DREAM THEATER — A Change of Seasons (review)

DREAM THEATER — A Change of Seasons album cover EP · 1995 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Warthur
Derek Sherinian's stint as Dream Theater keyboardist is a little overlooked these days; as well as being briefer than Kevin Moore's original tenure or Jordan Rudess's ongoing tour of duty, but Sherinian's time in the role also had the misfortune to coincide with the Falling Into Infinity album, which is generally considered to be a bit of a misfire compared to the albums preceding or succeeding it.

However, at the same time Sherinian's stint in the band also took in this EP that's not an EP. It's not an EP in the sense that calling it an EP makes a mockery of the "extended play" and "long play" origin of those terms, but it is an EP in the sense that the band call it one.

They call it an EP largely because it was released for only one real purpose, and that was to get a studio rendition of the title track out there. A 23 minute epic that qualifies as one of the most technically proficient, compositionally ornate, emotionally diverse, and outright proggy songs Dream Theater would ever compose, it had been lurking about in the setlist ever since the Images & Words days but had been held back from that album.

In some ways, holding it back showed admirable - if uncharacteristic - restraint on the part of Dream Theater, because its inclusion would have turned Images & Words into a double album, and that's always a risky prospect. Still, if the original version of the song were half as good as this, it'd certainly measure up to anything that Dream Theater put on that release.

As it is, the version we get of the song here reflects some years of further honing and polishing the composition through live performances, and the end result is one of the most incredible moments in the Dream Theater discography. Whilst fans can often be guilty of overhyping songs or performances which aren't actually that hot, especially if it's something which only a few people who happened to be at the right live shows would have heard, in this case the song absolutely deserved the hype. Not putting this song out there in a definitive version of some kind would have been a travesty.

As it is, the "EP" is a masterpiece already simply by virtue of the song's inclusion, and if you wanted to convince anyone of the chops of any member of this Dream Theater lineup, you could go a lot worse than playing them this. Petrucci's guitar work is particularly prominent, but Sherinian gets his opportunities to shine on the keys, LaBrie delivers some of his finest vocals, and I don't think I ever appreciated Myung/Portnoy rhythm section as much as I should have until I took in their work here.

At the same time, Dream Theater were leery of just putting out a 23 minute EP, so they loaded it on with a bit of extra value by providing some cover versions to make up the remainder of the running time. These are taken from a live fan club performance at Ronnie Scott's in London, which means that the shift from the studio polish offered to the title track to the live tapes can be slightly jarring.

Nonetheless, I actually really like the cover versions here, both the full songs and the medleys, because they really showcase Dream Theater's appreciation for a wide range of rock forebears whilst still nicely framing everything in something close-ish to their sound. As such, I really think A Change of Seasons is, if not the best Dream Theater Album, then at least the best Dream Theater album that isn't actually an album...
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Warthur wrote:
54 days ago
Certainly some of their statements about why it's described as an EP suggest that record company nerves around the project were a factor. Agree that it was the right call if it needed more polish; I also kind of think like whilst it would be fun to have had on Images & Words, I'm not sure where it'd slot in, that album's running order is actually already quite tight. Tack it on at the end? But Learning to Live is such a good closer. At the start? Nonsense, Pull Me Under is the perfect opener. In the middle? Where do you put it where it won't disrupt the flow? I'm perfectly happy with the way things panned out.
Pekka wrote:
55 days ago
I believe the restraint was forced upon them by the record company at the time, had they had complete control they probably would have put in on I&W. In this case I say big thanks to ATCO, this final version is a LOT better than the one they played on the Images tour, and my favorite DT song to this day.

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