|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Scarlet|
|Record Label: FnA||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: No Quote|
|Running Time: 31:21|
You have about as much need for yet another hair metal band as a hole in the head, right? Well, after giving Scarlet, a Tampa, Florida based quartet that formed in the early eighties, a close listen I am sure you will agree the scene has room for at least one more group, particularly when the music is of such high quality. In other words, what better time than for spandex, headbands, hairspray and hooks, hooks and more hooks to make a comeback!
Scarlet, not to be confused with the glam outfit Scarlet Red from the same era, got its start as a studio project and spent the better part of the decade (1983-87) recording demos of new material. The group’s efforts paid off in that one of its tracks, “Stop Runnin’”, was a top four finalist on MTV’s Basement Tapes while another, “We’re Gonna Rock”, was picked up for airplay on local radio. In between, Scarlet found time to be an active live act in performing at theaters, clubs and venues throughout Central Florida.
Scarlet might have disbanded in 1988, but it stuck around long enough to demo nine songs. Said demos, of course, have been long out of print and impossible to find for decades (I am uncertain if they were ever made commercially available). Enter FnA Records, a label specializing in unreleased and hard-to-find music from the 80’s and early 90’s, which in 2010 re-issued the nine songs in question on CD under the appropriate title Scarlet.
Now, I do not think I need to go into too much detail about what Scarlet brings to the table, but if you are a fan of Stryper, Guardian, Shout, Angelica, Crystavox and Holy Soldier (and a host of others from the time) then I can see the group being of interest. Scarlet, otherwise, delivers the riffs, hooks and chops to create a work characterized by a maturity in songwriting well beyond their years and experience. So rest assured if you were afraid this was one of those “3-chords and a cloud of dust” garage bands that cannot help but make you cringe.
High energy pieces “Right Reason” (radio friendly hook), “I Declare War” (classic melodic metal) and “We’re Gonna Rock” (a metal anthem if there ever was one) do a good job capturing the passion and zeal characteristic to the “white metal” movement of the time. Messiah Prophet (Master Of The Metal), Rage Of Angels (self-titled) and Neon Cross (self-titled) come to mind in the process.
Scarlet can also slow things down, such as on melodic hard rocker “Lisa”, or even flex its muscles”, as it does on the traditional metal of “Armor”. But what I truly appreciate about the group - and this is where that “maturity beyond their years” comes into play - is how it refuses to be “pigeonholed”. My point being that Scarlet is not just about melodic metal but also blues heavy rock (“Treasure”), worship rock (“Beginning”) and even classic rock (“Friends”).
Of course, it is all for naught if the group cannot pull it off performance wise. It all starts with front man Jeff McDonald, who sings in a lower register in comparison to many vocalists of the genre, such as Michael Sweet (Stryper) or Les Carlson (Bloodgood). If anything, his warm and mid-ranged flavorings bring to mind Ken Redding (His Witness, Menchen) but with a touch of Ken Tamplin (Shout) thrown in.
All other Scarlet members are solid performers. It must be pointed out guitarist Michael Flake, a more than above average player who bestows the project with his tight harmonies and melodies (check out “Lisa”) but can also nail some aggressive lead guitar work (see “We’re Gonna Rock”).
Production is solid for early to mid-eighties demo recordings. Yes, you will find some thinness overall, but this is not a bunch of poorly recorded garage demos either. All in all, the project proves surprisingly listenable (again, when considering the time at hand).
While not included with the packaging, lyrics are bold and upfront in terms of their message. “Right Reason” talks about how “Christ is the reason- that is why we sing” while “Armor” exhorts the listener to “Put on the full armor of God/So we can stand for what is true”. “I Declare War” reinforces how there is “Victory in Christ the King” and that we can “Overcome with the Blood of the Lamb”. “Treasure” and “Beginning” leave little doubt in terms of their lyrical direction either.
Track By Track
The infectious energy of “Right Reason” helps make it one of the albums better tracks. When further factoring in the polished vocal melodies and non-stop hooks in abundance, I am almost reminded of Stryper’s “Makes Me Wanna Sing” (off Soldiers Under Command).
The pace slows somewhat for “Lisa”. A melodic hard rock approach with some AOR touches is taken here, the commercial leanings at hand hinting at Shout or Fire Of Love era Guardian. The formula works in that the songs melody will remain with you for some time.
“Stop Runnin’” brings some pop sensibilities mixed with driving metal edged guitar riffs. The end result is a catchy piece that could easily lend itself to radio play (I can see why it was a finalist on MTV’s Basement Tapes). Nice guitar harmonies as well.
Every group has at least one “Spinal Tap moment” and such is the case with “We’re Gonna Rock”. Perhaps it is the clichéd song title or lyrical platitudes - “We’re gonna rock/Never gonna stop/Rock for the Rock one way” - but everything has “overdone” written all over it. This is disappointing in light of the fact the song is a musically solid metal anthem highlighting a ton of momentum and distorted lead guitar stretch.
Now, I do not want to be unfair to Scarlet because the “rock for the Rock” lyrical approach was actually cutting edge back in the day. Stryper, for instance, as highly regarded and respected as it is, got away with the following line: “We're rockin for the Rock, and I know we'll never stop/And we well never be ashamed/We're here to rock for you an rock is what we'll do”. So in the end we’ll cut the guys from Scarlet some slack, alright?
What follows are two songs in “Armor” and “I Declare War” that, due to their lyrical direction, I like to refer to as the “spiritual warfare suite”.
“Armor” breaks down into two parts: The first consist of a moody and emotional acoustic based opening. The second, starting a minute and a half into the song when a bristling rhythm guitar slams in, features some of the albums heaviest moments. Saint’s “Acid Rain/Full Armor” (off In The Battle) might be the best way to describe things.
“I Declare War” brings a youthful energy with its unremitting impetus. Furiously up-tempo front to back, the song stands out with its chugging low end and stretch of nasty soloing that would turn the head of Oz Fox (Stryper). Tying everything together is quite the pronounced chorus hook.
Scarlet proves the versatility of its songwriting on “Treasure”, a traditional blues heavy rocker in the mode of The Rex Carroll Band. No, the guitars might not be metal but still deliver enough edge and bite while McDonald is in his natural element with his gritty vocal flavorings.
What we have in “Beginning” is a tasteful worship rocker. Everything about this one is positive and uplifting, from the up-tempo disposition to the heartfelt lyrical approach – “Came from heaven for the grace and truth/We have now seen the glory of the One and Only” - I cannot help but keep from singing along.
“Friends” is the least metal of the Scarlet material. And by no means is this a bad thing in that the classic rock flavorings here add to the albums varied appeal. The song, showcasing the female vocals of Darla Bernath, merges underpinnings of piano with occasional bursts of ethereal rhythm guitar. A fitting emotional guitar solo rounds things out.
Fans of hair/glam/melodic metal should find a lot to like in Scarlet. Once more, the songwriting is very good and the production, while featuring some elements of thinness, not bad for early to mid-eighties demos.
The best way to close is by asking why it took so long to hear from Scarlet? Specifically, Florida had an active eighties Christian metal scene in producing one band that recorded a series of highly acclaimed demo in Apostle and another, Arsenal, that signed to Regency and released the Armored Choir album. You would think one of the “zines” back in the day such as White Throne or Heaven’s Metal would have reported on the group. Then again, perhaps Scarlet did not want to be marketed as a Christian band and subsequently did not forward its demos to the Christian press at the time.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Right Reason” (2:43), “Lisa” (3:25), “Stop Runnin’” (3:05), “We’re Gonna Rock” (3:24), “Armor” (3:58), “I Declare War” (3:02), “Treasure” (2:51), “Beginning” (3:57), “Friends” (4:53)
Jeff McDonald – Vocals & Guitars
Michael Flake – Guitars
Ronnie Lewis – Bass & Keyboards
Jimmy Moore – Drums
Darla Bernath – Lead Vocals & Piano
Kip Thompson, Mark Busto & Jimmy Eggert - Drums