Malison – Reborn for MetalFriday, 15th October 2021
Delivering a style of heavy metal that incorporates facets of thrash, power, neoclassical, and modern touches, Malison from San Diego, California creates a style that is quite energetic, melodic, and fascinating. The four-piece will make many want to air guitar or sing to the top of their lungs at this material – bringing about thoughts from Megadeth and Iron Maiden to Dragonforce at a surface glance. Their second album Death’s Embrace has delightful dynamic diversity – cuts that are progressive as well as anthemic, lead breaks that tantalize, dazzle, and shred with the best in the business. Acoustic guitars and piano embellish the natural electric proceedings – as every song contains plenty of earworms to latch upon, bang thy head, and raise devil horns in approval.
We reached out to guitarist Mario Lovio by phone one late afternoon and caught up on all things Malison. Learn more about his metal and guitar evolution, the challenges related to the pandemic and the final outcome of Death’s Embrace, the friendships in the group, thoughts on the tools of the internet in promotion for the band, and insight into the future.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your earliest memories surrounding music growing up? How did you make the evolution to heavy metal, and eventually picking up an instrument to want to perform your own music?
Mario Lovio: I’m Hispanic, my parents are Hispanic, so the only music I knew as a child was the music they would play – traditional Spanish music. And then I got into skateboarding – that was my first love. And I would watch skateboarding videos – the skateboarder would choose a song to showcase their clips. Punk rock music was a part of that – I ended up liking the Misfits, Anti-Flag, stuff like that. I was introduced to metal in middle school going into high school – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and I quickly realized I loved it. The twin guitar harmonizing, I loved it. On a whim I decided to pick up a guitar, and it went from there.
Some friends in high school showed me how to read guitar tablature, and I started basic songs on my own. I ended up doing a lot of research online through YouTube that was free. I did take two guitar lessons a couple of years ago, but I had already been playing guitar for over ten years. I’m 99% self-taught.
Dead Rhetoric: Was Malison the first original band you were a part of, or were there other bands that came before this?
Lovio: We had a band in high school, but we did mostly covers. That was the first band I decided to write an original song with. We had one original song and like three covers. It wasn’t anything serious. During college I was in another band, and we were writing songs, but for whatever reason it was slow to evolve. It wasn’t until Malison that I started writing a lot of originals. Mostly Steven and I work together as the songwriters.
Dead Rhetoric: Death’s Embrace is the second Malison album. Where do you see the major differences in terms of the songwriting, production, and performances versus the Impulses EP from 2015 and your self-titled full-length in 2018?
Lovio: For the Impulses EP we had a different guitar player and a different drummer. The majority of the songs – one of the songs was written by me during the college time band I was just mentioning, the other two songs were written by the guitar player at that time. The guitar player and drummer decided to go in their own direction, leaving Steven and I to start over almost. We had our own ideas. In 2016 we got our new drummer, and we wrote the self-titled album. With Death’s Embrace, we were really starting from scratch. We had some new thrash influences on this one. I would say the new album is more well-rounded in terms of our influences. We want to incorporate a little bit of Iron Maiden, Steven is a big fan of Between the Buried and Me, we have some old school thrash influences too. We have a new guitar player (Eddie Spade) that came on board right before we went into the studio. He didn’t get a chance to do any writing for this album, but I anticipate with our third album it will be us four, with the same trajectory to put our unique influences in there and make it work for all of us.
Dead Rhetoric: Were there any specific surprises or obstacles that came up when it comes to the recording of the new album?
Lovio: With the exception of coronavirus, we didn’t know when we were going to be able to get in to record this album. We had to wear masks inside the studio. There was one case of a potential second or third hand exposure to the virus, someone we know that was exposed. Thankfully no one had it, but we did have to stop recording for two weeks to make sure everyone came back negative.
A lot of it was the mixing and mastering that was delayed. We had to communicate more of what we wanted over the phone instead of being in there in the studio. It’s tougher to do that way when you want certain elements turned up. We were super happy with the way things came out. The first and second records, we feel like we ended up getting a better sounding record this time.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the cover art come about for this record? Did you work hand in hand with the artist to flesh out the idea?
Lovio: There was a different cover art, which we like to call the ‘alternate’ cover art, we made as a t-shirt as a part of the pre-sale. I gave him a rough draft, we ended up not using it. I saw the current cover art on a page of an artist that was highly recommended to me by a friend. I had seen other art of his before which I thought was great. It’s a little different, and I asked him to make some tweaks to it. It became the official artwork for this record.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Malison when it comes to your live performance and outlook? What have been some of your favorite or more memorable show memories to date?
Lovio: We want to make sure that our live performances match the energy of the music. I want to make sure that people can hear the dual guitar harmonies, as we do a lot of that on the record. It’s really fast paced we want everything tight and on point. We hope people come out and enjoy the show. I hope the audience can see we really enjoy playing our music and being up on stage. This lineup has never been better for that. We like doing what we are doing and appreciate every single person that is there. We like talking to our fans, we are very sociable.
We did the Viper Room last Saturday, and that was a really, really great show. We are still processing that, as it was the first show that we’ve done in about a year and a half. The very first time we played live was memorable. We have a lot of good shows here in San Diego, at the Brick by Brick opening up for touring bands. It’s hard to think the most memorable one.
Dead Rhetoric: How important have the tools of social media and platforms like Bandcamp, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify been to promote, develop, and sustain a following for Malison outside of your San Diego base into national and international scenes?
Lovio: It’s so important nowadays to have a really good presence, and it’s something we are still handling to this day. As sociable as we are in person, we are not super about posting every day, we don’t carry ourselves that way. I can see how valuable social media can be with other bands. It’s definitely something that we are really working on, every platform we have some sort of reach on there.
So far with the second album, all of the sales have been through Bandcamp. It’s very user friendly. Spotify – once I got the rights back to our first record, we now own that and I reuploaded this on Spotify. It was very easy to do. Every band needs to use social media, because that’s where a lot of promotion and community engagement takes place.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as the major differences between being on Metal Assault Records now for this album versus your first album on Combat?
Lovio: The differences. I don’t want to knock our old label, but I’ve known the label owner of Metal Assault Andrew Bansal for years, even before he started the label. It’s been a very open sort of line of communication. The promotion he is doing, the stuff he is putting together has been very beneficial to the band. He has been getting our album out, people are paying attention to us, our Spotify plays are up. We have a great relationship, he was at the show at the Viper Room, he lives down the street from the venue.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges Malison faces at this point in your career?
Lovio: Right now, the biggest challenge would be doing an extended tour for at least a month or so. Figuring that out with the guys that we have in the band right now. Getting an opening spot with a band that’s bigger than us to get some exposure. If you asked me that question a year or a year and a half ago, it was a second guitar player. That was the biggest hurdle we dealt with. We had guys that could fill in for a show as the other lead guitar player. We had a good friend of ours do the leads on the first album, now we have solved that hurdle. Getting the album done and getting a new guitar player. We want to just tour as much as possible.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries, or concerns, do you have currently about the world that we live in? Where do you think people need to put more of a focus on to make the world a better, calmer, or safer place to live?
Lovio: I don’t ever get too political, but I think things with the internet and how fast people have access to information sometimes people dive into things that may not be completely true and may be skewed in a certain way. It’s so easy to go online and watch something or read something, whatever it may be, and it’s not researched properly, or it has an agenda. People become very polarized and think everyone is right rather than worrying about if it’s the truth or not. I haven’t seen this my entire life, it’s almost as if certain opinions take on a cult-like mentality online. People are willing to listen to information, but I think they should listen to both sides of an argument, it would make the world a better place. People end up going down these rabbit holes that may or may not be accurate information.
Dead Rhetoric: What would be three of the most important albums that helped shape your ideals regarding the metal genre – or your guitar playing output in general? And what has been the most treasured concert memory you have, purely as a fan in the audience – and what made this so special?
Lovio: For me, three most important albums – Megadeth – Rust in Peace. I remember listening to that for the first time and the chemistry between Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman, the guitar playing and the way they could contrast each other. It made me a better guitar player. I play a lot of guitar riffs from Megadeth when I am warming up or sound checking on stage. The second album – I really like Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It’s a great album, often underrated. The synths bring up the musicianship, they hadn’t used them in that way before. You can hear it in the background, the chord progressions as well. Another one – Surfing with the Alien by Joe Satriani. It’s another one of those, I didn’t have any expectations, I knew he was a solo player, and I didn’t see the big deal. I was so wrong, there is a guy who could write stuff like this. These all helped me not only be a better player but learn how to write better songs like that. There is a high ceiling to playing, but you also have to think about writing great material that people want to continue to listen to.
The very first concert I went to see was Dragonforce. Probably I just started playing guitar, it was in San Diego – I remember Chimaira played, He Is Legend played, the headliner was Killswitch Engage but I was there to see Dragonforce. I was sixteen and it was my first concert, I was so blown away by their energy. To hear this band playing songs you’ve heard on record live for the first time, it was otherworldly.
Dead Rhetoric: You studied economics in college at San Diego State University. What tools or tactics from your academic world do you believe you’ve been able to apply to Malison that have benefitted the band?
Lovio: That’s a great question. More than just… it wasn’t direct knowledge, but I think just going to school in general, other classes. I took a core class on different laws and the government, those things helped me analyze an opportunity. I can’t honestly say that it’s played a part in anything directly related to music, but it’s helped me with my day job.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you describe the relationships and personalities within the band? Do you have specific traits and skill sets that enhance the overall work ethic and morale of the group?
Lovio: I do the day-to-day stuff, the social media posts, video and photo edits. I run the Facebook page and the Instagram account. Putting together flyers, I can do that easily. I usually end up selling our merch after the show, I like talking to people after they saw us, how they are doing. We are all fans too. Eddie just joined the band, everyone is good. We are all really good friends. Sometimes we watch sports together. We are four friends and we like writing and making music together.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Malison over the next year or so to support the new release? Has work begun behind the scenes on the next record, and if so, how do you see this set of material shaping up in contrast to what’s been released from the band already?
Lovio: For the next year, we have some shows lined up now. It’s still a little tricky to tour because we have all seen tours booked and cancelled. Everyone is hesitant to book longer tours. We are shooting for spring and summer 2022. We’ve talked to the label and booking agency about getting out to tour, I’d love to do a month-long tour or so. East Coast maybe for the first time.
As far as the writing process for the next record, I’m the primary songwriter, along with Steven. I’m in a writing mode always, I’m piecing some of the ideas together. I don’t show them an idea until it’s mostly there, I don’t like showing just one or two riffs. I want to have a composition that can hold its own. I think the other guys will also have some riffs stored away. I am hoping the next record will be us creating a unique sound, having a record that is fast, melodic, and enjoyable. Putting in the stuff we like and hope the fans will like.