Terminal Nation Versus Everybody

Vocalist Stan Liszweski on cheating death, dancing with the Devil, and putting Arkansas hardcore on the map.

Terminal Nation Versus Everybody
Photo by Jacob Murry / via 20 Buck Spin

On March 31, 2023, a freak tornado swept through Little Rock, Arkansas. Over the course of 40 minutes, it howled through the city like an enraged beast, tearing off roofs, felling trees, snapping power lines, and ultimately damaging or outright flattening 2,648 homes and other structures. One of them belonged to Stan Liszewski. That day, he was on his way to pick up his children from school when the tornado hit, and raced home to check on his partner, who had taken shelter in their concrete-lined basement. While he was on the phone with her, a massive sycamore tree crashed through their roof. 

As a normally two-minute drive stretched into twenty, the view around him looked like a scene from a disaster movie. “I saw a home just lifted off the ground, a roof pulled up, a basketball hoop thrown up into the air and sucked into this tornado that's six storeys higher, and I'm like, ‘Oh, this is headed right at me,’” he told me. He threw himself to the floor of his truck, held his breath—and heard the tornado pass over him.

After he finally got home, found out his kids and partner and pets were all safe, and took some time to process the devastation, Liszewski was thrown into yet another struggle: this time with his insurance company, which has been doing its damndest to avoid paying for his ruined house. "​​I've been bullied for the better part of a year by a company worth $131.2 billion not wanting to pay me $200,000,” he said ruefully.

On top of that, his death metal-infused antifascist hardcore band, Terminal Nation, was supposed to be finishing their make-or-break debut album for underground tastemakers 20 Buck Spin. The basement where his partner had hidden from the storm doubled as their practice space, and now, well, there wasn’t much left of it.  

“We started writing the album in a fully functional house, and then for the last half of the album, we were writing in a house that had no electricity, except, shockingly, only in the basement,” he explained. He’d moved his family into a hotel across town while they waited for the shell of their home to be repaired, and had to commute back to his battered house for songwriting sessions.

Echoes Of The Devil’s Den, by Terminal Nation
12 track album

He wasn’t the only band member who had a bad 2023, either. Several months before all of this went down, Terminal Nation bassist Chase Turner had survived a horrific car accident and was left with a laundry list of serious injuries.

“We had planned on canceling the rest of our shows for the remainder of the year,” Liszewski told me. “But my man is also a freak of nature. I don't know how he did it, but we played a festival literally one month after his car wreck, where he got third degree burns on his back!  And don't get me wrong, he was like, ‘I feel like I got in another car wreck after this set,’ but he made it through the set.” 

They finished the album, too, and it'll be released by 20 Buck Spin on May 3, 2024. After all of those trials and tribulations, it’s no wonder that Echoes of the Devil’s Den is mad as hell and ugly as sin. It’s also the best thing they’ve ever done. 

“We're firing on all cylinders,” Liszewski said. “Everyone brought their A game to this album, and literal blood, sweat, and tears were pumped into this record. If you weren't into us before, maybe this is where you jump off the train completely—or maybe this is where we finally grab you, and you get it. We're a band that takes risks. We don't really try to follow any particular rules or guidelines, we just do what the fuck we want to do."

"And I think you can tell that in this record," he continued. "I think that comes off in a very, very cohesive way. And I tell it how it is, so if you're easily offended by by certain things, or you're just a shithead human being, you might be offended by some of the the content and that's perfectly fucking fine with me, because I don’t want you listening to my band anyway.”

When I called him up to pick his brain for Salvo, Liszewski was busy packing for a trip to El Salvador but still graciously made time to talk. We ended up chatting for nearly an hour and a half before he had to split, so our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed (because otherwise it would be about 12,000 words long). 

Cover art for TERMINAL NATION'S Echoes of the Devil's Den

SALVO: So you're heading to El Salvador tomorrow?

STAN LISZEWSKI: Yes, to see some family. I haven't been to El Salvador since I was about four years old, so I'm sure it'll be drastically different from what I remember. I actually—in vintage Stan fashion—was Googling “hardcore punk in San Salvador,” “death metal in San Salvador”, “thrash metal San Salvador.” There's a death metal show that I'm considering checking out on Saturday, and my mom's like, you better not go out!

I was raised in peak Civil War El Salvador; it's changed quite a bit. It's safer now than it was when I was growing up. And, whatever, I'm from East LA. I was like, ‘Mom, you don't need to tell me anything. I know what I'm doing!” It would be a missed opportunity to go to El Salvador and not see what the metal scene is like there, right? 

That does sound very on-brand, since you guys are such big standard bearers for your own local scene in Little Rock. The hardcore scene that you guys helped build up is so different from what I think a lot of folks think of when they hear “Arkansas” and “metal” in the same sentence—slower, doomy bands like Deadbird, Pallbearer, and Rwake. Terminal Nation is part of this whole new era. 

So in my teens when I moved here, there was a lot of sludge and doom, and it was cool, I liked the dirtiness of it. I prefer my hardcore very fast or very heavy; it's gotta be pissed off. But the closest thing we had to hardcore punk was Christian metalcore—that was really, really big here. That was the closest thing to what I liked, and it was a little bit of a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox what hardcore punk is. But you take what you can get when you live in a city like Little Rock, Arkansas.

I think the first time I started talking to you guys was in the early Trump years, if not before, when there was that influx of metal Nazis and everyone was mad about “social justice warriors.” Now, the far-right has gained power on a national level, and while we've still got fucking Nazis, the metal scene has made a lot of great progress in terms of political bands (like yours!) popping off.

I think in 2020, we saw a lot of bands, labels, musicians, whoever, who were largely “apolitical” and had never tried to deviate from that. And I don't inherently think that there's anything wrong with that—there's a lot of music that I love that’s just fun music. But we saw a lot of people in that big civil rights movement all through the country and the world, after George Floyd's murder, maybe they felt that it was safer to be like, ‘Hey, racism is bad.’

It’s the bare minimum, the bar is fucking low—but I do think that that does matter to a degree when a shit ton of bands say, ‘Hey, we're not down with this.’ They may never speak on topics like that in their music. They may never speak on topics like that again other than one social media post. But I think that in that time period, that was a big pendulum swinging moment in the right direction. I think that inclusivity does matter to people. 

I book a lot of shows here in Little Rock with Evan [Grove], who is in the band Morbid Visionz, and not that long ago, I booked a tour package that was Ballista from Dallas, Knife Wound, and Soledad TX. So it was all Latinos in Soledad TX, and then Knife Wound and Ballista were predominantly black folks, and there were trans folks in the bands. And I was like, 'Yo, this is huge progress,' because the shows that I would go to 20 years ago in this city were just like white dudes screaming about Jesus, and now I have a whole tour package that’s all people of color. This rocks, this is cool, this is real and guess what? They played to a sold-out crowd of young, diverse folks, and they were just having a good time moshing their asses off.

It is very, very cool to not only see but to be a part of to, live and experience this change. It was just very welcoming, and it would have never happened in 2006 or 2007 when I first started going to shows. There was nothing like that. People were not here for that shit, and if you spoke up about politics or sexism or racism, any of that, it was a whole situation. 

Oh yes, I remember those days very well!

I'm sure I probably don't deal with a fraction of what you deal with, being a gentleman of larger carriage who's like 300 pounds and can probably choke-slam most of these chuds through the concrete if they wanted to come at me. I've had my fair share of backlash, but yes, a lot of that hasn't changed at all. I remember calling somebody homophobic in 2006, and they were like, ‘Yo, I don't even know what that means.’ And this person is still around, but now they're very, very much on the opposite end of the spectrum. I do love to see that, because I think a lot of people can be shitheads when they're 17, 18,19, and then have room for growth and grow up. Especially a couple decades later.

This album is still political, like all of your work, but there’s a much more personal angle this time around, too. 

It's still the same Terminal Nation that people have come to expect, but man, we've had a pretty difficult year. And you know, we could blame capitalism, we could blame numerous larger systemic issues, but for the first time as a band, there's a lot of emotion and self reflection. 

There's a few songs that are about overcoming adversity and persevering through difficult times, not to sound like the cliche hardcore band. But when we're like, ‘Yo, we are, there's a couple of us that are going through a really, really difficult time right now, and we're writing a record,’ I like to kind of get out of my comfort zone a little bit. Be a little bit vulnerable.

There are some interesting sonic evolutions and surprises in there, too, like the clean singing on “Merchants of Bloodshed.” That’s Jesse Leach from Killswitch Engage, right? How’d that happen?

He hit us up and said, 'I really love what you guys are doing, it sounds like Obituary meets His Hero Is Gone.’ We were like, 'Well, he's into our band, should we just throw a Hail Mary and see?' Because this guy's a professional musician, I don’t know if he's gonna be into that idea of being on a hardcore slash death metal record. But we hit him up and he was like, ‘Absolutely, I'm honored that you asked.’ He made sure to tell us that he's a punk dude at heart.

I sent him the lyrics and he was like, ‘Dude, these lyrics are incredible.’ I didn't know if I was gonna get any pushback for talking about warmongers and war profiteers and the US basically, being the world police and the financiers for genocide and atrocities across the globe, but he was totally into every bit of it. And so I was like, 'Okay, this guy rocks. I fuck with this dude.' And I know he answers to people that maybe would say, 'Hey, be careful about your image or what you attach your name to,' so the fact that he was all in, I thought that was pretty cool.

It’s interesting to think about guys like that, who started a band when they were pretty young and then saw it turn into a bigger thing than they anticipated. They get older and maybe their music tastes shift, but they're still the guy from that band. Like how Jesse Leach is still the guy from Killswitch Engage, or how the drummer of Stone Sour used to play in Nausea.

Whoa, okay, I did not know that!

Yeah, he was in Amebix, too! It’s funny how these things happen. I mean, you could get a call to join Slipknot tomorrow. What would you do? 

I don't think I could say no, to be honest with you. I was not a high school Slipknot person, I wrote them off as Juggalo-adjacent like, this is not my thing. And then I listened to it, and I was like, 'Damn, these riffs are kinda hard, though.' That shit rocks. And in Arkansas, at least when I was in high school, if you wore a Slipknot shirt out in public, it was like wearing an upside down cross tattooed across your face. It was a pentagram. People looked at you like you were the spawn of Satan. So I do have a level of respect for shit like that, just because it's so confrontational to certain people who are on a high horse and think that the world should revolve around them or their beliefs. It’s sometimes kind of funny to ruffle their feathers a little bit.

Speaking of Arkansas, when you’re on tour or just out there representing Little Rock to a broader audience, how do you deal with the misconceptions and stereotypes around where you're from and what the folks in the South are actually like?

I gotta be honest, because I was on that shit for a long time. Maybe it was just me coming from California to Little Rock, in a very pivotal year of my life, where I was discovering who I was, you, coming into being a teenager, but I was like, ‘Man, this place fucking sucks. It's filled with a bunch of dumbass racist rednecks.’ And that was my mindset for a long time. And I did end up discovering that there is much, much more to it than that, but that's tends to be what people will latch on to just because on the surface level, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, even Texas, a lot of those places get a bad rap for being ignorant. 

It's aggravating. It's frustrating. It's disheartening to hear everyone get lumped into being ignorant like, ‘Fuck those states.’ Especially instances like when the power grid in Texas went out, and people were freezing to death in their own homes, and people were like, ‘Well, that's what that's what you get for voting red!’ Well, there's a lot of fucking people who are dying, whether they voted red or not! There's a lot of people who didn't vote red. There's a lot of people who did vote red, because they just wanted their fucking jobs back. And they thought Donald Trump was a piece of shit, or they thought XYZ politician was a fucking scumbag, and they work with a bunch of Mexicans on a construction site or in the coal mines. There’s nuances that people don't want to look at.  

There's a reason that we hear about Selma, and the battles that they had in Alabama here at the Central High School, where the schools became integrated for the first time. It's a huge civil rights monument, really, the whole high school is, and it's just a few blocks behind me. There are powerful, powerful things that have happened in the South that people tend to gloss over. There are strong movements that are being cultivated here that people tend to gloss over.

And people that are strong, and resistant to bigotry, and racism; they don't align with the stereotypical narrative of what the South is all over. And I don't think that they get the shine that they deserve. I've seen it in 2020 out in the streets. Sometimes I can fall victim to those stereotypes myself and feel like no one around here agrees with me. But then I see that I'm not alone. There's just a very vocal minority—and it's not as big a minority as some might think.

Do you feel a responsibility to represent that and stand up as an explicitly Southern band? 

That's a great question. I don't know that it's a responsibility, more so that it's just part of who we are.  I'm going to make sure that you know what Arkansas is after this 30 minute set. And it might be as simple as that, like, ‘Hey, there's bands that you should be paying attention to in Arkansas,' or it might be as complex or as important as, ‘There’s this harm reduction organization, or this trans-led co-op here in Central Arkansas that needs attention.’

In the hardcore world, I'm sure you're well aware that there's a lot of regional representation—you always hear about California, Florida, New York, Baltimore. But a lot of bands are from places that may not have the lineage in the hardcore world or may not have the storied past. I don't know that I've seen anyone scream ‘Yo, we're Mississippi hardcore, or we are South Dakota hardcore, we are Montana hardcore.’ 

Right, like I’ve heard enough about Boston. We get it! 

Yeah, it's time we mix up the viewpoints a little bit. And I think my personal viewpoint is probably a little more interesting. Growing up Latino in the South, I can tell you the first time I had a gun pointed at my face by a police officer. I can tell you the second time I had a gun pointed at my face by a police officer. And both of them included racial slurs, and both of them included, ‘Let me see your green card,’ when I was born in this country. So I have a perspective that may not necessarily be the same as a Latino frontperson of a band in  East Los Angeles or in the Bay Area. I do have a story to tell. We don't shy away from it in our messaging in our stage banter, either; it's always been like, ‘Hey, we're overlooked. You people want to talk shit about Arkansas? You think Arkansas sucks? Whatever, fuck you. Arkansas versus everybody.’ And we put that on a shirt

I had a moment last year where I went to my truck, and I broke down and cried because a girl came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I don't know if you remember this. But at your last show, you had said something about how this is for everybody. I don't care if this is your first show or if you've been going to shows for 20 years, this room belongs to all of us, and it was a big deal for me. That was my first show, and you made me feel welcome. You pulled me up on the stage so I could stage dive for the first time. And I've been going to shows ever since.’  I was like, ‘Holy fuck, like, if this band broke up tomorrow, that's enough of an accomplishment for me to be like, we had a good run’.

And as you mentioned, doom and sludge has been like king here for a long time. We're friends with all those guys, we've played shows with all of them, but we are, in a lot of ways, the antithesis to that. Everyone in all of those bands has a great head on their shoulders, and they're all very, very good people. But I would go to those shows and see people with rebel flag back patches and stuff and think, ‘Oh, I don't know if this is for me.’ And I feel like maybe in some way we helped usher in a movement to move past that in the city of Little Rock.

I'm proud of Arkansas, how far we've come, where we're at. I no longer am ashamed. I mean, there's going to be bad apples everywhere, but I think that we helped usher in a changing of the guard. I hope that these newer younger bands continue that and make this a much more inclusive and welcoming scene than even we were able to achieve. It's getting there. 

You don’t just represent Arkansas onstage, either. The new album, Echoes of the Devil's Den, is named after one of the spookiest places in the state, right? 

In Northwest Arkansas, there's Devil's Den State Park. There's a hot spring and a cooling pit, just like a hole in the ground in the middle of a cave in the park. It’s closed off now because so many people go there to with Ouiji boards, but for centuries it was believed that that pit goes straight to hell, straight to the Devil. I always thought that was really cool lore.

Obviously, it's been debunked—it turns out it doesn't go straight to the devil in the Governor's Mansion—no, I'm just kidding. There's a lot of paranormal shit that happened in that park, like one of the most famous alien abduction stories happened there, and a few other missing persons stories that happened in Devil's Den State Park. The quickest way to get to meet Satan is in that park. That was our nod to representing Arkansas, but a couple of us did kind of live in the devil's den throughout the writing process for this album, going through hell and back. 

With all that being said, for someone who’s just now learning about you for the first time, how would you personally describe Terminal Nation? 

We started off as a hardcore punk band and I think we are still a hardcore punk band, although we have taken on other sonic influences over the years. We are made up of guitarists Tommy Robinson and Dalton Rail, Chase Turner is our bass player, and Chase Davis is our drummer. We are just normal dudes and no one in this band—with the exception of maybe Tommy, who exemplifies the epitome of Black excellence in terms of metal songwriting— is a virtuoso musician. Everyone's self-taught, and this band was founded as a tool to bitch about some of my grievances, for lack of a better word, and to express my concerns about certain things. If it was just me screaming into a void, or if it was me screaming to 300 people in a smoke-filled club, I'd be cool with either.

But I think this goes to show that you don't have to be the best musician in the world: if you have something to say, if you have a lived experience that you think needs to be known, fucking tell that story. Just fucking do it. We created something, and we are better than the sum of our parts—and, you know, that can also be a euphemism for strength in numbers, holding it down with your comrades, whatever the case may be.

And that's basically Terminal Nation right there. I think it's closer to being a family than it is to being a bunch of musicians who fucking hate each other and happen to play on the same stage for 40 minutes a night every night. It’s a family that believes and wants to see the same outcome in this world—we all want the same thing out of this.


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