When Abdullah frontman Jeff Shirilla wails, "I feel like my thoughts are no longer my own" early on his band's superb second album, he's giving voice to what has to be the biggest caveat of retro-minded stoner rock: the preoccupation with nostalgia at the expense of anything resembling an original thought. He does so inadvertently, as in the song "Deprogrammed," which is about emotional disaffection in a fast-food nation. If that doesn't sound like the typical subject matter of a genre filled with fetishes for muscle cars and bustlines the size of Marshall stacks, well, truth be told, Abdullah isn't a typical stoner-rock outfit.
Any group that can play the hair metal haven that is the Revolution one week, open for nü-metal up-and-comers Chevelle shortly thereafter, and still win applause at reefer-rock fests like Emissions in Youngstown has to be about more than rote, Sabbath-obsessed riff-mongering. And indeed, Abdullah mixes the '80s-oriented new wave of British heavy metal fist-pumping, morose doom, and even vitriolic thrash into a sound that's more about dynamics than doobies. Cue up "Deprogrammed" for neck-spraining trad metal like Priest hasn't had in eons, "Salamander" for shape-shifting doom as slippery as its namesake, and the album-ending "They, the Tyrants" for a shot of white-knuckle speed metal with a killer solo.
What brings it all together is Shirilla's tough, tensile upper-register delivery, which infuses Abdullah's music with both drama and backbone. With swarming guitar and a nimble rhythm section, it all adds up to a pretty impressive, forward-thinking display that should help take this scene back to the future.