No Retreat Bassist Sean Moran Reflects Back on the Pittsburgh Hardcore Band’s History

Birthed in 1993, No Retreat was a hardcore band based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were recording and playing shows during a truly special era for hardcore on the East Coast. Other bands on that circuit back then included Hatebreed, Gutwrench, 25 ta Life, and Bulldoze. 

During their few years together, No Retreat issued two split EPs—with Passover (1996) and Krutch (2000)—and two studio albums: Rise of the Underdog (1999) and Pray for Peace (2003).

Fans of the beatdown side of hardcore hold No Retreat's discography in high regard and Screaming Crow Records ended last year by releasing a 20th Anniversary edition of Pray for Peace which was remixed and remastered by original producer, Erik Klinger (Pro-Pain, The Take). The album is also available now for the first time on vinyl.

To celebrate the reissue, I spoke with No Retreat bassist Sean Moran about the band's history, their place in the East Coast hardcore scene, and who he feels is helping to keep their legacy of PAHC alive today.

I saw No Retreat live a few times back in the ‘90s but I don’t know much about your history. How did you guys come to work together, and what were some of the influences that inspired you in the first place?

Well, the band originally started out back in early 1995 as a 3 piece with Shaun Below (drums), Mike Fidler (guitar), and Cliff Dean (vocals). They had a guy record the bass tracks, I think his name was Steve, but he was not actually part of the band. They added another guitar player, Allie S, but still needed a bass player. So I came into the picture in September 1995 when I met Shaun, Cliff, and Mike through a mutual friend.

We started playing together on the campus of Slippery Rock University, using Mike’s apartment as our practice space, where people would just come to check it out. Eventually, we started playing shows. Below was the original drummer in Krutch, before coming to SRU, so we had connections in Northeastern Pennsylvania which led to us playing a ton of shows in the Scranton / Wilkes-Barre and the Poconos area at first.

Yes, that's always been a good region for hardcore.

We continued to create a following in that region, mainly relying on shows in Eastern PA, Maryland, and New York because the Pittsburgh scene was weak at that time. As a result, our earliest influences were our friends' bands, mainly Krutch and a bit later on we became friends with James Ismean from Fury of Five. However, we eventually found a niche in the Pittsburgh area and played all over the area.

No Retreat performing at a Battle of the Bands show

What came next?

We played shows for a few years, recording a split with a band called Passover and a few demos after that before we recorded Rise of the Underdog in 1999. No Retreat went through a number of member changes over the years. Cliff and Allie were dating which created a rift in the band. Below, Mike, and I wanted to progress the band forward but Allie held us back. Cliff had a hard time deciding how to stay in the band and keep Allie happy, which led to tension.

Ultimately, Mike graduated, left SRU, went home to Reading and started Mushmouth with guys who eventually became great friends of ours (Chris Mahmood, Phil Van Coeur, Dave Haas, Chris Henzel, and Hansi Schloesser). Cliff eventually left the band because he could not balance being in a relationship with Allie and playing in a band with us. We went from having a 5 piece band to just a drummer and bass player in a matter of months.

Below and I decided to try out a few guitar players and vocalists, but none of them worked out. We actually considered retiring the band entirely when I suggested my little brother should play guitar. My brother Tommy joined the band when he was still in high school. He fit in better than we could have imagined. We stumbled upon Frank Piontek as a vocalist to replace Cliff. They had different styles but when we heard Frank growl for the first time, we all knew that we found a magical combination.

The 1998 demo was the first recording with the new lineup. After it was released and we started playing shows more frequently in Pittsburgh, we added another guitarist. We were fortunate to snag Diggums (Derek Kovacs) when Built Upon Frustration broke up, which completed our lineup for the Rise of the Underdog and Pray for Peace albums. 

Cliff was always an old-school punk fan who enjoyed bands like Less Than Jake and Minor Threat, while Below enjoyed Biohazard and Strife. Mike and I were more metal heads. He preferred bands like Dream Theater, Kreator, and melodic metal where I preferred bands like Pantera, Helmet, and Slayer.

What were some of the bands you guys all shared a deep affinity for?

I think the first band we all collectively liked was Hatebreed when we saw them play a show at Scarlett’s in Bethlehem, PA back in 1996.

We went to support Mushmouth who had opened the show, and ended up staying to see a few other bands like Dysphoria and Chine who were PA bands. We were getting ready to leave when Jaime took the stage and said, “We are Hatebreed. We drove all the way from Connecticut and the owner is only paying us $25, so please buy some merch so we can afford to get home.”

Of course, we all stayed for their set and danced as hard as possible—I think Below, Rick Healey (25 ta Life), and I were the only people dancing in the pit. We went over to their merch table after their set, exchanged information and they ended up being one of our influences and eventually we became friends.

Everytime they came to Pittsburgh to play a show, we played with them. As far as Tommy, he liked the same bands as I did, while Frank was more of a rap fan. Diggums liked metal, especially death metal, so the combination of all our preferences created a unique mix. 

How would describe the Pennsylvania hardcore scene of the mid-to-late ‘90s that No Retreat came out of? Who were some of the promoters that helped along the way? Also, what were some of the other bands that you felt a close connection with?

Like I said previously, the Pittsburgh scene was extremely weak when we first started playing so we spent a majority of our time playing shows outside of the Pittsburgh area. We played in Butler, Philadelphia, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Clearfield, PA. Clearfield, PA had a crazy cult following that loved hardcore bands. We made friends with bands like Not Without Resistance, 969, Stronger Than Hate, and a few others out there. They always treated us like kings when we played.

We had an awesome time with those guys, drank a ton of beer and got opportunities to play with so many great bands like Blood Has Been Shed and Diecast. I would say the Clearfield shows were some of our favorites.

Eventually, we snuck onto some Pittsburgh shows when we could, building relationships with Allan, Blindside, Built Upon Frustration, Gutwrench, and Deliberate Intent. We continued to play in Eastern PA as well, enjoying time with friends in Mushmouth, Strength for a Reason, Krutch, Feeble, as the seeds of BFL began.

No Retreat w/ members of Hatebreed & the BFL Crew

We found that Manny at Millvale Industrial Theater (MIT) was one of the most consistent and dedicated people in Pittsburgh to support the hardcore scene. He always had shows every weekend which helped grow the scene like wildfire. I believe he deserves a ton of credit for his dedication and putting up with our nonsense as young adults acting like out of control kids.

Sea Sea’s was a great venue in Moosic PA, near Wilkes-Barre. Spanky’s was equally as good in the same area. Those were our regular venues in Northeast PA. 

The Rise of the Underdog album you dropped in 1999 has a big cult following in the hardcore scene to this day. How do you feel about that album today?

We loved recording that album for a ton of reasons. It was our first full length and we had years worth of riffs, vocals, and parts of songs that we wanted to create for that album. The 1998 demo that was hugely responsible for us landing the deal with Da' Core Records who produced the album. We recorded a track for their hardcore compilation and then were asked to record Rise of the Underdog as well.

I have always liked that album for its raw energy, great riffs, and pure sound. It was fun doing that album. We got to try some things and we learned some other things that we changed on the next recordings. I think the Underdog album contained some remnants of the original lineup which did not necessarily fit the style of the current band members, especially Frank and Diggums.

While we were happy with the recording, we felt we could improve in a bunch of areas. We knew there was better music inside of us and we knew that we had to play more together in order to pull that out. Upon reflection, the Underdog album was awesome. The following we had was awesome. However, we all felt that if we continued to play shows, we would get a chance to develop further and our next album would be even better. 

READ MORE: Rain on the Parade: A Chat with the ‘90s Pennsylvania Hardcore Band

Did you do any touring around that time? Keeping with that idea, did you guys have trouble balancing No Retreat with your respective work and family commitments?

We all wish we would have done more touring than we did. No Retreat played the same shows after the Underdog album as we did before the Underdog album. We wanted to tour but did not have the support from our label to do so. We went back to our regular lives and played shows on weekends. We hoped to tour during the next summer, but that wasn’t supported either.

We decided to jump on a short tour with Mushmouth for a week or so, which was amazing. That gave us a taste of being on the road that we wanted to expand. Unfortunately, between some of the band members schedules and the lack of support from Da' Core [their label] to tour, we did not get another chance.

None of us had serious girlfriends or kids at the time, so that was not an issue. We had real jobs but nothing that we wouldn’t have quit in a minute to go on a huge tour. At that time, things started to change. We realized that we needed more support in order for our band to grow. Our parents supported our band. Our friends supported our band. We had tons of fans. We simply did not have a label big enough to support our goals. 

No Retreat performing in Clearfield, PA

That takes us to Pray for Peace. When you were writing the material that was featured on the album, did you know that it would be No Retreat’s swan song? What was the vibe like within the band when you were gearing up for that album?

I think we all knew that Pray for Peace was our swan song based on the energy during the recording. Eric Klinger was awesome. The recording process was fun but there was this strange feeling that [Da' Core Records/Screaming Crow Records owner] Eric Corbin was only doing this to fulfill our two-album deal. He did not make plans to promote the Pray for Peace album the way he did with Underdog.

The Pray for Peace album was a positive experience for us because we expected it to be the last album. We did things we would not have normally done. We liked the recording overall. There are parts of the recording I hated then and still hate now but those are my personal feelings about specific parts of songs or tracks, they do not reflect the rest of the bands’ feelings.

One of the best parts of that album was having Frank’s sister sing on one of the tracks. It came out better than we ever thought it would. Despite feeling that it was the last album, we all wanted to go on a big tour but that did not happen. We are still bitter about it to this day. We felt that was the perfect opportunity for us to get a van, go on tour and support the album like so many other bands. Sadly, we did not get that chance.

Tell me how Eric Klinger came to produce the Pray for Peace sessions and how it was working with him? The entire thing was a pretty lo-fi affair from what I read.

We recorded the entire Pray for Peace album in the basement of Klinger’s house. There is nothing more strange than placing a bass cabinet in a closet, playing the bass through a processing board and singing background vocals in a bathroom. Regardless, it was a fantastic experience and turned out to be an amazing album. Diggums really shined on that recording. Frank’s vocals were sharp and showed more diversity than on Underdog.

Overall, that recording was better than the Underdog album. We spent some time mixing with Klinger after the tracks were all done and even added some sprinkles to the main tracks. It was a great time. Klinger was awesome. We would record with him for every album if we had a chance. 

How did this 20-year anniversary reissue come to be? Were you involved at all, and how do you feel about the sound now that it’s been remastered? 

Honestly, I do not know how this 20-year anniversary reissue became a reality. We assume Corbin needed money so he decided to reissue the album to try to make a buck. However, we are all happy it was done. The remastered version is different. There are specific parts of the remastered version that sound better than the original, but overall I like the original version better.

The other guys have mixed reviews but we are happy that there are people out there who want to hear our music. We are humbled by the support of fans who bought the albums and CDs via pre-sale. The fact that people are asking for us to do a reunion show or even a short tour is truly amazing.

We could not be more grateful for all the people who have supported us through the years and all the newer fans we have acquired due to the reprint of our 1998 demo by Collyde Records and now this reissue. We are truly thankful for every fan who ever came to a show, bought any merch or gave us positive feedback. 

The No Retreat/Krutch split is included on the Pray for Peace reissue. Tell me about your relationship with the Krutch guys.

We always loved the songs on that split. They are raw, unique and brutal. They were the first songs that Tommy, Diggums, and I wrote together. The combination of riffs and structure of the songs was different from Underdog. Since Tommy and I wrote all of the songs on the first album, it was refreshing to have Diggums input for this recording. In addition, we got to do a split with our best friends in Krutch.

It was awesome to record tracks with them.  We enjoyed a new experience of writing songs in a short time frame rather than playing songs over a long period of time and constantly tweaking them before they were recorded. Personally, I think the songs on the split were some of the best we ever wrote. The songs on Pray for Peace have more diversity but the split is still my favorite recording.

Since Below was the original drummer for Krutch, he grew up with those guys. When we first started playing shows in Eastern PA as No Retreat, we would always play with Krutch, stay at Karl’s (Krutch singer) house and even hang out with them when they were recording in the studio. We developed a tight bond and they became our brothers.

We all still remain friends to this day. Those guys were extremely valuable in introducing us to promoters, numerous bands and other connections for booking shows and venues. We owe them everything for helping us get started. 

Do you keep up with the hardcore scene these days? I’ve noticed some newer bands mentioning No Retreat as an influence, which must be very cool to see for you.

To be honest, I personally have no connection to the hardcore scene these days. I used to go to shows from time to time but life is too busy these days. Tommy is even more disconnected than me. I do not believe he has been to a show since we played one. Frank has done a few “guest appearances” for some of the local Pittsburgh bands that are led by friends of ours—mostly guys who were just kids watching us play back in the day who started their own bands.

Below goes to some shows here and there—I think he goes to This Is Hardcore every year, and I know he went to the most recent Krutch reunion show at Reverb in Reading, PA. Diggums plays in a few bands in the Pittsburgh area, so he stays active. He always loved being a musician in its purest form, regardless if he played in a band or not.

I know that Pittsburgh has a few hardcore bands that mention us as influences which is extremely flattering. The fact that we were positively impactful on even a small group of kids is extremely gratifying. We were kids once, We had our reasons for seeking shows to relieve positive aggression rather than doing something criminal. We know what that means for kids to have a place to go to seek the same release.

We know how important shows can be for kids searching for friendships, entertainment and a family to embrace them regardless of who they are. That is one of the coolest parts of the hardcore scene. I am happy it still moves forward, despite our absence as a band. I am grateful for being a part of it and happy to see it continue with old and new bands.

Is there anyone you wanted to mention in the piece before we end this?

AJ Rassau, singer of Facewreck, was a kid when No Retreat was playing every weekend. Facewreck pays homage to No Retreat but expands the hardcore scene even further with their unique style of music.

In addition to playing in Facewreck, he has created one of the coolest stores dedicated to the hardcore scene imaginable. His store, Preserving Record Shop, is a combination of museum and record store that reflects the music of that mid-'90s, early '00s era. I would suggest anyone who enjoys hardcore or metal should visit his place. 


The 20th Anniversary reissue of Pray for Peace is available on vinyl, CD, and digital via Screaming Crow Records.


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