“Dream Theater is a good band” is not exactly a hot take, although, depending on which kind of circles you move in and their level of jaded cynicism, it might be. Still, as we stand at the foot of one of the most illustrious and divisive careers in metal’s brief history, a career which has spawned multiple periods, line-ups, and animosities, it is worth remembering who just damn good Dream Theater were. Yes, my bias is showing; I’m not a huge fan of anything after Octavarium (and that album also suffered from some questionable choices). I’m not a fanatic; there are certainly good post-Octavarium and even post-Portnoy Dream Theater songs. But I am adamant in my belief that none of them, even the truly great ones, can hold a candle to the masterpieces which marked the beginning and middle eras of Dream Theater’s career. Yes, I know; we’re still not in hot take territory.
But hot takes are not the point of our Love Letter series; love is the point of this series and by Jove do I love “A Change of Seasons”. Like many of the songs from this period, “A Change of Seasons” (from here referred to simply as “Change”) has been with me for over a decade. I’ve screamed its vocal lines, poorly run through its solos in air guitar, and dramatically whispered its samples across countless streets, rooms, and weathers. It’s probably one of my most played songs ever, simply because when I first heard it I was a teenager, with all the time that this implied and all the fervent, laser focused obsessions of those days. This means that I’m also intimately familiar with its every twist and turn; it is probably the song I most accurately air-drum (I have no idea how to play the drums but over a certain time listened, I can only assume I’m somewhat in the neighbourhood with my flailing).
And yet, “Change” still moves me whenever I listen to it. It should be boring, should be stale and outdated but it really, really isn’t. Whether it is the completely, unabashedly naive lyrics (which speak to me as well as they did when I was an angsty teen), the sheer musicality of the work (which manages to effortlessly dodge the bloat which plagues not only Dream Theater’s current work but the progressive metal genre in general) or simply an embedded nostalgia within me, the song just works. I still find myself moved by the quieter parts. The groovy riff which ushers in the track is still so damn good. Everything, be it by merit of the track itself or simply because of the place it holds in my historiography, just works. I still air-guitar, I still scream the lyrics where I can, I still tear up at the penultimate passages of the track.
When it comes down to it, I don’t think it’s all just me and my nostalgia; I truly think that, with “Change” and other tracks throughout the career, Dream Theater really did hit gold. Whether it’s the excellent drumming (some of Portnoy’s most restrained and, therefore, most accomplished work), John Petrucci at his height, or simply the band dynamic which had not yet fallen into disarray, “Change” really is a unique and masterful track. Like much of their early career, it remains fresh because it was written by a band still exploring their genre, still exploring their own sound. This is perhaps what most comes through when you compare “Change” and Dream Theater’s current output; you can hear the wildness, hear a group of musicians flexing their collective muscles whereas, today, you can detect a settled, agreed upon career running it course. Which is fine; they’re all people and they age and come to terms with their style as artists.
But when you’re yearning for that fierceness, for progressive metal with a molten, hot, dynamic core, you’ll turn to songs like “A Change of Seasons”. No matter how many terms you’ve heard them.
P.S. Just because I can (it’s my blog, I do what I want) can we also take this moment to talk about “Surrounded”? “Surrounded” is also amazing. Good talk.