Music I Love: “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”, Dream Theater (2002)


Track Listing:

Disc 1

  1. The Glass Prison
  2. Blind Faith
  3. Misunderstood
  4. The Great Debate
  5. Disappear

Disc 2

  1. Overture
  2. About to Crash
  3. War Inside My Head
  4. The Test that Stumped Them All
  5. Goodnight Kiss
  6. Solitary Shell
  7. About to Crash (Reprise)
  8. Losing Time/Grand Finale

Dream Theater are well-known in the rock and metal industry for their progressive, epic and generally over-the-top music, with tracks frequently running longer than ten minutes long, extended solos and difficult polyrhythms. They are often considered to be the epitome of progressive metal, comparable equally to prog rock bands such as Pink Floyd and heavy thrash like Metallica. There was a point in my youth when I was most impressed by their music, although now, like Mozart, I sometimes feel there are “too many notes”. I do own several of their albums, and while I enjoy them, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence struck a resonant chord with me when it was released, for it spoke deeply to my own deep depression.

Split into two discs by necessity, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence comprises five standalone tracks, followed by the utterly massive 42-minute title song, split itself into eight further tracks. In some ways, the first five tracks represent a perfectly valid album in their own right, clocking in at 55 minutes for their full run. Thematically the songs deal with a variety of topical issues, from alcoholism (The Glass Prison) to religion (Blind Faith) and stem cell research (The Great Debate). Disappear is a haunting ode to inevitable death, but it’s with the second disc that the lyrics got particularly personal for me. Dealing with a variety of aspects of mental illness from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia, I felt myself relating to each segment of the song—even those dealing with things I had no experience of (post-partum depression, for example).

The song Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence is monumental, opening with a six-minute instrumental introduction that winds its way through the various music themes that are to appear throughout the song. Laden with strings and synths, it sounds surprisingly upbeat, with lots of major chords and upward progressions, but eventually the tone settles down to a gentle piano riff that begins the first sung portion, About to Crash. The guitars soon kick in again, however, and the music gradually crescendos into the third segment, War Inside My Head (dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder). This quickly gives way to The Test that Stumped Them All, building up all the while in pace and freneticism until a vast climax a solid twenty minutes in. The music then tones itself down to the gently lullaby of Goodnight Kiss, before picking back up again for an odd but catchy 7/4-time for Solitary Shell. Growing again in intensity the song eventually returns to the theme (musically and lyrically) of About to Crash, before winding into the drawn-out and epic finale, Losing Time/Grand Finale.

I was experiencing the absolute worst of my depression at the time I first heard this album, and lyrics like this simply rent my heart:

Wanting to escape

She had created a way to survive

She learned to detach from herself

A behaviour that kept her alive

It seemed like it was exactly what I was going through myself, and I listened to this song endlessly on repeat, drinking in the words of hope and despair. Ultimately Dream Theater leave us with a message of mixed hope:

Hope in the face of our human distress

Helps us to understand the turbulence deep inside

That takes hold of our lives

Shame and disgrace over mental unrest

Keeps us from saving those we love

I still listen to this album from time to time, although I most often skip the first disc in favor of the emotional rollercoaster of the second. A forty-two minute song is not going to be for everyone, but if you’re thinking of getting into Dream Theater, this would be a great place to start.

Lorelei 2011 - 10 Dream Theater - 22

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