John Scarlata began his journey as a guitarist in the 90s as a young man who wanted to “jam along with his favourite metal songs”. His talents grew, and eventually he’d mastered the art of fretboard manipulation, but any musical success was slow in presenting itself. Eventually, he self-released a debut track, ‘Metal-Baby’, via Bandcamp, which showed him to be someone capable of wielding a really big musical tone. The track’s multi-layered guitar sound and influences from old thrash tracks were a classic metal fan’s dream. Unfortunately, Scarlata’s vocal did the recording no favours. At odds with some great riffs and shredding elements, he sounded like a man shouting on a mobile phone’s answering machine.

Nevertheless, his musical journey continued, and a full length album materialised in 2022. With the boogie metal of ‘In A Flash’ combining the sounds of Glen Drover with Joe Satriani, the chugging groove and echoing vocal of ‘Common Ground’ tipping the hat to more of a Sabbath-ish influence, and ‘All In’ bravely chucking bluesy tones over a backdrop that occasionally sounded as if he’d been listening to White Zombie’s ‘La Sexorcisto’ before sliding into a jig that, again, showed an obvious Iommi love, Scarlata managed to cover a lot of styles and influences on the low budget disc.

This quickly released follow up features just three tracks, but for those who enjoyed the previous album, the tunes will certainly bring more enjoyment, and this automatically becomes John’s best release to date purely through being an instrumental recording. ‘Hyperactive’ kicks off with a busy, programmed drum groove, and its rigid nature provides a strong backbone from which John adds the required guitar jams. Although the rhythm is a little harsh, Scarlata’s playing sounds even better than before, first exploring multi-tracked sounds and an Eastern melody, before branching off into a world of guitar solos that sound like demo sketches for an unreleased Marty Friedman album from 1989. His busy style is impressive; his 80s metal tones are just as thrilling. Even with the demo-like sound, there’s the heart of something genuinely great here, and by the time the piece reaches its climax with the guitarist hammering at his fretboard, it feels like an old guitar instrumental you’ve known forever.

‘Mindreader’ changes the core mood for something more of a thrash metal persuasion, and some tight rhythmic work goes a long way to giving some familiar music a big heart. Over the jagged chords, Scarlata works a world of busy notes, and just when you think it’s going to be another straight up shred metal piece, he branches off into a more melodic sphere where multi-tracked leads attack ascending scales and, again, there’s almost an Arabic undertone to some of the arrangement’s angrier moments. During the track’s second half, it’s good to hear the guitarist throwing several shrill notes over a familiar melody to give it an extra edge. Finally, the title cut offers more thrash traits intercut with a couple of inventive stops, before exploring a much dirtier tone and groove. It isn’t skatepunk, but even so, there’s some great playing to be heard once John hits his stride. With a metallic harshness applied to an ominous melody where occasional doom influences cut through a world of late 80s/early 90s soloing, it occasionally sounds like a tribute to some of shred metal’s forgotten heroes like Scott Stine, and that will be enough for genre fans to lend an open ear.

As mentioned, the purely instrumental approach is definitely a massive step in the right direction for Scarlata, but the EP format, too, gives his sound and material a greater feeling of focus. There’s still very obviously a low budget element to this recording – reinforced by a drum sound that’s both thin and harsh in places – but in terms of guitar playing and guitar tones, Scarlata hits the mark throughout. Demo quality it may be, but the best bits of ‘Skatepunk’ might remind some listeners of a certain age of those Shrapnel Records glory days, and as such, those who like it might well love it.

January 2023