Dream Theater – A Change of Seasons (1995)

Dream Theater has never been known to show up at a gig, play the songs from the new album, throw in a few old numbers, and call it a night. Similar to Frank Zappa, they’ve always been known for having a large amount of material available to play at shows, and they’re known to mix things up a bit. That includes playing stuff that’s never been on an album before, including songs that will make it to disc in the future, and other bits that are just place-holders, or things that happen live just for the fans. Dream Theater is also a band that listens to fans, both in emails and from the mail that comes in to their fan club.

That’s where this EP came up. The guys were playing out this huge song called “A Change of Seasons”, a piece written for the album Awake, but at twenty-plus minutes, was considered too long by studio execs. Although the song was shelved, the band played it live several times, and it appeared on a few poorly-recorded bootlegs, becoming a thing of legend among DT fans. Tape traders and fan club members built up a fever pitch about the song, and when the band heard, they decided to go into the studio and record it properly for a release to EP.

The song itself is a seven-part, 23-minute epic, which alternates very skilled instrumental parts with actual lyrics which describe a man going through a cycle of life. He goes through innocence, darkness, paradise, blindness, and later wiseness. Most of the lyrics have to do with drummer Mike Portnoy and the loss of his mother. Although singer James LaBrie came onboard for the previous album, this song fits his smooth and operatic lyrics well, and further introduces him to the band. Also new to this CD is the addition of Derek Sherinian on keyboards. I honestly don’t think he did much on this album, and it wasn’t until the next full LP that he became more integrated into the band, but you can hear him here.

Okay, great 23-minute song and all, but this is actually a 57-minute EP, because the next four tracks come from a live set at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. The band covers Elton John, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin in full-sized and fairly serious renditions, showing their influences but taking the guitars up a notch and making things sound much more prog-rock. They finish the album with a ten-minute medley of Pink Floyd, Kansas, Queen, Genesis, Journey, and the Dixie Dregs, all smashed together and played at full speed. It’s funny to hear LaBrie cheeze out a bit on “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”, while the band prepares to launch into the next cover in a millisecond.

This was the first time, to me, a band had ever done such an odd little record, and I loved it. Since then, Dream Theater have recorded a shitload of cover tunes, even playing entire albums like Metallica’s Master of Puppets live, and then releasing it on CD. That dilutes things a bit, and it introduces the paradox where bands releasing more and more things to their fans are making it harder and harder to be a fan, because you have to buy truckloads of rare CDs. But in 1995, when this came out, it really hit the spot, giving me something to play over and over until their next album came out. The cover songs are not infinitely replayable, but I still do like the title track, and love that a band could come out with an EP like this, instead of just recording a bunch of reworked B-sides and scattering them across all of their Japanese CD-singles.

Rating: 8

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