(The world turns, people leave us, and sometimes they come back. Florida-based Dan Barkasi wrote for NCS off and on in 2014-16, and now he has returned with the following interview of Serge Streltsov, the mastermind behind Pittsburgh-based Selfgod.)
Hard-hitting, uncompromising death metal is something that most who frequent NCS are kind of privy to. Just a tad, right? Mix that up with a dash of black metal underpinnings, and you have a recipe for something awfully delicious. Enter Selfgod.
The brainchild of Serge Streltsov (guitars/bass/vocals/keyboards), who plied his trade with Necrophagia and Automb in the past, you can hear how both of those bands played a part in shaping his new project Selfgod – quite literally, as you’ll soon read!
We discuss Selfgod’s debut release Born of Death in depth, along with Serge’s own story of his Ukrainian background and how his heritage is ingrained into both his music and daily life, and how he’s doing his part to help out those affected (and how you can, too). We also discuss Selfgod’s upcoming run of dates this month, the local scene in Pittsburgh, and other interesting topics.
NCS: Welcome! Today we have Serge from Selfgod. A new album just came out – Born of Death was released on February 24. A couple of months in, how has the reaction been so far?
Serge: The reaction has been really good. I’m surprised – people have really been digging it. I haven’t heard anything negative. Definitely a really good reaction compared to other releases that I’ve done. Definitely really stoked about it!
How did the writing process for Born of Death come together? Was it tough starting a new band, moving on from your previous band Automb?
Serge: Basically, we used the material from my last two bands. Two or three of the songs were originally supposed to be Necrophagia songs. I wrote that back in 2016, or something. So I had all this material sitting on my computer, and I was going to use this for my last band, Automb. Then half of the other material was going to be the Automb material, which I wrote last – pretty much during the pandemic. I wrote maybe five or six songs, and the other three were Necrophagia songs. This was gonna be an Automb album originally, and then when we decided to break up, I was like, “Well, I have a whole album. What do I do?” Basically continue Automb with a new name, and that’s pretty much how that went.
Speaking of Automb: in comparison, Selfgod’s music to me feels like a good mix of death metal and black metal. Automb for me leaned a little more more towards black metal. Considering your history with Necrophagia, Selfgod really feels like a good combination of both creative worlds. Like you said, a lot of the songs were sourced from those two bands. Was that a natural progression for you as an artist?
Serge: Yeah! I mean, I love black metal. For sure, with Automb, I was always trying to kind of appeal to the black metal crowd and whatnot. Simplify certain riffs, guitar-wise. I got tired of playing mostly black metal, guitar-wise. I’ve been in many death metal bands in the past, and I like to take it up a notch and play more technical riffs. Like having the super-chunky slow parts, or even faster parts – more brutal parts. So yeah, basically Selfgod is what all of my abilities as a guitar player are. They’re on full display here. I kind of wanted to go more into a death metal direction, and I’m sure you can definitely tell. A lot of people that heard it don’t even think it’s black/death. It’s pretty much death metal to most people.
There’s definitely a lot of variety – like you mentioned, there’s mid-paced, more crunchy stuff like “God of Self” that gives me an early Behemoth vibe, whereas a track like “Morena” hits quickly and feels kind of thrashy in the riffage. Is it important for you to vary yourself up?
Serge: It wasn’t my intention. That’s just pretty much how it came out naturally. I’ll just jam on a riff, and then it’s like, “This sounds cool! I wonder what kind of riffs I can pair this with?” And that’s pretty much how it goes. With Necrophagia songs that ended up being Selfgod songs, there was a specific box I had to write in. My old vocalist Killjoy would tell me what he wanted to hear. He’d be like, “I want this and that type of sound.” So I’d be like, ok, I guess I’m writing some chunky riffs here. Some very slow stuff here. And also for Automb, I was like, “This has to be sounding black metal,” you know what I mean? So some of those songs that were supposed to be Automb were also kind of like, sound a little bit like, black metal. The rest of the material, I was just like, hey, I’m going to write whatever comes naturally. Whatever feels right.
It really shows. And I think this is a real expansion on your qualities as a guitarist, and as a songwriter. It feels like the most varied piece of work you’ve done so far, for sure.
Serge: Thank you!
The title track, “Born of Death” – and the album as a whole – has a lot of ancient Pagan influences. Tell me a little bit about how you incorporated those influences in your music, and your personal connections to Paganism.
Serge: I was doing a lot of similar stuff with Automb. I’ve been into Slavic Paganism for many years. That’s my heritage. I’ve always been interested in that. This particular theme was more based about reincarnation within European Paganism. There was this book I was reading, and it kind of started giving me ideas. What deities are connected with death, and life, and rebirth, and things like that. “Born of Death” is like a play on words. It basically means reincarnation. So, a lot of the songs – three or four songs – are basically just talking about that.
There’s also songs like “Morena”, which is basically talking about a specific deity, which is the Slavic goddess of death. “Veles” also being one of those, which is a god of death. “Fire Czar” is about another deity, which is connected to reincarnation. I just thought it was original – no one has really done much on that. Usually most bands are doing Norse Paganism stuff, which is still cool, but it’s kind of overdone. Behemoth, on some of their early albums, were touching on some of these subjects. So I just thought it would be cool to resurrect some of that movement that they were trying to do.
It really feels natural. It’s cool that you get to express a lot of your Slavic heritage.
Serge: Yeah! It’s my roots, so it’s just natural. It’s a no-brainer for me.
Speaking of your background, for those who don’t know, you are Ukrainian and immigrated to the United States when you were young. All of the horrible things going on over there – the genocide and human rights violations in this war, and way previous before this conflict escalated to its current state. It’s been unfathomable. I’m really sorry for what you, your family, and anyone over there has experienced at the hands of Russian aggression. Tell us a little bit about your background coming from Ukraine, and how important your roots are to you personally and with your music?
Serge: Thank you. I moved here when I was a teenager, so I basically moved here and went to high school. I’ve been going back and stuff. I was in Ukraine actually during the war. Not recently – like five years ago, before it spread out through the whole country.
Here personally, in the US, I work as a language interpreter. I translate Ukrainian and Russian. I live in a Ukrainian community here in Pittsburgh. So I kind of never really escaped Ukraine, in a way. I’ve always been around Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish people. I’m in this community, and sometimes I’m speaking my language more than I speak English, because that’s my work. I’m around people like that more than, lets say, Americans even!
So I’ve always stayed within the Ukrainian kind of atmosphere. I used to work at a Ukrainian grocery store when I first moved here, and I got to meet a lot of immigrants. Obviously, through my work I translate, at hospitals sometimes. It’s definitely a big part of my life. It’s who I am. I don’t really consider myself an American, even though I’ve lived here for a while – for half my life. I have American citizenship now, but Ukraine is definitely my heritage and I’m really proud of it.
It’s really cool to have such a deep connection with your heritage, for sure. I know you also pledged to donate proceeds from Born of Death to help Ukrainian refugees, which is really awesome. What are some of the best ways that people like you and me, or anyone else reading this, can help out Ukraine and the Ukrainian people?
Serge: I already did that, yup! There’s lots of charities. I can send you a list [and you’ll see it below]. There have been bands like 1914 from Ukraine, who posted links on social media – like a whole paragraph. There’s lots of different organizations – it depends on what you want to donate to. There’s official Ukrainian ones, if you want to donate to the Army. Then there’s Polish ones, if you want to donate to the humanitarian fund. There’s ones for kids without parents. There’s a bunch. There’s also a bunch of fake ones, so I know some people are skeptical.
There’s one that my friend Eugene Pylypenko (https://www.facebook.com/ievgen.pylypenko) from Ukraine is running personally. He was my sound guy in Europe when I toured with Necrophagia. I know he’s gathering funds to get whatever for the Ukrainian Army or people who are still stuck in Ukraine. He’s gathering supplies, food, and whatnot. So that link for sure is legit, because that’s my friend. Shout out, Eugene! There’s definitely a good amount of organizations and it’s pretty cool.
It’s good to see the world come together for something like this
Serge: Yeah, I’ve never seen the world unite this much for something. It makes me proud. I see a lot of Ukrainian flags, driving around Pittsburgh. A lot of people definitely support it, and it feels really good.
Note: See a list of charities recommended by Serge at the end of this interview
Going back to the album a little bit, I know that production-wise it was mixed and mastered by Scott Elliot of Chernobyl Studios, who I know had to get out of Ukraine with him and his family. What was it like working with him? He has a really unique approach to his work.
Serge: Scott is a really cool guy! It was really easy to work with him. He’s pretty much minded like me. We’re on the same page. We listen to the same bands. He’s also a great guitar player! So, I’d be like, “Hey, I want this type of sound!” And he’s like, “You got it!” It was pretty fucking smooth! I worked with a lot of different producers, and this is the fourth album release on a label. So, I’ve definitely worked with all kinds of individuals, and this has been the smoothest ride ever. I’ve got nothing but love and respect for him. He’s a cool dude.
If anybody needs some mixing and mastering done, hit him up — Scott Elliot at Chernobyl Studios. He’s now located in Germany, and he could definitely use some work. And he does excellent work! I was telling him, “I want the sound of Behemoth drums from Evangellion” and he fucking nailed that. We got just that. That’s pretty much the sound I wanted for this album, and I think he nailed it and made it obviously more unique and not exactly ripping off, either. The production is grand-sounding. Really cool shit!
It enhances all of the songs on the album. It really brings it to life. It’s a very heavy, very thick sound. Very powerful.
Serge: Yeah, no doubt. This is the best production I’ve ever had. Automb-wise, it was more raw. Not exactly what I wanted to nail, but this is the first production where I’m 100% satisfied with it.
You mentioned being based in Pittsburgh. What’s the current metal scene like? I’m from there – lived there for like 30 years – but I’ve been away for a while. What’s the scene look like now?
Serge: Honestly, the scene isn’t as strong as it used to be. A lot of bands aren’t around anymore. But, there’s still a lot of cool venues that do stuff. Sub Alpine in Turtle Creek, not too far away. They have a lot of metal shows. Shout out to Josh; he puts on a lot of the shows. I just heard that Michale Graves from The Misfits is coming and playing there.
There’s also Black Forge (https://blackforgecoffee.com/) in McKees Rocks, on the other side of town. My buddy Chad works there. Also a lot of bands coming through there. It’s like a coffee shop / venue, and they do a lot of coffees for metal bands. Mayhem was just in town, so they did a coffee for Mayhem. They did a coffee for Type-O Negative, and all kinds of bands. So that’s been pretty cool. They have only metal shows there – nothing else.
So those two venues are keeping the Pittsburgh metal scene going. There’s also certain bands like Leprosy, Riparian, Post Mortal Possession, Victims of Contagion. Bands that have been around for a while, and they’re still going strong. There’s a bunch of new bands that I don’t know about, but those are pretty much my friends that I can think of now. I’m not very much involved in the scene anymore – I’m trying to tour and whatnot. It’s still going!
You mentioned touring – you said you had a tour kind of lined up. What kind of shows are you going to be playing; and who are you touring with? What do your plans look like in the future?
Serge: I’m doing basically an East Coast run – it’s like 10-12 dates. We have 10 fully confirmed right now, and working on the last few. The first week of the tour, I’m touring with this band called Yatra – they’re from Maryland, somewhere. We’re doing Pittsburgh, Canton (Ohio), Indianapolis, Youngstown (Ohio), and Berlin (Maryland). Those are the dates I do with them, and then they’re going to go do whatever they’re doing. And I’m going to do another week of just Selfgod headlining, which is going to be Morgantown (West Virginia), Charlotte (North Carolina), Buffalo (New York), and New York City. So it’s roughly another week of dates. Mostly East Coast, more Northern, North Carolina is as South as it’s gonna get. That starts on May 26th, and ends on June 5th.
5.26. Pittsburgh, PA- Sub Alpine Society
5.27. Canton, OH- The Buzzbin
5.28. Indianapolis, IA- Black Circle Brewing
5.29. Youngstown, OH- Westside Bowl.
5.30. Berlin, MD- Globe Theatre
5.31. Morgantown, WV- 123 Pleasant street
6.3. Charlotte, NC- Snug Harbor
6.4. Buffalo, NY- Mohawk Place
6.5. New York, NY- Arlene’s Grocery
I hope you come down a little farther South to Florida sometime!
Serge: I’d love to come down to Florida. Maybe on the next run! It’s a long drive to Florida.
It is. To get to a lot of the places that might have shows, like Orlando, Tampa, Miami – it’s a big state, and a really long state. It’s a lot of driving for a show, and then you have to drive back out.
Serge: Right, so it would have to be a long run there, and then some dates on the way back home, for it to make sense. Maybe this Fall? I’m trying to do another tour, so we’ll see where that goes.
Another big influence for you is horror films. What are some of your favorites, and how has horror influenced your music?
Serge: Oh man, I can go on all day with horror movies! I’ll name some that come to my mind: Phantasm, Night of the Living Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Hellraiser films, Friday the 13th, Halloween. We can go a little bit more underground like Lucio Fulci films, like City of the Living Dead, Zombi, House by the Cemetery. I can go all day! Definitely a lot of movies that are even more underground – Nightbreed is one of my favorites. A lot of good Clive Barker films.
Basically, I love the ’80s stuff – ’70s / ’80s. I feel like that was the best decade. There’s just something about the atmosphere and the vibe. There’s a lot of heavy metal involved, with the soundtracks. Dokken – “Dream Warriors”! Movies even like Creepshow; that was filmed in Pittsburgh. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead. I’m around these parts all the time and reminded of these movies. Pittsburgh has a rich horror movie history. That’s kind of inspiring, in a way.
Music-wise, when I was in Necrophagia that was a horror-themed death metal band. Every song was about a horror movie. When we’d play on stage, we would only wear horror movie shirts and stuff like that. That was definitely a big part of where I took it musically. For Selfgod, some of the atmosphere – like the opening track, “Fire Czar” starts off with this slow doomy part with a very evil / dark sounding melody. There’s definitely some horror movie vibes. Also for the video for “Born of Death,” I filmed it in the cemetery. I have skulls and bones everywhere, kind of like Texas Chainsaw vibes meets House by the Cemetery meets City of the Living Dead. That’s definitely more on the visual side than the sonic, but yeah, it’s definitely a big part of what I do with music, for sure.
How was filming that video for “Born of Death”? Was that a good experience?
Serge: Yeah, it was fun! It was me and my bass player, Jawsh Barnard, who is going to be with me on this tour. Basically, it was us and a tripod, and an iPhone camera. I didn’t have a budget for it, so it was basically what I could film with my phone. He helped me film that. It was fun! It was in December, so it was kind of cold. It was at night-time, no one was there. We just hung out for a while and knocked it out. It was a pretty fun night. It was all done in one night – pretty quick. I’m pretty stoked on how it turned out!
What’s next for Selfgod? What kind of future aspirations do you have? I know you just came out with the album. Any thoughts on what’s next?
Serge: Basically, I just want to tour as much as possible to support this album. This tour is just a start. I’m hoping to do as much touring as possible, and at whatever point, go over to Europe. Do the US, then do Europe. Maybe do some festivals, if that’s possible. There’s no solid plans yet, beyond this tour right now. So, I’m just focused on the upcoming tour. Once that’s done, I’m going to try to do something this Fall. Try to hit up more of the US. So this year is pretty much touring in the US, and then next year hopefully hit up some Europe stuff.
Where are some of the best places to find Selfgod and keep up with everything going on with the band?
Serge: Facebook, Instagram @Selfgodband. That’s pretty much where you’ll find anything and everything! There’s also Big Cartel for merch, and on Bandcamp I have the digital album for sale. All the streaming platforms have stuff.
Anything additional you’d like to add?
Serge: I guess that’s all! I hope to see some people on my upcoming tour! I hope to see some friends! There’s definitely a lot of friends in a lot of these cities, so come out and lets have some fun together!
Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to talk to us. Good luck on the tour, and hope to see you soon!
Serge: Thank you so much for having me, it’s been fun!
Thank you to Serge for taking the time to sit down with us! Check out social links and tour dates below, as well as a list of places to donate to help those in Ukraine.
Selfgod Tour Dates:
5/26 – Pittsburgh, PA. Sub Alpine Society (w/Yatra)
5/27 – Canton, OH. The Buzz Bin (w/Yatra)
5/28 – Indianapolis, IN. Black Circle Brewing (w/Yatra)
5/29 – Youngstown, OH. Westside Bowl (w/Yatra)
5/30 – Berlin, MD. Globe Theatre (w/Yatra)
6/1 – Richmond, VA
6/2 – TBA
6/3 – Charlotte, NC – TBA
6/4 – Buffalo, NY. Mohawk Place
6/5 – New York, NY. TBA
6/6 – Philadelphia, PA. TBA
From Serge – How you can help Ukraine:
SaveLife in UA (https://savelife.in.ua/)
Kyiv-based charity fund that helps the Ukrainian Army since 2014
1 – Volunteering medical organization
Medical fund Hospitallers: https://www.facebook.com/hospitallers/
2 – Humanitarian assistance from Poland
Humanitarian assistance including food and other forms of support to people who have to leave their homes.
3 – Red Cross in Ukraine
Volunteering medical organization
4 – Saint Javelin
Project of a Canadian journalist. 100% from sales goes to the fund, which is working with kids who have lost parents in the war
5 – East-SOS
Charity organization since 2014
6 – Solidarni z Ukrainą
Funding for humanitarian assistance from Poland
It’s been over 20 years, but I remember going to (here’s where my recall is super great) Mr roboto in Wilkinsburg and club laga in Oakland and a bunch of basement shows all over. That makes me feel elderly, but thanks for the bringing back good memories.
I hope to make it back there sometime and see what I can see