Pyre Press Makes Its Mark on Metal

Known for their distinctive four-sided band tees—with detailed prints on the front and back as well as the sleeves—Pyre Press now creates merch for many of Pittsburgh's underground metal bands.

by Colin Williams
January 24, 2022

On Doughboy Square, where the Strip meets Lawrenceville, sits a print shop increasingly at the center of the metal merch universe. Pyre Press opened four years ago and is co-owned by couple Phil Trona and Vicky Carbone. Known for their distinctive four-sided band tees—with detailed prints on the front and back as well as the sleeves—Pyre Press now creates merch for underground bands like Tomb Mold, Insect Warfare, Ulthar and Internal Bleeding.

Carbone, who grew up on Long Island, says her interest in metal started in elementary school. The detailed, grisly album art fascinated her. 

“I started screen printing in high school and studied printing in college,” she said. Trona, who grew up in Washington County and has a degree in multimedia design, had a similar experience. “I later enrolled in a Screen Printing 101 class when I was in college,” he said. “They had a more proper setup with a floor model press, conveyor dryer, dark room, etc. The full deal. I loved it.”

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Pyre Press now has “the full deal” as well. The shop is taken up with a spider-like printing press and a large dryer that cures freshly printed T-shirts. But the shop also depends on numerous smaller tools. An exposure unit, which is similar to equipment used in film darkrooms, “burns” the screens used for printing designs, while other tools like Photoshop, an ink mixing system, and ergonomic floor mats are integral to the process—“you’ll be standing for at least eight hours,” Trona said.

The shop’s products and artwork decorate the walls. It’s a very colorful place. But Pyre’s products, unlike the Iron Maiden shirts of yesteryear and their thick, almost rubbery artwork, are surprisingly soft to the touch. This is because the shop uses discharge printing whenever possible. In short, this process uses a water-based ink that, when placed in the dryer, removes the shirt’s dye in a chemical reaction, replacing it with vibrant reproductions of bands’ artwork. The ink-blending process helps mimic exact pigments. The end result is much the same as the bright, complex painting on a given LP’s cover.

“We don’t use discharge for everything,” Trona said. “Things like fleece and blended cotton, or shirts with problematic dyes, are printed with high solids water-based ink.” This ink is still softer than PVC-based inks, and Trona says customers notice the difference. The detail required sets a high bar. “We’re mostly working with full-color oil paintings or detailed illustrations,” Carbone says. Metal favors intricate, spooky imagery and complex band logos, so attention to detail is key.

In addition to printing skulls and aliens, both Carbone and Trona play music and have supported the local scene in other ways. Prior to COVID-19, Carbone booked concerts and organized festivals.  Trona plays in local death metal band Ritual Mass. Pyre Press also printed and distributed Black Lives Matter T-shirts to protest organizers for free during the summer of 2020. Their Black Lives Matter print still hangs on the shop gate near their skeletal logo. The shop continues to work with organizations supporting marginalized communities.

Though COVID and supply chain issues have created headaches, metalheads the world over keep buying Pyre Press merch to make up for canceled shows. The shop is going strong in 2021 and just added a third employee (or fifth, if you count Nacho and Dakota, the shop’s resident rescue dogs). Carbone and Trona hope to get back to booking shows in 2022. Their label, Steel & Bone Productions, has sold out of most titles, and the roster of bands in their online merch store keeps getting longer.

Trona said he’s excited about new projects and challenges like metallic and glow-in-the-dark inks. “We work with so many amazing bands and artists.” He names acts like Malignant Altar, Hyperdontia, and Worm, whose shirts and hats fill the shop’s Instagram and Facebook feeds (you can find them @pyrepress). “It’s hard to pick a favorite.” 

Colin Williams (he/they) is a writer, artist, marketer, and educator. He writes on music and culture for Very Local PGH, Bandcamp, Invisible Oranges, and elsewhere, and his fiction has appeared in Hobart and The Northern Appalachia Review. He lives in Pittsburgh with his partner and two bad cats.