the band's second release with the current lineup is an album with more diversity than previous efforts by the group. While this might sound like a good thing, I'm not entirely sure that it is. While the stylistic variety is there, the songs don't flow together as well as on their last album, Images and Words. The songs are not as consistently strong. It almost sounds like the band picked one rock song, one metal song, one ballad, etc. to target everyone. A little more focus and continuity would have helped a lot.

Overall, the album has a harder edge to it than anything the band has released before. Parts of some songs, like the opening of "The Mirror," sound like they could be from a Pantera album. Actually, the best songs on the album are those with the hardest edges. I wouldn't have guessed that would be the case prior to listening to it, but it is. Clearly, what these guys do best is rock. When they try to lighten things up and ease back a little bit, things falls short. Check out "Lifting Shadows Off A Dream" to see what I mean. Dream Theater draws from bands like Kansas and the Dixie Dregs and, like those bands, has a distinctly American sound. Even if you don't like their music, you'll be impressed with the technical ability of the players. Following up a successful and highly acclaimed album like Images and Words is tough for any band, but with the exception of a few weaker tracks, Dream Theater does a respectable job with Awake.

(Originally published in Expose #6, p. 34, Edited for Gnosis 8/11/02)

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