Mario Malachi attempts to go it alone with Hydrone but finds a band

The trio performs at Ace of Cups tonight in support of its debut album, ‘Death Perception’

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

Prior to forming Hydrone, Mario Malachi primarily played drums in other bands, so it was a bit of an adjustment when he finally assumed the role of frontman.

“I remember the first time I got onstage [with Hydrone]. I got really nervous and I messed up, and then I said into the microphone, ‘Oh, sorry, I don’t really play [guitar],’” said Malachi, who will join bassist Peter Brown and drummer Brian Baker in a concert at Ace of Cups today (Thursday, Oct. 14) in celebration of the trio’s debut full-length, Death Perception (Clean Demon Records). “And I remember my friend took me aside after the show and said, ‘Don’t you ever say that again. You’re onstage playing guitar. It’s what you do.’ And I think that was a pivotal moment for me where I was like, all right, if I want to do something, I’m just going to do it.”

Malachi initially formed Hydrone with a live focus, the trio playing out as often as possible and almost never turning down a gig. For that reason, it was a massive adjustment for the musician when COVID-19 shut down the concert industry in March 2020, at which point the trio pivoted into recording. Early on, the bandmates focused on the fast, short, high-energy songs that composed much of its live set (“Alarm Fatigue,” the racing, riff-driven “Step on Me”), and these tunes make up the first half of Death Perception. The record’s back half, however, begins to mutate, the songs getting gradually slower and weirder. Some even start to stretch well past the five-minute mark, including the dark, unsettling “Toadlicker,” which unfolds like a disturbingly psychedelic head trip.

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This shift was driven in part by the shutdown, which naturally injected a slower pace into the music, in addition to the influence of Malachi’s day job working in clinical trials with COVID patients at Riverside Hospital. “I like fun, catchy, exciting music as much as anyone, but I also like weird, noisy, gross stuff as well,” Malachi said. “A lot of my friends were in lockdown at home, or unemployed and just doing their thing, and I was going into the hospital every day and talking to and looking at sick people, and that definitely had an impact on the music we were making. … To constantly look at and be faced with death, dying and sickness, there wasn’t really anything that was enough to distract me from any of that, and so it started to permeate into everything that I did.”

Malachi said that from its inception, Hydrone has served as a release, offering him a space in which he can let go of his anxieties and “that energy that is frantic and stressful,” emotions that can tumble out in hallucinatory bursts like the instrumental “Phantom Piss” or more straightforward rockers like “Walk,” which comes closer to strutting, if we’re getting technical here.

At times, Malachi writes with a clear idea of what he’s trying to say. But more often he’s allowing thoughts and ideas to bubble up organically. “I think usually I take a backseat approach, where I’m letting my subconscious drive and it’s like, ‘Let’s see where this goes,’” Malachi said. “It’s only months later, weeks later, whatever it is, where I’m reading back and it’s like, man, I didn’t know why I wrote this, but it’s making a lot of sense now.”

The musician’s decision to finally step out from behind his drum kit was done with far more intention, though. “I wanted to be in control. … Every support role I’d been in, I would always find myself pushing and pushing, but then I’d feel weighted down or held back by the person who was leading it,” Malachi said. “I wanted to take on the responsibility where if something didn’t happen or I was unable to accomplish something, I only had myself to blame. And I think I reached a point where I was confident enough in my abilities to think I could do that, or at least delusional enough to think that I could.”

As with the band’s music, this idea, too, has mutated over time, particularly on the most recent songs workshopped by the trio.

“Maybe I overcorrected from my previous bands to being like, ‘This is mine and I’m in control,'” Malachi said. “Now it’s opening up and all three of us are actively contributing, and it’s only better for the different strengths we bring to the table. I think embracing that atmosphere and really writing together and performing together, something new and wonderful is being created right now.”