Instinct is the black metal solo project of musician Verst, who’s based in Hertfordshire, in the southeast of England. The first Instinct release was a limited-edition demo tape, Albion, which appeared in 2005. The tracks from Albion were reissued, along with a new track, ‘Nocturnal Invocation’, on Instinct’s first CD, an untitled album released through Canadian label Suffering Jesus Productions on 2006, with the album receiving plaudits for its strange, hypnotic atmosphere and grim black metal ferocity. A second demo tape followed in 2007, and 2008 saw the release of the second Instinct album, simply entitled Instinct, on English label Heidenwut Productions.
Heathen Harvest: Let’s start by talking about the new album, Instinct, which seems to have a fuller and more polished sound than the first album. Are you pleased with how Instinct turned out, and were you disappointed with the first album? I liked the first album fine myself, but it’s very raw compared with the second.
I spent so much time on the production of the new album; the mixing, EQs, effects, frequency merging, therefore I would never have released an album I was unhappy with. Because of my patience this time around, I achieved the sound that was exactly in my mind. I am still very proud of the first album, it represents a moment in time musically and mentally. It helped clarify many things for me on a personal level, opening a spiritual path that I am still exploring now. This aided in the direction of Instinct musically speaking also.
HH: After I reviewed your second album for Judas Kiss webzine, you informed me that there are in fact no keyboards used on the album, even though I'd thought I could detect keyboards on the first track, ‘Misanthropy Until Regression Through Nature’, and another reviewer had mentioned keyboards being used on the final track, ‘Elemental Purification (Part 6 - Conclusion)’. How did you achieve this effect? Can you tell us something more about the songwriting, recording and production processes for Instinct? Do you record and produce everything at home, or do you use a studio?
The misconception of keyboards being used is down to frequencies merging within the layers of guitar. It is that simple to be honest, though very deliberate. Creating the ambience of the guitars is an important factor. Taking them beyond their fundamental sound and tone is now an essential part of Instinct’s sound. I would rather not go into detail about the process of writing and recording. It can be meticulous and draining, especially with the last album; the original version of which was abandoned and will remain unreleased.
Drums are always recorded at a close ally’s studio, while everything else is recorded and mixed at my home studio.
HH: You’ve announced that there will be another Instinct release this year, described on your Instinct MySpace Blog as ‘desolate soundscape/ambience for solitary ritualism’. Are there any more details about this work available yet? Is there a working title for it? Is this going to be a more ambient work than previous Instinct releases? Will this one involve keyboards, or more mysterious guitar processes?
That is correct, there will be another release in June 2009. This is still in production, and will be a departure from the normal guitar/drum/vocal set-up of Instinct.
‘Soundscape’ is probably more accurate a description than ‘ambient’ actually; the focus is based on atmosphere rather than any musical structure. I will use any instrument and source necessary to achieve the desired outcome. This will be more personal than any other Instinct release, in that it serves purely as an aid to me in ritual practices undertaken in solitary conditions. It’s strictly limited to 60 cassettes, and there will be no re-release on CD as I have done before.
I do not think many people will ‘get it’, so to speak, but that is not my concern. However, there will be some interesting packaging, with white cassettes, and of course each inlay will be hand-numbered and blood-marked. There is nothing more to say on this matter now.
HH: This new work will be released through Ancient Trail Recordings – is this your own label? I can’t find any references to Ancient Trail, aside from ones relating to previous Instinct releases.
ATR is my own label and exists purely for cassette releases as Instinct. A run of shirts were also produced in 2006 with the ATR and Instinct logos printed on them, and these sold out within two months or so. Anyone reading this interested in printing some more, make contact.
HH: The new release is going to be a limited-edition cassette, like your two previous demos. What are your reasons for continuing to release material in cassette format rather than on CD-R – is it just nostalgia for the old tape-trading scene? Cassettes seem to still be quite popular within the underground black metal scene, but I've never really understood why this is.
I like the sound and hiss of a cassette, and yes, nostalgia is a part of it too. I have many cassettes from my youth when metal was new to me, and as a format I think it is important to keep alive, even just within the black metal underground. The time and effort spent dubbing cassettes to me is a sign of further dedication (I always do them all myself at home) whereas a CD-R can be created on a computer within minutes; to me this is bullshit.
HH: What else does the future hold for Instinct? Are there any plans for live performances by Instinct, or will it remain a studio project? Are there any split releases or collaborations in the offing?
As far as releases go, the next cassette as discussed, and then maybe a split release, though I will not name the other band at this stage, as it may not happen. The main focus will be on the next full-length album, which I predict will be out some time in 2010. Instinct will not perform live; it is highly personal, and is crafted for solitary listening conditions.
HH: I’m interested in knowing about your relationship to the idea of Englishness. You include the word ‘Albion’ in your band logo, the runic characters you use are from the Anglo-Saxon futhorc, and the cover of the first Instinct album features a photo of a very English-looking landscape of broad-leafed deciduous trees, in contrast to the coniferous forest imagery which is so common on Scandinavian and Eastern European black metal releases. The press release from the first album also describes your music as ‘inspired by the small amount of unchanged land across Southern Albion, reflecting sadness and consideration for ruined landscape, tradition and ritual practice lost in this bastardised “nation”.’ Could you say something about your conception of Englishness – is it based primarily on Anglo-Saxon roots? And how important is the English landscape as a source of inspiration for your work? Do you spend a lot of time out in the countryside? Do you live in a rural setting?
Thank you for recognising that the ‘Albion’ runes are of Anglo-Saxon origin. I research such things thoroughly, so to the best of my knowledge they are accurate. This is very important to me. ‘Englishness’ is a very broad concept in a modern context. To me, the last 2000 years are certainly not what I think of when I consider the essence of this country and its history, so to answer your question, reach back 3000 to 5000 years, and this is where the spiritual heart of England is.
England, or the UK for that matter, is vast and great in its heritage and landscape, and travelling to certain places is a source of inspiration. For example, during solstice periods I will travel to ancient sites such as Avebury
and West Kennett
to wander among the stones or sit within the burial chamber in solitude. Walking through these sites in pitch-black darkness in freezing conditions does strange things to the mind, while allowing a connection to be achieved. More often than not, the bad weather will keep most sane people and hippie scum away.
There are also ancient round barrows not 30 minutes’ walk from where I live, so these are often visited at night. Many ideas for melodies have come to me from these times, while an overwhelming sense of sadness I experience is clearly reflected on the last album.
So yes, the landscape of our country is of great importance to me, spiritually and musically. The inspiration it provides cannot be underestimated. I live in a small town surrounded by countryside and woodland, so it is easy to escape the urban cesspool regardless of time of day or weather.
HH: England, and Great Britain more generally, has not been very fertile territory for the production of black metal, despite the genre arguably originating here with Venom – certainly, the term ‘black metal’ itself derives from Venom’s 1982 album of that name. Why do you think this is? Are you optimistic about the future of English black metal? Are there other English bands whose work you admire?
I am not really sure, though you make a good point. I do not have much interest in most other English bands, nor do I attend many gigs, perhaps one or two each year. I do not like ‘scene’ mentality and what it represents; this is not what black metal is about, in my opinion. As for Venom, I think they are shit. I believe the first band with the attitude and music was Bathory
There are a few very good bands in this country though, and I will name several who I listen to on a regular basis: Basilisk
, The One
, Oubliette and Fen
HH: When you first formed Instinct, did you have any specific inspirations or precedents in mind? It seems to me that Instinct’s sound derives at least as much from Eastern European sources such as Graveland, Nokturnal Mortum and Drudkh as from the Norwegian black metal scene, especially in your use of acoustic guitar melodies – would you agree with this?
Remember that the first Instinct release was an improvised demo, therefore the sound, tone, structure etc was undefined at that point in time. The lyrical, spiritual and visual aspects, however, were firmly in place already. Since then, I have thought long and hard about what exactly Instinct represents to me in terms of music and spiritualism. From this, the style in which I play, the sound and the atmosphere have been created as a direct refection of my mind and spirituality. Of the bands you mention, Drudkh are the only ones I am familiar with, and it is fair to say that their music has had a limited impact on my writing. I have only two Graveland albums and these do not move me enough to the point of inspiration. When I write my music I generally have a clear mind, while inspiration for melodies, riffs, lyrics etc come from non-musical sources; nature and the cerebral.
HH: You have used the term ‘Pagan Black Metal’ to describe your work – what does the word ‘pagan’ mean to you? If you are a pagan, what does that involve? Do you have any involvement in the contemporary pagan scene, or when you talk about paganism, are you referring to the pre-Christian past?
I consider myself a pagan, though you have to understand there is no communal aspect to my belief. It is solitary spiritualism linked to the earth. The land and myself, that is all there is when I am walking in the night making that connection. Everything is an energy, I do not believe there is a higher plane after death; we are all tied to the earth. Transfer of energy is what death represents to me. Perhaps yet another solitary journey within Nature’s realm. This energy is as versatile as the elements; we have no control; we will all succumb to Nature’s will. No god of man will be there at the end. This is my opinion. I do not give a shit if anyone disagrees. This belief is an intrinsic part of Instinct, and therefore Instinct is not simply music to me; it is my life.
Ritualism is something I undertake in solitude in a very personal manner; nobody needs to know about this. There is a line of text inside the new album tray inlay, which, while open to interpretation, gives a clue as to what is involved on some occasions.
HH: Do you feel there’s a contradiction between your professed misanthropy and love of solitude and the pagan aspects of Instinct, given that traditional paganism has always been strongly rooted in tribal and communitarian values? Is your music first and foremost a despairing lament for a lost pagan past, or does it offer any more positive message for the present?
As I outlined in my reply to the previous question, my personal pagan beliefs may differ greatly from others, in my rejection of the traditional communal values. This rejection comes from life experience, which in turn led to my misanthropic view of the world. Modern culture and life does not allow for connection to the past, by which I mean our pre-Christian history. We do not know of our ancestral legacy, our bloodlines, and our roots. Society ensures that we are too busy and consumed with material gain and stress to even consider what I would call ‘natural spiritualism’; the instinctual desire to connect with our land, to be absorbed by Nature. We’re all guilty of it, myself included, and there lies another of my greatest lyrical inspirations; the lure of modernity and its sickening pitfalls. Achieving the balance is an ongoing struggle, and most people simply give in or are utterly ignorant of any alternative mentality.
Why the fuck would I ever want to interact with these people? I can only hope Nature will cleanse herself once and for all. European man is too far gone to change himself, so intervention is needed. Indeed, much despair comes from the hopelessness of Europe, and its 2000-year spiritual subjugation. This is certainly reflected, as I mentioned earlier, in the sadness I experience when walking upon the ancient sites of our ancestors. Again though, Nature’s intervention – our forced regression – is the only way to reawaken what lies dormant within. The title of the track on the new album literally spells out how I feel.
I live quite a solitary life and I find much comfort in being alone. More people should try it, they might actually fucking start to think about things.
So in my opinion, because my personal belief is such a solitary one, I see no contradiction between being a misanthrope and a pagan in this modern world.
HH: Anything else you want to add?
Instinct is not a form of entertainment. It is an aid for spiritual connection through solitude. ‘Misanthropy Until Regression Through Nature… To A New Dawn Shining With Purity’.
Thanks to Heathen Harvest for the interview and support.
This interview with Verst of Instinct took place by email during February 2009.