Pittsburgh’s heaviest hardcore band No Reason to Live will never die

click to enlarge Pittsburgh’s heaviest hardcore band No Reason to Live will never die (2)
Photo: Flojo Pendejo
No Reason to Live during a rare live show
Pittsburgh has always been a fertile breeding ground for absurdly heavy hardcore bands, from teeth-knocking progenitors like No Retreat and Built Upon Frustration to modern-day neck-snappers like Code Orange and Power of Fear. Therefore, it means a helluva lot to say that No Reason to Live might be the brutalest, rowdiest, darkest — as well as maybe the most underrated — heavy hardcore band in Pittsburgh history.

“They are an anomaly,” says Ty Dawson, who’s been going to shows in Pittsburgh for 20 years and now fronts local heavyweights Pain Clinic. “We’re in a time where every hardcore band wants to be death metal now, and these guys have been doing this for years and years before the trend started. And, guess what, [their music] is not completely corny or cringey.”

No Reason to Live’s music fuses the demonic death-metal grunts of Dying Fetus, the flesh-peeling riffage of Death, and the sword-swinging beatdown parts of hardcore bands like All Out War and Merauder. Their monstrous 2016 sophomore album Only Death Is Certain boasts grimly-titled cuts like “Worthless Existence” and “Choking on your Blood,” which give tasty solos and treacherous mosh parts equal share of the spotlight.

Usually, bands like them favor one over the other, but No Reason to Live’s dual affinity for bullet-belt shredding and bludgeoning breakdowns makes their sound uniquely gargantuan. Naturally, their music is ripe for beating ass, and their booze-fueled live shows have earned No Reason to Live a reputation both inside and out of the 412.

“You don’t know what the hell is going to happen at [their] shows,” Dawson enthuses. “Is someone going to get their brains knocked out of their ears? What the hell is Joe [Bonaddio, frontman] going to say on a live mic?”

Back in March 2023, San Jose shit-starters Sunami — currently one of the biggest hardcore bands in the world — personally selected No Reason to Live to open for their sold-out show at Preserving Underground. The mosh pit was utter bedlam, and Sunami frontman Josef Alfonso was “super stoked” that they even agreed to play what ended up being, unbeknownst to fans, the final No Reason to live show for the foreseeable future.

“Other than pure talent and good tracks, I think they're special ‘cause they don’t play often and [they’re] so niche to Pittsburgh hardcore,” Alfonso gushes to City Paper. “You don’t see or hear too many people talk about them outside of that scene. But the people who know, know that they kick ass.”

Indeed, No Reason to Live continue to function as a sort of secret handshake among spin-kickers and headbangers with extreme proclivities. They’ve never toured, they don’t have an Instagram profile, and plugging their severely misanthropic name into a search engine gets you directed to a suicide hotline.

(Editor's note: If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, dial 988 to speak with someone who can help.)

Even longtime fans of the band might not know that they quietly released their first new music in eight years last month, The Price of Disloyalty EP. The six-song set contains their best material yet, fully realizing the death metal/hardcore conglomerate they’ve been sculpting since their 2012 demo.

Alas, the band have no idea when fans will ever get the chance to skull-crush to those songs live. Frontman-guitarist Bonaddio, 40, relocated to Arizona last year to be near his son, essentially putting No Reason to Live on indefinite hiatus. Even before then, the band hadn’t been particularly active since prior to COVID-19, and they never had dreams of making it beyond Pittsburgh. When Bonaddio and drummer Kevin Coleman, 37, started the band, their ambitions were simple: “Just write sick riffs and party our asses off,” Bonaddio says. “If we did that, we were content.”

And party they did. Beginning with the writing of their melodeath-y 2013 debut, Godless and Without Fear, mixing booze and breakdowns became their specialty, both in the studio and on the stage.

“At times, I don’t particularly know why we were tolerated,” Bonaddio says of their intoxicated antics, “but I’m glad that we were.” Coleman remembers one show in New Jersey when No Reason to Live arrived at the venue early in the day, and everyone in the band minus Bonaddio stepped around the corner to get some pizza, while the singer stayed back with a case of beer.

“By the time we got pizza and walked back, he had drank 13 beers,” Coleman remembers, laughing.

The drummer owns an insurance agency and says that he spends every workday on the phone getting to know dozens of different strangers. “And I don’t know a single motherfucker like Joe Bonaddio,” he emphasizes. “I used to call Joe the heavy-metal Andy Kaufman. Everything is an inside joke, and the more you get to know that dude, the layers get peeled back.”

Getting to know him is the tricky part. The self-described introvert is a polite and thoughtful interview subject, but pulling biographical details out of him isn’t easy. He’s the kind of guy who addresses you as “big dog” the first time you meet, and he speaks with a slow Pittsburgh drawl that makes his dry humor even more peculiar. “I was always an oddball, anywhere I went,” Bonaddio says. “I pretty much hang out with the dog, and that's it.”

Growing up, Bonaddio bounced between several towns on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, taking care of his three younger sisters while his single mother worked to pay the bills. It was his “old man” who got him into metal by cranking his favorite songs until they shook the house. “He was a weekend warrior, so he’d get a case of Stroh’s and blast some tunes,” Bonaddio recalls fondly. “And then he and I would watch Headbanger’s Ball.”

In high-school, Bonaddio “tried to fit the societal norm” by playing baseball, but he didn’t feel “normal” in any situation until he picked up a guitar at age 15. Around the same time, he saw his first proper hardcore show when Hatebreed came through Pittsburgh on one of their first tours. The chaos of their pit left a big impression on Bonaddio. “I’m in 11th grade and I see people literally punching each other in the face. I’m like, OK, this is awesome.”

From there, Bonaddio was equally into hardcore and metal, an eclectic taste palette that he says wasn’t common at the time in Pittsburgh’s scene. His first proper band was the melodic death metal outfit Sinning Is Our Savior, but in the mid-2000s Bonaddio was drafted to be the replacement vocalist of Built Upon Frustration, one of the most respected bands in Pittsburgh’s hardcore lineage. He says that two-year stint encompassed some of his best memories playing music, but he amicably split with the group before recording any songs. His next venture was the power-thrash unit Crown the Lost, but once that band dissolved he reconnected with Coleman, who had been playing in Pittsburgh beatdown lords Enemy Mind, to start the hardcore/death metal hybrid they’d always dreamed of.

click to enlarge Pittsburgh’s heaviest hardcore band No Reason to Live will never die
Photo: Flojo Pendejo
No Reason to Live
“He’s a riff machine,” Coleman says of Bonaddio’s musical prowess. “It just emanates out of him with ease.” On the flipside, the axman says Coleman would tell him to “make that riff slower, make that riff dumber, stop doing so many noodly things and just break it down.” The guys’ creative push-pull between technical chops and mindless brutality yielded the No Reason to Live special sauce.

As for their extraordinarily macabre band name, the two of them just thought No Reason to Live sounded hard, but after some prodding, Bonaddio revealed the way the despondent moniker resonates with him on a deeper level.

“It’s loosely based on a friend that my dad had who actually committed suicide,” Bonaddio says. “The song ‘Complete Despair’ [from Godless and Without Fear] is loosely also about him.”

The track begins with a fitful howl of the words, “I hate this fucking world,” one of many lyrics on that album — and their other releases — that's rooted in fatalism, despair, and/or a hatred for religion. Bonaddio’s always been the sinful lyricist of No Reason to Live, but ironically, Coleman has recently become a churchgoing Christian — an unexpected development for a guy who laid down drums on a song called “Unholy Crusade.” After getting fed-up with a life typified by “drinking, fighting, anger, and hatred,” Coleman realized that that path was “unsustainable” and decided to make a change.

“I was engaged to a woman and I’m just like, man I can’t live my life as this hateful, angry person,” Coleman says. “I have to try and emanate love through the infinite almighty.”

Bonaddio hasn’t had a full-on come-to-Jesus moment, but “growth” is a word he tosses around to describe the current period of his own life — and by extension, No Reason to Live’s. He speaks about the band’s hard-partying days in the past tense, and reveals that there was “absolutely zero” drinking during the recording sessions for The Price of Disloyalty, which might explain why it’s the band’s tightest batch of tracks yet.

Mentally and musically, No Reason to Live are operating at the peak of their game, and from Dawson’s perspective as someone who’s witnessed their entire arc, they’ve never been more revered by the hardcore community than they are now. It’s somewhat bittersweet, then, that the band’s future is up in the air. However, Bonaddio promises that No Reason to Live will never actually break up, and the guys are leaving the door open for more gigs and music down the line. For now, they’ll just keep on doing what they do best: being Pittsburgh’s most elusive hardcore heshers.

“I still think we’re a secretive, underground band within an underground culture,” Coleman says, the pride in his voice peaking through the phone.