Review & Full Album Premiere: Iota, Pentasomnia

Iota Pentasomnia

[Click play above to stream Iota’s Pentasomnia in full. It’s out this Friday, March 22, through Small Stone Records.]

Behold the album of five sleeps. Positioning themselves at the junction between the conscious and unconscious feels fair enough for Salt Lake City trio Iota, whose five-track Pentasomnia LP marks a return from the ether some 16 years after their debut, Tales (discussed here, also here, and I wrote the bio for the reissue), appeared via Small Stone Records and heralded a new generation’s take on what turn-of-the-century heavy rock had accomplished, blowing it out with purposefully epic jamming and putting cosmic-minded heavy, blues and intense desert thrust together to create something immediately of its own from it. I could go on about it — which is obvious if you click those links — but the bottom line is Iota tapped into something special and the 32-minute Pentasomnia is arrives not as the follow-up Tales never got, but as a new realization of self formed from the same components.

Founded in 2002 by guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano (also synth), who would put out two albums with the more pointedly bluesy Dwellers in 2012’s Good Morning Harakiri (review here) and 2014’s Pagan Fruit (discussed here, review here), Iota solidified as the trio of Toscano, bassist Oz Yosri (who’d later join Xur and Bird Eater) and drummer/engineer Andy Patterson, who had already joined SubRosa by the time Tales was released, would play with that band for the rest of their time and is now in The Otolith and sundry other projects in addition to helming recordings at his studio, Boar’s Nest. That’s where Pentasomnia was assembled and recorded, at least partly live, between late 2018 and early 2019, to be mixed at some point in the last half-decade by Eric Hoegemeyer, mastered by Chris Goosman and issued now through Small Stone.

Those who caught onto Iota and made the jump to Dwellers will recognize elements of his approach in Pentasomnia, particularly in the vocals. Where much of Tales was topped by a reverb-laced Pepper Keenan-esque shout, Pentasomnia brings a more patient take, melodic layers weaving into and out of harmony on closer “The Great Dissolver,” which loses none of its guitar’s shimmering resonance for being just three and a half minutes long and which, like much of what precedes it from the immediately-into-the-verse-maybe-because-it’s-been-long-enough smokey blues of leadoff “The Intruder” onward, feels suited to the dream-state being conveyed. “The Intruder” soon enough fills the space in the mix left open in that verse with rolling distortion and a solo overhead, building through the chorus, exhales and inhales again during the bridge (instrumentally speaking) and shifts into a cascading gallop before the riff and vocals come back ahead of the final comedown. Toscano‘s delivery complements both languid sway and Pentasomnia‘s most active moments, lending character and emotional depth to the songs as a defining feature.

One of the two longer inclusions at 8:14 — the other is centerpiece “The Returner” at 9:15 — “The Intruder” is perhaps named for that willful post-midpoint flow disruption, but the work that the opener does in aligning the listener to where Iota are circa 2024 (or were circa 2019, as it were) is pivotal. It tells you in clear terms that at no point on Pentasomnia are Iota trying to dream it’s 2008, but back then you could hear them pushing themselves creatively and you can hear it now too.


Amid the Soundgardeny thrust of “The Timekeeper,” the vocal reach at the end preserves the moment where breath gives out, and the way the three of them dig into the angular-but-fluid rhythm of “The Witness,” meeting a riff that wouldn’t be out of place in progressive metal with an organic nod and distinctly grunge-tinged vocal harmonies, likewise comes across as a manifestation of personal growth. If you are or think you are the same person now you were 16 years ago, well, you might want to have a hard look at that. By not aping what they did on the debut, by not trying to rebottle that particular lightning, Iota allow themselves to emphasize the sonic adventurousness was so much a part of the band’s appeal in the first place. Pentasomnia doesn’t take you to the same places as Tales, and it’s not supposed to. This is a new journey.

I suppose all of this is in some way an attempt to prepare those who got on board with Tales for the differences in aesthetic and intensity wrought through Pentasomnia, but honestly, I’m not sure it’s that big a deal. It’s the same players, even if Yosri is credited as Oz Inglorious, and the new collection is unquestionably a richer listening experience that accounts for Iota as its own entity in its creative drive, atmosphere and groove — Yosri‘s basswork being the very opposite of his nom de plume — while sharing its predecessor’s lack of pretense and bent toward individual expression in an updated way. I was a big fan of Tales. Hell, I had it on yesterday ahead of writing this review. It holds up. Pentasomnia says and does more than Iota could have during their first run, codifying elements of their style that they never had the chance to reaffirm as their own in Toscano‘s sleek riffs and transcendental soloing and Patterson‘s stately flow on drums — both the motor behind “The Witness” and the sunny hilltop on which the pastoralia early in “The Returner” takes place — and a range in songcraft that makes them all the more identifiably themselves.

The inevitable next question is to what, if anything, it will lead. A threat of live shows has been issued, but would Iota come back after 16 years, put out an album and do ‘select appearances’ in the manner of, say, Lowrider? I don’t know. Further, if these songs started coming together in 2018 and are landing now, what does that mean for their future? Could they not already have another LP ready to go when they need it, and is it any more or less likely that Pentasomnia will land, hit hard with those it’s going to hit hard with, and the band will re-recede in the face of other priorities in music and life, possibly either for good or some other extended period of time? I don’t know that either. And like the shifts in sound, those kinds of considerations become secondary to the actual listening experience. Part of what allowed Iota‘s music to endure over the course of their long absence was the cohesion they found bringing disparate ideas together. Pentasomnia feels a little more like a fourth LP than a second in how it’s grown, but if you’d hold that against it, you’re making the choice to miss out.

I find that, as regards bottom lines, I’m just really glad Pentasomnia exists. Again, I’m a fan. It’s personal for me, and I’m not going to try to speak to anyone else’s experience. I’d heard rumblings of Iota activity circa the end of the 2010s, but can’t say I ever realistically expected anything else from them, and even if I had, I likely wouldn’t have imagined the kind of progression they have on offer. Whatever is to come or isn’t, the dreams they’re having are real and vivid. This is worth appreciating now before we all wake up and everything disappears.

Iota, “The Timekeeper” official video

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