At the beginning of 2022, John Scarlata – aka ScarlataMusic – released his ‘Skatepunk’ EP. By dispensing with all vocals, his work immediately improved, and even though the release’s three tracks were presented with a demo-like quality, his lead guitar work was stellar throughout. In the main, his thrash-based melodies called back to albums like Jason Becker’s ‘Perpetual Burn’ and Marty Friedman’s self-titled disc, creating something very nostalgic.

Almost two years down the line, ‘Rough & Tumble’ sounds very much like a continuation of Scarlatamusic’s prior Shrapnel Records love-fest, but that – obviously – is precisely what anyone approaching this EP would hope for. ‘Determination’ wastes no time in reaching for the speed when it opens with a thrash-centric riff – all lightning fast hammering of muted chords over a pneumatic rhythm, before branching out to allow Scarlata more space for impressive soloing. His lead work straddles speed and melody, occasionally sounding like one of KK Downing’s absolutely blistering solo’s from Priest’s ‘Painkiller’ LP, but more often sounding like a Shrapnel Records throwback. Whatever he plays, and however he plays it, he shares a great tone. Particularly impressive is the way he slides between a harmonic melody with tinges of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal during the verse, straight into hard edged thrash with whammy bar weirdness without missing a beat, and yet always manages to keep an ear on melody. There are a frightening amount of notes cranked out in under three minutes here, but it’s fair to say that older fans of the style will love this from the off.

‘Pressure Cooker’ shifts the mood at first by applying a gruff surf rock riff to the usual thrash rhythm, which definitely shows Scarlata branching out. Even after the arrangement drops back into a safe zone of Kreator inspired riff meeting Shrapnel Records noise, there are still hints of something different trying to burst through, ensuring this is never a repeat of previous work. If anything leaves an impression here, though, its the use of a much dirtier tone used to create the core of the riffs, with John recycling the energies of mid 80s metal with a real gusto. In and out in two and a half minutes, with very little soloing and a demo quality mix, it feels a little unfinished compared to the opener, but there are the guts of something exciting here. In closing, ‘Rough & Tumble’ mixes thrashing drums with a strange melody that, during the intro, sounds like something inspired by an 80s computer game. After grabbing the listener’s attention, most of the melody dissipates, and John sets about thrashing at full pelt, sharing shrill notes for the remainder. The tone and speed can lead to listener fatigue, but if you can make it past that, his harmonic sounds are occasionally interesting, as is a vaguely eastern melody peeking sheepishly through the wall of noise. Any interesting flourishes aren’t actually strong enough to balance out the pure bombast, though, and even though the pure dexterity is impressive, it’s likely you’ll only play this number a couple of times before shelving it in favour of a couple of ScarlataMusic’s more melodic offerings.

These three tracks are a little rough production wise and Scarlata’s incessant drum machine clattering can feel a tad tiring at times, but neither of these slightly negative factors draw away from the sheer energy of the material. In terms of an old-school 1980s shred-fest, John delivers in spades on two of these numbers, with his razor sharp lead work always ready to entertain. Those always looking for a speed driven guitar fix will certainly find more sounds to enjoy here, and guitar fans who’ve worn out those old Joey Tafolla records might well find some interest in this underground talent, even with such a raw quality being evident.

November 2023