Instinct: Conflict Resolution

Instinct are one of black metal’s best-kept secrets. Since 2005, solitary mainman Verst has doggedly pursued his muse, releasing demos, splits, and an album in closely guarded numbers. But this is not an empty gesture toward being ‘cult’ or what-have-you: simply, the Instinct headspace is a staunchly strictured one, there for those who wish to wander and for them only. That’s not to take anything away from the universality of that headspace; in fact, its half-molasses-thick/half-cosmic movement and gapingly vast atmosphere jointly open up myriad corridors to the hinterlands of the imagination. And really, isn’t that one of the central aims (musically, at least) of BM – to literally leave? Time for Verst to enter, then, and guide Nathan T. Birk…

An edited, non-q&a, version of this interview was published in Zero Tolerance Magazine issue 040. Back issues are available to buy here. Do the right thing and support the printed word.

First off, what is your definition of ‘black metal’?
I define black metal as an artform that is deeply spiritual, personal, intelligent, dark, atmospheric, organic and truly reflective of the individuals creating it. All of these characteristics are present within Instinct, and so, on a personal level, I am entirely satisfied that my work falls under the category of black metal as I interpret it, which I should say is from an individualistic nature-worship viewpoint. With this, there should always be a strong ideological angle, and the image should be reflective of this, be it Satanic, NS, pagan etc. I get something from this music regardless of the artists’ beliefs, but of course, I listen mainly to those artists who are inspired by nature – that is a broad area based on the physical, mental, spiritual, ancestral etc – as I can connect with this directly in relation to my own convictions.

However, I should state that it is mainly the obscure, isolated artists who get my full attention and respect, not those bullshit ’Viking/pagan metal’ bands who sing about drinking and swords. Fuck all of those worthless shits – they are so far removed from my understanding and respect of ancestry, nature and solitary spirituality. That trend will soon die out and all the shallow followers will hang up their plastic drinking horns and move onto the next ‘big thing’

I do believe the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Scandinavian bands defined the black metal sound regardless of their somewhat naïve (due to age) ideologies. This original sound and way of playing has been built upon and expanded since, obviously, but to deviate too far is to remove oneself from the genre stylistically. I believe there is still enough room for experimentation and originality within this. The ’fuck you’-defiant, arrogant punk attitude, as well as the sound to a degree, is also present in black metal – a point of debate for those who hate ‘80s punk, I‘m sure – and you and I know the originators were influenced by the likes of Discharge and The Exploited as much as the metal bands of the time. I am a long time follower of this genre also, so it is a very natural thing to embrace and use within the sound of Instinct – ‘Elemental Purification’ is a fine example of this. Ironic, though, given the suburban/city roots of punk and hardcore, let alone the mainly ultra-liberal / humanist lyrical content which, as I have aged, have come to utterly despise. Listen to ‘To Whom It May Concern’, ’This Is Not Enough’ or ‘The Right To Reply’ by Conflict, set aside the vocals, and tell me those tracks could not be any number of black metal bands, sonically speaking.

What are the positives and negatives of being a one-man black metal band? In 2011, do you think the phrase ‘one-man black metal band’ carries a certain stigma?
I cannot think of any negative aspects of being alone in what I do. I answer to nobody but myself, and I would certainly not work with labels who demanded change in any way. If I fuck up, that’s my own doing. Instinct is far too important to me to have to consider other people’s opinions, be they label owners, musicians or followers. Instinct is for myself, and it cannot be separated from who I am as an individual; my personal beliefs and convictions are intrinsic to my life and music in equal measure. I have literally one close friend whose studio I use to record drums. Everything else is recorded myself, and that is how it will always be. As I said in an interview last year – create in solitude, listen in solitude. I have no idea about this stigma attached to one-man projects nowadays nor do I particularly care. I have always used a Pearl Export drum-kit and will continue to do so. I think this instrument is a factor in separating the serious artists from the teenagers trying to record quietly in their bedrooms with shitty drum-machines/programmes while the parents are watching their brain-rotting soap operas downstairs. With this said, there are a handful of individual artists I respect a lot who use drum-machines, but in a way that actually complements the overall sound they have created. This is rare; don’t bother trying it as you will likely fail. Either way, you create this art seriously and wholeheartedly or not at all. Instinct has never had criticism for being a one-man project, because I know exactly what I am doing and I do it with total conviction. Arrogant, yes – I do not care.
How important is atmosphere in Instinct?
Atmosphere is an integral part of the Instinct sound and has been since early/mid 2005. I achieve this in several ways – dense layering of guitar tracks, discordance, incidental notes/sounds, vocal nuances and an awareness of emotional impact through rhythm and tempo. These methods combined with the natural way in which I compose music, as well as recording/production technique, create this atmosphere in Instinct, which, to me personally can be described and felt in the following ways – cold, vast, miserable, dark, epic, beautiful, and mournful. These descriptive words also relate to the musically and spiritually inspiring natural landscape in which I surround myself.

I’ve always felt this certain fog around Instinct, so perhaps this atmosphere is intangible? ‘Invisible’, even?
As I answered previously, personally, the atmosphere of Instinct is very real, easily descriptive and uniquely reflective of that which inspires me. Obviously, from an outsider’s perspective, all I have just said may be meaningless or, perhaps like yourself, you can sense this atmosphere or ‘fog’ somehow within the music but are not able to fully grasp it in the way I do, as I use and experience Instinct as an extension of my personality – a representation of my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual relationship with nature, from the simplistic, spatial bliss of wandering upon the ancient barrows of Thundridge under moonlight to the experience of daylight apparitional manifestation, which, while initially terrifying, strengthened many of my beliefs and theories relating to a unified energy through all things existing within nature’s realm. This is not ‘new age’ humanist bullshit, either – this is far fucking darker…. In ending this subject, I am the only one who will ever truly understand the significance and meaning of Instinct beyond the musical; thus, outside perceptions, while interesting to me, are generally not very agreeable. I accept this, of course; otherwise, I would never have publicised my art. I hope my words give you and others some further insight.

And such ties into the Instinct moniker, then…?
Instinct, in relation to the title of my art, is the lost natural state of man, the animalistic, instinctual drive and acceptance of all that is, balanced with intelligence and respect, crushed by the true enemies of nature – monotheism, industrialisation, materialism and greed. It is my acceptance of all I have explained previously; it is my primal side; and finally, it relates to the way in which I compose music. Yes, the Instinct moniker is very relative and appropriate to the music, to all that I am, believe in and despise. I have known this from its inception, and no other name was ever considered. And let’s be honest – it is a fucking unique name to have within the black metal genre.

Back to the central point, I guess I feel Instinct’s atmosphere as ‘grey’ rather than purely black, despite being BM. Maybe it’s also down to the almost-methodical slog your music moves to, and in that sense I hear (alongside other more down-tempo, comparably foggy BM) strong links to The Cure, in particularly their Faith album (and song, for that matter), which ironically enough has all-grey cover art.
Again, this is down to your own interpretation of Instinct’s sound, which is interesting. I think the more down-tempo compositions are both a conscious and instinctual way of exuding melancholy and atmosphere – not necessarily depressive, perhaps more thoughtful; remembrance – lost ways, but also all that I described relating to atmosphere earlier, too. I find it far more natural to connect and be absorbed by a slow tempo on an emotional level; one-dimensional blasting will never be a part of what I do. Direct musical influence, in a compositional sense, is never in mind when I compose and record. Most inspiration comes from nature and solitary spirituality and all I feel, experience and believe in relation. I have never been a fan of the Cure, but there are a couple of late ‘80s/early ‘90s non-metal bands I listen to whose ethereal, atmospheric qualities may have a subconscious impact on the overall sound of Instinct. The use of clean guitar lines merged with the distorted guitars may bring to mind such bands as the Cure, but really, that’s the listener’s interpretation. I read a review of my 2006 album somewhere in which the writer was adamant I was heavily influenced by Neurosis and that I had synth-lines running throughout the entire album. Yeah, right – fuck off.

It would seem you’re becoming increasingly ambitious these days, between a whole single-track MCD at a half-hour and the split LP with White Medal being one track that’s nearly 20 minutes, but you’ve had exceptionally long songs since the very beginning. Is this a deliberate aesthetic choice? Or simply the ‘dialect’ in which you speak your language?
Lengthy compositions have always come naturally to me and always made sense within the non-musical context of what I do – a journey, if you will, through the internal (mind and spirit) and external (nature, physical movement) and so the music needs to aid such a journey. Instinct, of course, exists for myself first and foremost – black metal which I want to hear in conjuring feeling and emotion on that spiritual level for my benefit before all else. Context is everything – becoming lost in these lengthy compositions while walking for miles under the light of the moon or simply sitting in darkness in my home with reflection and deep thought. Either way, solitary listening with headphones is the only way to experience Instinct, and the music is created for this purpose; hence, all of those subtle characteristics and nuances within the music which also draw the listener in, to hold interest and ensure repeated listens, reveal different things each time. The music has to unfold gradually yet also remain cyclical, structured and cohesive.

The new split 7″, however, exhibits your more triumphant side compared to the increasingly ethereal works just mentioned. Is this a side you’ll explore more? What compelled it?
Indeed, the split 7” track, ‘Chamber Dark’, is a departure, because I always had that severe constraint on the duration and so had to write the music accordingly, but also because the drums were recorded before any of the guitar parts were written. Triumphant, yes…well, that is down to the tempo and rhythm, which was intentionally ‘upbeat’, so to speak. Compulsion – music-wise, it just wrote itself; it sounded fucking good and suitably atmospheric. Lyrically, it is based on one night of isolated deep thought within a 5000-year-old burial chamber in Wiltshire. I think my level of understanding of all within me was far greater upon leaving that place, and that is coincidentally reflected in the overall feel of ‘Chamber Dark’. No, this will not be explored any further. A good song, but far too conventional, though that works within the context of a split 7”. It sounds nothing like Myrrdin’s track on the other side, which is just total, raw brutality with a black pagan heart.
Speaking of the ‘triumphant’, the subject of UKBM, particularly the ‘heritage’ scene that’s so hot recently: your honest thoughts on this development? Where, if at all, does Instinct fit into the modern UKBM paradigm?
Black metal should not be about common causes or unity, and I despise ‘scene’ mentality. This extends to UKBM, too, and as a ‘scene’ is populated by shallow morons for the most part, so I have always kept my distance. I very rarely attend gigs, and I maintain some contact with the bands and artists whose music I personally enjoy and connect with. I have no interest in speaking with or supporting any others. Nature-, heritage-, and spiritually-inspired UK artists such as the aforementioned Myrrdin and White Medal, as well as Diversis, Vostok and Hoarstone, I hold in high regard, as well as some of the older artists who were perhaps more occult-orientated like Darkness, Anaxagazaroth, Basilisk and Ichneutic. Like myself, none of these artists exist within the live performance scene and are/were vehemently individualistic. This is how black metal should be within the UK, in my opinion – isolated artists walking their own paths, with total disregard for convention and absolute belief in what they do. Instinct, too, will continue in this way. With this, my internalised, solitary spiritualism and general unwillingness to connect with most people on a direct level is a world away from those increasingly popular ‘heritage’ bands who are performing live. That is all.



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