Terminal Death (US/IL) interview

TERMINAL DEATH’s demo from 1985 was on my very first tape (also featuring SAVAGE DEATH & HELLHAMMER demos) that I got by tape trading in the 80’s. For me TERMINAL DEATH was a kind of ominous band ‘cause I always searched for info’s about that Illinois, Chicago, USA based act but couldn’t find any. Jason Sapp once contacted me and wrote that he knows John Piotrowski the ex-leadsinger of TERMINAL DEATH (Hey Jason, thanks a lot!!!). Shortly after I was in contact with John and did the following interview with him (back in 2004).

John please give a view on the first days of TERMINAL DEATH.


At risk of sounding evasive, I can’t really tell you exactly when it happened only because I don’t really know! Perhaps about 1984 we began to write material together. In the early 80’s, a venue in Chicago called “the Metro” hosted punk bands almost nightly. Larger acts would come through and play a place called the Aragon Ballroom. Both still exist, by the way.

In those days, all shows were general admission and you had to get there early to get near the stage. I don’t mean a couple hours early either. For some of the best shows such as Motorhead, we’d be there 15 hours before the show, drinking, smoking, tripping, and everything else we could do to pass the time!

It seemed like the same group of us would always be the first in line so it was natural that we became friends and learned of our similar interests. Strangely enough, it turned out that Shaun played bass, I sang, Nick played guitar, etc. It really just fell together at that point. I knew a drummer (Tony Stryzlecki) and Shaun knew a “lead” guitar player, Rick Aguayo. Absolute stone-cold, killer player.Initially we rehearsed in a Chicago basement and played parties to hardcore crowds with another band we were friends with which was Impulse Manslaughter.


Who came up with the band name TERMINAL DEATH? What was the meaning for you back then?

Terminal Death started as a joke actually. Shaun was an amazing guy that knew EVERYBODY. He would fly out to the Bay Area and hang with these bands that nobody heard of like Megadeth, Possessed, Exodus, etc. This was WAY before even demo trading caught on and these bands became known. We were all partying and began “brain storming” for a name. All the while we were ripping on the number of bands that included the word “death” in their name and about how stupid it all was. Shaun then blurts out something like, “How about Terminal Death, the most death of death!?!?” Well, we all just about pissed ourselves from laughing and I never gave it another thought until Shaun began to refer to us as Terminal Death to others and soon after, everyone else did too! After all of that self-righteous ripping, we became what we were mocking! Honestly, at the time nobody cared because we were really all just living for the “music”, enjoying the brotherhood of the budding scene and spending our days drinking, smoking hash and tripping.

Shaun, Rick & John
Shaun, Rick & John



As you played in an 80’s Death/Thrash band when was it that you recognized that there is such a brutal and heavy way to express yourself?


I was about 15/16 at the time and filled with the restless anger and angst that EVERY teenager experiences. Ain’t nothing new about that. It wasn’t about violence for the sake of violence though. That scene was a small brotherhood of real zealots. We lived for the next show and spent every last dime on demos, imports, albums, shows, etc. There was a fundamental idea that has been lost about that initial scene spawned by the hardcore punk scene that crushed the notion that you need a record label, a bowl of coke and 2 years in the studio to produce an album. It was all about doing it yourself and contributing to the scene. The power trip and anger release was just a pleasant by-product of pumping out the music. Expression may be a bit too touchy-feely a term. Experiencing such powerful music was like being on PCP. It was powerful, violent on the brink of chaos, and wonderfully abrasive. For me it was about the sensation of releasing bottled-up power.

What made you start listening to Heavy Metal? Do you remember your first Metal record you ever bought?

It may be impossible to determine the first metal album I ever bought. It all seemed to mushroom cloud at once. A much older cousin was into Alice Cooper. I never cared for the music but the poster he had of Alice with a 10 foot long Boa Constrictor around his neck was very sinister. The very first “metal” album I think I bought was Motorhead’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” but by that time I had been collecting tapes and seeing punk shows at the Metro for some time. Black Flag was one of my first as well. I honestly couldn’t say.

In 1985 you recorded the first demo tape with TERMINAL DEATH. My copy has a bad sound so where did you recorded it? Was it in a studio or in your rehearsal room?

The actual demo was recorded at a studio in Chicago called SeaGrape Studios. I believe it still exists. The original sound wasn’t too bad and by the time you read this, I will have sent a CD of the EP with the same material so you should hear an improvement. The entire thing was recorded in one evening—can’t you tell!? [Yessss. It’s great and has a killer sound. Check it out in the download-section.~ demon666]

Did you do more official recordings? I searched through tape-trader lists and found a demo from 1986 (but I’m not sure about if it’s official).

We never did more “official” recordings as tape-trading was huge and self-supporting. None of us had any money and studios cost money. We’d just jam or do a show and tape that.


Shaun & John @ Chicago Metro
Shaun & John @ Chicago Metro



I know there was an EP planed in the late 80’s. What happened with it? Why the record was never released? As I know the EP tracks were the same as the demo tracks. Who came up with the Idea to re-release the demo?

You now have that EP in your hands and it was the only one done. We did sign with a very small label but nothing ever developed before the label dissolved. After the band broke up, Shaun continued to do promotion for his own projects as well as for his newer bands. The band itself never had any knowledge that Shaun had signed a deal to release it but do not interpret this the wrong way—I have no problem with him doing so!!! He was the main inspiration for putting our band together and he is still living the life of a musician. I was thrilled to see that he had taken action and gotten it released! If he made anything off that, he deserved every nickel. I still bump into Shaun a few times a year and we still have a great relationship.




Did you do some songs with TERMINAL DEATH which never saw the light of day?


We had a catalogue of material yet-to-be-released that nobody ever heard. As a matter of fact, I’d forgotten about it until you contacted me about Terminal Death. I’m in the process of trying to dig those tracks up. Hopefully they still exist!

You were part of the first Thrash / Death Metal scene. Were you deeply involved in the early Metal underground?

We sure were. As I mentioned earlier, Shaun was (and is) a very charismatic guy that knew everybody and everybody loved him. He came from a rather affluent family that allowed him to fly all over the country (and Canada) to see these bands months before anybody ever heard of them. He’d fly out to San Francisco to see MEGADETH, POSSESSED, EXODUS, SLAYER, etc. He went up to Canada and hung out with VoiVod for a few weeks after he got an advanced copy of War and Pain. We did do tape-trading but only of stuff we really wanted to hear and usually Shaun was the one that got a tip from somebody to check out this band called “HELLHAMMER” or “SODOM”. We didn’t collect for the sake of collecting, but rather to get our hands on the most brutal stuff available at the time.

Please describe the underground scene back then. What do you think is the main difference regarding the nowadays scene?

As time passes, a person’s memory of things tends to look upon the past more forgivingly. For the most part it was an extremely cool time when this huge batch of misfits came together unintentionally bound by a common interest in this music that was the polar opposite of mainstream. We reveled in our exclusion. If I’m really honest with myself, there were also several factions that were essentially at war the whole time. The punks hated the metalheads (even though the metalheads LOVED hardcore punk). The skinheads hated everybody. The first batch of us decided to hate any “new” people hanging around our scene. Many of the shows took place in very poor and gang-ridden parts of the city. Drugs were a big problem on the scene. Acid, coke and alcohol made people do very unpredictable things. Although I wouldn’t trade it for the world, those first months and years were very violent and exciting.

In Chicago, the scene has only grown over the past 20 years if you can believe it. When I see SLAYER now, the Ballroom is PACKED which wasn’t the case years ago. Very heavy music has become more accepted on a larger scale and I really think that’s a good thing. Although the wave of new metal isn’t my cup of tea, it sure is cool that I can turn a radio on and hear SOIL instead of Michael Jackson or VAN HALEN. I’m an old guy now, but I hope this generation appreciates what they have in their current music scene. I don’t see the factions that I saw in the past. In this case, the homogenization turned out to be a good thing in that we’re all here to see the show and drink some beer while not worrying about a skinhead taking a sucker punch at somebody because they have long hair.


Honestly, the biggest difference in the old vs. the new is these guys can PLAY nowadays! One of the local bands that really gets me off is DITCHWATER. Very heavy, polished, talented and extremely nasty. The vocals sometimes even border on melodic but don’t let that turn you away until you hear it. Give ‘em a shot. I think their web address is www.ditchwater.com

Nick, Adan, Shaun, John & Rick
Nick, Adan, Shaun, John & Rick



Back in the early 80’s Illinois had some cult bands like DAMIEN THORNE, TROUBLE, WAR CRY, ZNOWHITE and ZOETROOPE. Had these bands some influences on your music?


Hell yes they had an influence! TROUBLE and ZOETROOPE were the absolute SH**!!! We would never, and I mean NEVER miss either of those shows. MAYHEM was the best band to never be signed ANYWHERE. I can’t even find demos floating around anymore. They could all play like mother fu**ers and the vocalist looked as though he had been chipped from a thousand year old chunk of ice. He was a black belt and literally insane. He’d chain manikins to himself on stage, set them on fire then absolutely freak-out and crush them to bits while singing like Chris Cornell. MASTER was also the purest, heaviest, angriest and most genuinely metal band I’ve ever seen. They’ve since over-produced their stuff but we’d go to rehearsals in those tin, semi-tractor trailers and absolutely melt down while they simply bludgeon us with power I’ve never seen any band match. Still one of my all-time favorite demos!

At the same time as TERMINAL DEATH was around the Illinois scene had some other cool acts like NATAS, METAL ONSLAUGHT, DEATH STRIKE / MASTER & DEVESTATION. Have you ever played gigs with these bands? What was the local scene about these days?

Don’t mean to be curt here but we were all brothers and supported each other religiously. These bands actually started to gig as we were “breaking up” so we didn’t play with them if my memory serves.

Do you remember some other local bands out of the 80’s which are worth to listen to?


I’ll bring up MAYHEM again. If anybody out there comes across any material from a Chicago band called MAYHEM, please let me know. It’s more about speed and unbridled aggression as opposed to “death” metal. IMPULSE MANSLAUGHTER I always thought, were true originals and they were from Chicago. The vocalist reminded me of Dan from DIE KREUZEN (II) and I loved it!


Shaun & John
Shaun & John

Are proud that you’ve been part of the Metal scene back in the 80’s?

Absolutely. We were a part of something that we helped shape and it’s very satisfying to see the scene still thriving today. To be clear, I’m in no way suggesting that we initiated the scene but rather we were a part of this unconscious movement that helped shape who we are today. Metal, in it’s many forms, is one of the most emotional and creatively powerful forces on the earth. Aggression and energy pour from its heart. There is no other form of music that forces you to accept and react on its terms like metal does.




Nowadays the old spirit is still supported by CIANIDE or MACABRE or is recreated by bands like SCEPTER & USURPER. What do you think about it?

I think I alluded to it earlier a bit and I think it’s a good thing. Although I love vintage death metal and Terminal Death was “death metal” without a doubt, it was more interesting back then because it was novel at the time. Nobody had ever heard vocals like BATHORY, HELLHAMMER, DEATH, etc. It was exciting, aggressive, and NEW. Bands like CIANIDE, MACABRE, USURPER at all would kick our asses musically if we existed during the same time period. But 20 years later, there has to be more that can be done vocally. Again, I sure as hell wished I could turn on a radio in 1982 and listen to USURPER like you can today. Granted, maybe only on special niche radio stations, but it’s out there!

Are you still in contact with some old Warriors of Metal and are you interested in the nowadays scene? Do you still go to underground live-shows?

I still go to shows and buy metal. It’s just part of my DNA and I can’t see ever stopping. Most current metalhead undergrounders probably see Slayer as old men, but no band from that era and/or genre has actually IMPROVED in the 20 years they’ve been around. They still destroy because they are genuine and live for SLAYER and SLAYER alone. I still see tons of people from the “old” scene 20 years ago and we all feel the same way. Almost none of the real, hardcore nucleus of the 80’s has disappeared. The only folks that never come around anymore were just in it for the violence, drugs, sense of belonging, etc. It was never about the music and therefore they’ve moved on to fill that void somewhere else. To me, it’s still my life.

What was the reason to end the chapter of TERMINAL DEATH?


There honestly, was no real “break-up” to speak of. No hard feelings. No fight. We were all just drifting towards different projects and it was truly bizarre how it all happened at the same time!

Are you still in contact with any TERMINAL DEATH members? What can you tell me about the ex-members? What are they doing now? I heard that members played in BROKEN HOPE & SINDROME.

Shaun is the only one I still see fairly often. He’s very busy with his new band SOIL and I hope they find a lot of success. Without naming names, the other members have been managing a number of more important life issues be it family, substance abuse, careers outside of music, etc. Other than Shaun, I’m sad to say I don’t even know if the others are still alive! We just never stayed in touch. [Shaun played bass in SINDROME from 1987 – 1992, in BROKEN HOPE from 1995 – 1999 ~ demon666]



I know you’re a busy man at work but what are doing in your spare time.

I still write and record music that would be considered quite weak by our old standards! It’s a bit of Sabbath, Trower, Soundgarden, etc. I also enjoy restoring vintage Pontiacs from the 60’s. Nothing beats the smell of oil and gasoline while listening to Triumph of Death! I’ve been married for 10 years to a beautiful woman named Jennifer and have two children (2 and 4 years old) that both LOVE to jam and thrash. When my daughter asks to put a CD in the stereo, she doesn’t ask for some retarded Barney disc, she says, “Daddy, I want to JAM!” It’s very cool.




John thanks a lot that you took the time to answer my question. This is the place for you to end the interview.


Thank YOU! It was a pleasure relieving those early days and sifting through the photos and demos of 20 years ago. I wish you the best and I hope you found this interesting. [Your answers are very interesting. I appreciate it. Thanks again! ~ demon666]

TERMINAL DEATH discography:

* Demo 1985