The Obelisk Questionnaire: Joey Toscano of Iota

Posted in Questionnaire on April 1st, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Joey Toscano of Iota

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Joey Toscano of Iota

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

In order of priority, I live a life and then I write songs about it. Art comes out of living, so I don’t put music above everything else, or try to live by some fixed identity like, “I’m a musician”. I observe my own living and mindstream within this absurd world — experiencing the suffering and the joy just like everyone else — doing my best to fully experience, equally, the mundane and the extraordinary, though I don’t claim to be exceptionally good at that part. And then out of that, at the very bottom of the funnel, there just happens to be a preference for communicating and sharing it via music/sound. It’s all play and pretend.

I’ve come to it in different ways between 10yo, 20yo, and so on. Very recently, I’ve come to do what I’m doing now because a friend asked me to play the leads on a record he wrote. I wasn’t very active at that point, but found motivation in wanting to help a friend realize his musical vision. That in turn lead me to being inspired to finish an album that’d been sitting on the shelf for a few years. Then that lead to inspiration for writing another album. Interconnectivity and an infinite web of new starting

Describe your first musical memory.

Probably about 5 years old, I’d pretend our vacuum cleaner was a microphone—singing along to mom’s Journey and Michael Jackson records. I’d also spend hours just flipping through the records, soaking in the cover art. Lots of CCR, Beatles, Elton John, Neil Young. That’s what I remember being in her collection.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I’ll go with the first record I ever connected with on a level that had me obsessed with listening to it all day, every day. That moment when you’re a kid and you get your first Walkman. Just completely absorbed in the music and your own emotional world. Pissing off your parents because you can’t hear anything they’re saying. That seems to be where everything has sprung from.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Great question. I’d say it’s usually when I put my head on the pillow at night. Not every night, but that’s the typical scenario. It’s when the realization hits hardest that something I was clinging to or arguing about so intensely doesn’t really matter at all. All the plans I was making, all the mundane things I thought I wanted to align myself with. All of it just vapor. I used to firmly believe that life is just a straight line, but over the last 10 years or so, I’ve experienced some things that have shaken that belief and I realize now that it’s something much different than that. I have faith that most of our beliefs are bullshit.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Well, if done with the right intention, I think perhaps enlightenment? Or at least towards a clearer, more positive understanding of one’s perceived self and their place in the world. An understanding of how your chosen craft can be of benefit to others is critical. I like that Japanese term, Shokunin. Such a great concept for artist progression. Whether you’re a mechanic, electrician, chef, writer, accountant or musician. You have a responsibility to master your craft. And in turn, you benefit someone else with that mastery. I could be misinterpreting it, but that’s how I understand it. If you put the mastery of your craft into that perspective, then the ego will eventually dissipate.

How do you define success?

A relative state of being where one has stabilized in genuine peace of mind and happiness, regardless of their situation.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Seeing my dog get run over.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I fantasize about doing movie soundtracks, though everyone I know who’s done it tells me it’s usually an excruciating process.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

Essential function is to teach us about ourselves. That doesn’t make the artist the teacher, though. How we perceive art says more about us than it does the creator. If something disgusts us, we should ask ourselves why. Same goes for when something elates us. This is why the same piece of art can have so many different meanings.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

It will sound really boring but I look forward to doing absolutely nothing and being completely content about it

Iota, Pentasomnia (2024)

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Iota, Pentasomnia

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 20th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

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

Iota on Facebook

Iota on Instagram

Iota website

Small Stone Records on Facebook

Small Stone Records on Instagram

Small Stone Records on Bandcamp

Small Stone Records website

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Iota Set March 22 Release for Pentasomnia; “The Returner” Streaming Now

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 30th, 2024 by JJ Koczan


If you were hanging around these parts earlier this month, you already knew Iota would return this year with their first album since 2008’s epic-and-I-don’t-always-call-things-epic debut, Tales (discussed here and here). That’s news to me, I don’t know about you. Good news. If you dug what guitarist Joey Toscano brought to the two Dwellers full-lengths on Small Stone in terms of melody and emotion, that melds gorgeously on Pentasomnia with a style of bluesy desertism that even Tales, broad as it was, only half defined.

Yeah, I’ve heard the record. The bio I wrote for it, which is what’s linked above, also came in with the PR wire confirmation of the March 22 release for Pentasomnia and the track stream for “The Returner.” Which you should hear. Here, let me stop talking so you can get on that.

Go go go listen listen listen and then probably preorder or something:

Iota Pentasomnia

IOTA: Salt Lake City Cult Psychedelic Rock Trio To Release Pentasomnia Full-Length March 22nd On Small Stone Recordings; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

Cult psychedelic heavy rock trio IOTA will release their long-awaited Pentasomnia full-length on March 22nd via Small Stone Recordings!

It’s been nearly sixteen years since Salt Lake City’s IOTA carved a place for themselves in the heavy underground with their debut album, Tales. Released by Small Stone Recordings, it was recorded by drummer Andy Patterson (The Otolith, ex-SubRosa), with founding guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano (who’d form Dwellers later), and bassist Oz Inglorious (ex-Bird Eater, Suffocater) and drew heavy rock impulses across space in a way that was innovative and engrossing. Marked by the twenty-minute “Dimensional Orbiter” that was the first song the band ever wrote, it showed huge potential for IOTA, who moved onto other outfits while the cult of those in the know steadily grew.

Pentasomnia, an album of five dreams, marks a return for a project begun by Toscano circa 2001, a band that has been intermittently lived with, shelved, pushed, pulled, stretched, and twisted, but whose sound shimmers with atmosphere and the resonant, bluesy emotionalism of Toscano’s vocals. Rather than some slapdash decade-and-a-half-later follow-up to a record on its way to being a niche-classic, Pentasomnia is cohesive, and as much an unexpected step forward as an unexpected return. IOTA — Toscano, Inglorious, and Patterson — revel in the groove and sway of these five songs, from the boozy head-hang of opener “The Intruder” into the ambient push of “The Returner,” which feels like a manifestation of the meld between cosmic and desert rock that was so much the heart of the band during their first run; the very essence of what they do, given new life and perspective.

“Pentasomnia is an amalgamation,” says Toscano, “roughly translating to ‘five dreams.’ Each song is told from the perspective of a different mental state. Challenging the ideas of traditional norms about identity and our place within the world; questioning the very idea of a self. A cathartic acknowledgement of our infinitesimally small place in a vast musical landscape. Live shows will unveil the album’s essence, offering glimpses into our musical journey’s dark comedy and complexity. Enjoy these songs as snapshots of a fever dream.”

IOTA’s sophomore full-length was written and recorded live over a series of sessions between 2018 and 2019 and completed in the tumultuous years after with family health emergencies, other projects and recordings, the pandemic, work, and all the stuff of life happening all at once. And yet somehow, in and perhaps from all of that, the three-piece have managed to come back together, find each other and renew their sound, and to let the intervening time underscore how crucial their collaboration genuinely is. There are going to be a lot of heavy rock records released in 2024. You sleep on IOTA at your own risk.

In advance of the release, today the band debuts first single, “The Returner.” Toscano further notes, “Pentasomnia, is centered around dreams. With each song narrating a first-person account of an acute mind state, ‘The Returner’ — the album’s third track — attempts to describe the character’s experience of waking from the dream of life, encountering their now unrestrained hallucinations in the in-between, and then returning to yet another dream. Interpretation, divine.”

Stream IOTA’s “The Returner” at THIS LOCATION.

Pentasomnia will be released on CD, LP, and limited-edition vinyl. Find preorders at the Small Stone Bandamp page HERE:

Pentasomnia Track Listing:
1. The Intruder
2. The Witness
3. The Returner
4. The Timekeeper
5. The Great Dissolver

Joey Toscano – guitars, synths, vocals
Oz Inglorious – bass
Andy Patterson – drums

Iota, Pentasomnia (2024)

Iota, Tales (2008)

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Iota to Return with New Album Pentasomnia; Here’s the Bio I Wrote for It

Posted in Features, Whathaveyou on January 11th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

In March, Iota will release their second album. If that doesn’t ring like an event to you, take about an hour of your life, go back and listen to their 2008 debut, Tales (discussed here and here). It’s at the bottom of this post. You don’t have to go far.

The three-piece of founding guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano, who’d go on to found Dwellers after Iota and put out two records on Small Stone with that project, bassist Oz Yasri (who joined Bird Eater after) and drummer/producer Andy Patterson (SubRosa, The Otolith, Insect Ark for a minute there, tons of others) will officially announce the release of their sophomore full-length, Pentasomnia, next week. It’ll be the full usual deal — artwork, track premiere, album details, a bio I wrote and all that. I don’t think I’m doing the premiere, but it’ll be somewhere on the internet and for sure I’ll post about it too. Next week.

But I was asked to do the bio for the record, and since I dig this band a lot, still dig Tales and its newcomer counterpart, I asked if I could take the bio I wrote — that’s below — and use it as kind of a soft-launch announcement for the record to come. So yes, look for all that other stuff next week. But now you already know that’s coming, and way to be ahead of the game.

Here’s that bio, with more to follow next week with the official announcement:


It’s been nearly 16 years since Salt Lake City’s Iota carved a place for themselves in the heavy underground with their debut album, Tales. Released by Small Stone Records, recorded by drummer Andy Patterson (The Otolith, ex-SubRosa, etc.), with founding guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano (who’d form Dwellers after) and bassist Oz Yasri (later of Bird Eater) drawing heavy rock impulses across space in a way that was innovative and engrossing. Marked by the 20-minute “Dimensional Orbiter” that was the first song the band ever wrote, it showed huge potential for Iota, who moved onto other outfits while the cult of those in the know steadily grew.

Pentasomnia, an album of five dreams, marks a return for a project begun by Toscano circa 2001, a band that has been intermittently lived with, shelved, pushed, pulled, stretched and twisted, but whose sound shimmers with atmosphere and the resonant, bluesy emotionalism of Toscano’s vocals. Rather than some slapdash decade-and-a-half-later follow-up to a record on its way to being a niche-classic, Pentasomnia is cohesive, and as much an unexpected step forward as an unexpected return. Iota — Toscano, Yasri, Patterson — revel in the groove and sway of these five songs, from the boozy head-hang of opener “The Intruder” into the ambient push of “The Returner,” which feels like a manifestation of the meld between cosmic and desert rocks that was so much the heart of the band during their first run; the very essence of what they do, given new life and perspective.

“Pentasomnia is an amalgamation,” says Toscano, “roughly translating to ‘five dreams’. Each song is told from the perspective of a different mental state. Challenging the ideas of traditional norms about identity and our place within the world; questioning the very idea of a self. A cathartic acknowledgement of our infinitesimally small place in a vast musical landscape. Live shows will unveil the album’s essence, offering glimpses into our musical journey’s dark comedy and complexity. Enjoy these songs as snapshots of a fever dream.”

Iota’s awaited sophomore full-length was written and recorded live over a series of sessions between 2018 and 2019 and completed in the tumultuous years after, family health emergencies, other projects and recordings, the odd pandemic, work, all the stuff of life happening all at once as ever. And somehow, in and perhaps from all of that, the three-piece have managed to come back together, find each other and renew their sound, and to let the intervening time underscore how crucial their collaboration genuinely is. There are going to be a lot of heavy rock records released in 2024. You sleep on Iota at your own risk.

Iota, Tales (2008)

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Here’s the Bio I Wrote for Iota’s Tales Reissue

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 18th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

It was just a couple months ago that I was last heaping retrospective praise on Iota‘s Tales full-length, which was originally released by Small Stone Records in 2008. Needless to say, then, that when the label came around and asked if I had anything to say about a vinyl reissue in the works, I mashed my forehead into my keyboard until a bunch of nonsensical fanboyism could be deciphered by a trained team of baboons, syllable by syllable. Something like that. It may have been orangutans.

The important factor, more even than the fact that this is a “Thing I Wrote” post, which are always a little jolt to my fragile-manchild ego, is that said LP edition of Tales will be out on March 15. In my head, this will play out to massive fanfare and the discovery of a kickass band with untold potential being discovered by a new generation of fans, leading to a reunion, a vital new album and a tour on — why not? — a comfortable bus, maybe shared with Monster Magnet or someone like that. Sounds good? Sounds good to me.

Maybe that’s how it goes. Maybe if you tell two friends and they tell two friends and they tell two friends we’ll all invent the internet. I don’t know. But it’s been 11 years and Tales is still due more acknowledgement than it’s gotten.

Here’s the bio I wrote as circled back through the PR wire with the release info:

iota tales 2019

IOTA: Small Stone Recordings To Release Tales Full-Length From Cult Stoner Metal Collective On Limited-Edition Vinyl This March; Preorders Available

When IOTA’s Tales was first released more than a decade ago, it immediately heralded a change in the scope of heavy rock ‘n’ roll. From the hard punch of its opening duo “New Mantis” and “We Are The Yithians,” it departed into three extended cuts that drew together already-classic elements of weighted riffs with a doors-thrown-open sense of space and jammed into scorched-solo psychedelic oblivion. With Joey Toscano, who’d go on to form Dwellers, on guitar and vocals, the suitably wizardly Oz on bass, and recording engineer Andy Patterson, who soon enough would join SubRosa, IOTA raised a monolith of singular intent and showed throughout Tales a potential that was entirely their own.

The Salt Lake City trio had been around for over five years by then, having formed in 2002 and released two demos before the album as they earned local praise and found themselves supporting the likes of Brant Bjork, High On Fire, Black Cobra, Eternal Elysium, The Sword, and others. And that’s all well and good, but it would be Tales that defined them, whether it was “The Sleeping Heathen” started off at a sprint on its ten-minute run, “Opiate Blues” sure enough finding room for some harp alongside its dirt-covered riffs and foresight-laden heavy blues pulsations, or the massive sprawl of the twenty-two-minute “Dimensional Orbiter” that dream-jammed its way toward the outer reaches of cosmic sensation. Tantric, broad, and a gorgeous showcase of a dynamic ready to storm the earth, it helped earn Iota a cult following that persists over ten years later.

And along with anyone else who might be fortunate to stumble upon it, that cult, quite frankly, deserves to have Tales on vinyl. This is the first official LP release of the album, so call it a reissue or don’t. It doesn’t matter. Music this good exists out of time, and whether IOTA’s Tales is new to a listener or a well-kept secret regarded as a classic unto itself, it still sounds as far-reaching as it did when the band unfurled it the first time around. It wasn’t to be missed then. It’s not to be missed now [words by JJ Koczan].

Small Stone Recordings will release IOTA’s Tales full-length on vinyl for the first time ever on March 15th. Limited to 500 units in a clear with black swirl color combination, Tales was remastered for vinyl by Chris Goosman at Baseline Audio in Ann Arbor, Michican with the original running order of the album slightly altered to fit on the LP format.

For preorders and to stream Tales in its entirety go to THIS LOCATION.

Tales Track Listing:
Side A:
1. New Mantis
2. The Sleeping Heathen
3. Opiate Blues
Side B:
4. Dimensional Orbiter
5. We Are The Yithians

IOTA is:
Joey Toscano – guitars, vocals
Oz – bass
Andy Patterson – drums

Iota, Tales (2008/2019)

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Friday Full-Length: Iota, Tales

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

What a record. I’ve mentioned Iota here and there over the years, mostly when talking about other bands, but it’s now been 10 years since the Salt Lake City-based trio released their debut and apparent swansong, Tales, on Small Stone, and it seems high time the album got a revisit. In hindsight, it was a collection ahead of the curve in its blend of straightforward heavy rock riffing and more open-feeling jams, and even when it came out, it was clear the band were onto something special. I was still working print mags at the time and I remember calling it “like Kyuss in space,” and I stand by that to some degree. Under the mountain-filled skies of Utah, Iota harnessed a style that was as comfortable in the high-rolling lead guitar strut deep into the seventh minute of “The Sleeping Heathen”‘s total 10 as it was tearing through the opening duo of “New Mantis” and “We are the Yithians,” neither of which was half as long. Those two tracks, however brief, were utterly crucial to the overall impression made by guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano, bassist Oz Yosri and drummer/engineer Andy Patterson in what followed.

To wit, with “New Mantis” (4:40) and “We are the Yithians” (3:37) at the outset, Tales subsequently launched into three cuts that would comprise roughly 84 percent of its runtime. “The Sleeping Heathen” (10:42), the sprawling “Dimensional Orbiter” (22:56) and closer “Opiate Blues” (8:14) shot outward from where Tales began, but the context of the two opening tracks gave a straightforward edge to even the most dug-in jams of “Dimensional Orbiter,” which as it hit the five-minute mark, pivoted from its hook and the gritty vocal delivery of Toscano into a consuming instrumental rush that continued until after 19 minutes in, when a slowdown brought the vocals back atop masterful crashing and more wah-drenched lead work. “Dimensional Orbiter” was and remains a gorgeous demonstration of the potential in Iota‘s sound, but the basic elements from which it was crafted are right there in “New Mantis” and “We are the Yithians.” From the furious chug and snare punishment that started the former to the tension of its verses and the takeoff into a solo before the first half was done, to the hook that emerged through the barrage of high-desert tonality and ethereal who-the-hell-knows-what-they’re-talking-about lyrics, and into the semi-metallized slower-thrash riffing of “We are the Yithians,” catchy, quick, efficient as it was, the sense of Iota careening from one movement to the next was palpable even before “The Sleeping Heathen” took hold.

And once it did, it was the beginning point of an entirely different stage of the album. I’d call it a transition point, but it really wasn’t. While “The Sleeping Heathen” picked up at a sprint from “We are the Yithians” and would turn fluidly into “Dimensional Orbiter” on the other end, its place on the record was hardly just about making the shift from one side of the band’siota tales personality to the other. That’s part of what made Tales so special. There was of course a flow between — and plenty within — its tracks, but a huge part of the reason it all worked so well was simply that Toscano, Yosri and Patterson had the confidence to pull it off. Toscano was a grounding presence as a frontman, and the importance of his leading the band through the return to structure in the final minutes of “Dimensional Orbiter” isn’t to be understated for the work it did in establishing Iota‘s songwriting as central. Yeah, they jammed way, way, way out, but they didn’t let the track end without bringing it back either. That was the job of “Opiate Blues,” with its harmonica-laced wash of fuzz and all-gone-not-coming-back vibe. But all the more, then, what “Dimensional Orbiter” did was to show that Iota were conscious of what they were doing in the material. It might sound like they were getting lost in the vastness of their own making, and maybe they were for a while, but they weren’t about to actually stay lost. I’ll happily maintain that Iota‘s Tales was one of 2008’s most exciting albums, and if it showed up now, a decade later, I’d still be dying to hear what the band did next.

A lot’s changed in 10 years, of course, but you take my meaning. Consider the vinyl revival. Tales, as the runtimes and track placements were on the original disc, wouldn’t work on vinyl. You’d probably have to drop off “Opiate Blues” and lose that harmonica-jam finish to close with “Dimensional Orbiter” as a standalone cut on side B. Side A would work with “New Mantis,” “We are the Yithians” and “The Sleeping Heathen” as they are, but the linear aspect of the record would be gone and it would be a marked change in the overall affect. Maybe it would be cool, but I’m not sure sacrificing the closer to fit on a 12″ would be a fair enough trade. But 2008 was a different time. It was a moment of transition in the social media landscape, but even more than that, consider that Texas’ Wo Fat, who’d made their debut in 2006 with The Gathering Dark, would release Psychedelonaut the next year and embark on a similar course of blending straightforward rock with jammier fare. Their take was bluesier, and they certainly went on to do it more than once, but it stands as another example of how new the idea was at that point. Iota were right on the cusp of that movement waiting to happen.

Then nothing happened. They played SXSW a couple times and would talk about new material for a while, but by the second half of 2009, Toscano was beginning to establish his new outfit, Dwellers, and they’d go on to release two records also through Small Stone to-date, while Patterson would take hold of the drums in SubRosa and continue to build his reputation as a producer. Careers took different paths, and gradually Iota became a footnote and a case of what-coulda-been-style potential unrealized. I heard as recently as last year they had some new jams, but nothing has come to the surface as yet, and in the meantime, everyone seems plenty busy otherwise. SubRosa‘s For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here) was the best album of 2016, and Dwellers, whose 2014 outing, Pagan Fruit (review here), continues to get periodic revisits, have reportedly started hammering out material for a third LP, to which one looks forward. Yosri was playing with Bird Eater alongside members of the crushing Gaza, but they broke up in 2014. Iota had early demos with different personnel in the rhythm section, but Tales stands alone as the document of what they accomplished during their time. And 10 years after the fact, it still kicks unreasonable amounts of ass.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

We were getting ready to leave Connecticut the other day — prepping for the by-now-so-familiar-The-Pecan-doesn’t-even-really-mind-it-anymore trip south to New Jersey for a final week here before the semester starts and we have to go back to Massachusetts to hunker down for the winter ahead. I was packing the car. I had a laundry basket full of clean clothes coming south, and the baby didn’t want to be put down. He’s got three teeth, working on numbers four and five already, and has been hair-trigger pretty much daily for the last three weeks running. Brutal. I said, “You wanna go for a ride in the laundry basket?” and he gave me a look like, “The fuck kinda question is that chief OF COURSE I wanna go for a ride in the laundry basket,” so I loaded him in, he held onto the sides and I marched out to put the basket in the car. Fine.

I think it must have been when I pulled the basket up onto the back bumper so I could open the hatch on The Patient Mrs.’ car that my back went out. Brutally out. This was Wednesday early on and it’s Friday morning as I write this and I’m still considerably uncomfortable. I’ve spent the last two days with heating pads and ibuprofen and I’m better than I was by Wednesday evening when we got here and I couldn’t really move, but very clearly something was pulled. Something necessary for basic functions. It has sucked, and it continues to suck. Yesterday I could pick the baby up, but couldn’t really hold him long. Just to kind of put him from one place to the other. No way to live.

My father always had chronic back pain. My sister as well, for years. Real genetic lottery winner, this one.

So that’s kind of peppered my last couple days, and by “peppered” I mean “been excruciating and frustrating.” But so it goes. In addition, I’ve been up in the middle of the night doing Obelisk stuff so that I can be available during the day to watch the baby so The Patient Mrs. can work. Working the overnights. “Four-shift crew rotation, Riker. Get it done.” I don’t actually mind that. I can relax and not be as rushed to get things done, but it does pretty much necessitate a nap later on. And every now and then I cry a bit.

–Wow. So I just went fucking apeshit and typed out a whole miserable screed about depression and pills and being a wreck. I deleted it, it’s gone, but it was there. It sucks that I’m not really comfortable enough to post that kind of thing here anymore. I used to feel like I could say anything at any time. Now, it’s setting myself up for bullshit.


Let’s do the notes instead. That’ll be productive. Did you listen to that Moab track today? That record smokes, so I hope so. Here’s what’s up for next week as of now:

Mon.: Clutch review; The White Swan track premiere.
Tue.: Fvzz Popvli track premiere/review; news catchup.
Wed.: Constant Lovers track premiere.
Thu.: Juicer track premiere.
Fri.: Ramprasad EP full stream.

Busy busy, as ever. Probably Monday we’ll head back north to Connecticut and then follow-up with a return to Massachusetts thereafter. The Patient Mrs. has to go be brilliant as she will at a conference in Boston next weekend, so I’m on baby duty for the duration there, which is fine. I should be able to move by then.

Which reminds me: ibuprofen.

I’m gonna finish downing this coffee, fire off an email or two and go back to bed hopefully for 90 minutes or so until The Pecan wakes up. If you need me this weekend, I’m on the social medias and checking in as much as I can getting ready for next week. That Clutch review is going to be a fun one to put together.

Alright. Great and safe weekend, please. And please too, forum and radio:

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Where to Start: The Obelisk’s Guide to Small Stone Records

Posted in Where to Start on May 3rd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.

Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”

That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.

One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.

Here they are, ordered by the date of release:

1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)

Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.

2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)

Personally, I think 2005’s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.

3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)

In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.

4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)

The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.

5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)

I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.

6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)

Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.

7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)

It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.

8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)

Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.

9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)

It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.

10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)

If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011’s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.

That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘s Songs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.

And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.

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