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Esquys – Instincts Award winner

by Mark Machlay at 27 July 2021, 12:32 PM

ESQUYS is a solo project created by French musician Sebastien Normand. It acts as Normand’s vehicle to create his own music and allowing him to collaborate with other artists – mainly singers – using a fantasy set story as a backdrop. Before this new venture, Normand played in some local bands in Paris, France. First, he was lead guitarist of POLARYS from 2000-2005,  then bassist of Nepenthys from 2015-2019, spending all of his free time writing music, playing music, or producing for other bands in the Paris area with varying styles from French alternative rock to hardcore. The music for ESQUYS, however, is a combination of several different metal influences, namely symphonic metal, folk metal and death metal along with scores from movies like Lord of the Rings and The Da Vinci Code. If this all sounds very similar to Arjen Lucassen’s AYREON project, Normand acknowledges as such and indicates that he hopes to expand on the concept in subsequent releases. Normand gave it the name ESQUYS which looks and sounds very similar to the French phrase that means “is it that..” because he has not quite formulated the entire story and it fits well with the dilemma his protagonist is up against.

By now, I’m sure you have surmised that “Instinct” it a concept album with a continuing story that Normand asserts acts as “…the first chapters of a book. This album is the establishment of a world and of the characters, of the outlines of the story. In modern novels we often follow the different protagonists with their past, before they meet, to begin to give a plot to the story. This album is a bit like that: the big “Esquys” girl who rediscovers herself, the little one and her past, the downfall of a world whose power is held only by a few people.” To further expand on that description, “Esquys” is a little girl, born in the Northern territories. She lives with her tribe, hidden, trying to protect what is left of the ancient ways. Around her, the world has collapsed into a new order ruled and populated solely by women. This first album features guitarist Mattias Eklundh of FREAK KITCHEN and a plethora of female singers such as Anna Fiori, Ranthiel, Anna Murphy of CELLAR DARLING, Jen Janet, and Micky Huijsmans of SOWULO.

The Music that Sebastien Normand presents on the first part of ESQUYS journey is definitely geared towards the symphonic metal enthusiasts but does an excellent job of pulling in folk and even classical music influences to make for a unique blend of electric and acoustic instruments. First track “Rise” is wonderfully poignant instrumental introduction with folk infused instrumentation in a melancholy, yet hopeful prelude to heavier pieces yet to come. With a wide variety of vocalist comes a wide variety of styles ranging from operatic to growls – the latter introduced quite quickly on “Open Your Eyes”. Anna Fiori brings a swift intensity to the album, jumping from strong clean vocals, to monstrously infectious growling vocals, on quite the epic second track, along with a special technique-filled guitar solo from Mattias Eklundh. I must also mention with all the other instrumental tracks – “Ddawnsiwr” and “Unveiled” – they seem less structured around themes and seem more as an illustration of a forest and a journey, an exploration of one theme rather than many and they serve as wonderful interludes between the singing tracks. You get the more properly whipped up symphonic/operatic tracks with “Ghost”, kicking up metal dust, into a power metal worthy frenzy and top-notch operatic vocals from Ranthiel. But I must say, the real surprise was the cover of MADONNA’s “Frozen” and the hauntingly delicate vocals of Micky Huijsmans which just put a nice cherry on top of this near perfect album.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Rise
2. Open Your Eyes (featuring Anna Fiori, Mattias Eklundh)
3. Ddawnsiwr
4. Ghost (featuring Ranthiel)
5. Shadows (featuring Anna Murphy)
6. Your Smile (featuring Jen Janet)
7. Unveiled
8. Frozen (featuring Micky Huijsmans)
Sebastien Normand – All Instruments, performed or programmed
Mattias Eklundh – Guitar solo on “Open Your Eyes”
Anna Fiori – Vocals on “Open Your Eyes”
Ranthiel – Vocals on “Ghosts”
Anna Murphy – Vocals on “Shadows”
Jen Janet – Vocals on “Your Smile”
Micky Huijsmans – Vocals on “Frozen”
Record Label: Aedonia Productions


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