'His Pride. No Spear. No Friend.' is the third full-length studio album from The Owl Service, their first in over 5 years. It marks a distinct change in direction for the band, seeing them eschew both their psych-folk beginnings, and the more polished, classic folk-rock sound of 2010's 'The View From a Hill'. With none of the usual folk instrumentation either, band leader Steven Collins is keen to point out that in his opinion, this is not a folk album;
"I put The Owl Service on hiatus at the start of 2012 as I'd kind of run out of ideas, but I'd also fallen out of love with folk music, and I've continued that fall for the past 4 years. During that time I would occasionally listen to the few folk artists who's work I still enjoy - Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy - but apart from that I haven't listened to any folk music at all since taking a break from the band. In late 2013 I was feeling the urge to make another Owls record, and I knew I wanted to continue working with traditional material. I was throwing lots of ideas around as to how it may sound, but nothing felt right. Eventually I realised that I should take inspiration from the bands I'd been listening to the most over the past few years; 90 Day Men, Fugazi, Shellac, Shipping News, Bedhead etc. I wanted to make a raw, honest album, and those bands have/had that in spades. I didn't really consider whether or not a modern, minimal rock sound would work with traditional song, I just went for it, and luckily the results were exactly what I was looking for".
So what we have is a set of songs mostly from the British tradition, with a couple of originals from cult 1970s psych-folk bands thrown in for good measure, but the sonic palette is far more akin to the post-hardcore, post-rock and minimal-rock sound of the aforementioned bands than to the very British alternative folk sound of the band's previous releases. Whether it's a folk album or not, it's certainly a unique record, and it's the first time these songs have found themselves in such a setting. This is no issue for Collins, who is always happiest moving to the beat of his own drum;
“This record is at odds with the current folk scene, but then so are we. I often refer to The Owl Service as 'perennial folk outsiders' - half joking initially, it's now a position we seem to have made our own. We've never been part of any scene; the folk World has never embraced us, but the contemporary psych-folk scene doesn't care for us either. We're routinely ignored in our home town, so we're not part of any Southend/Essex music scene. We're outsiders - there's no other way to put it. We have a small, loyal following who know exactly what to expect from us. I've always been a bit of a loner, so I'm OK with that".
Collins won't be drawn on whether or not this album marks the start of a new direction (and a new era) for The Owl Service. He says he doesn't know where the band will go next, if indeed it'll go anywhere at all. Should this be the final flight of The Owl Service then it's a fine way to bow out - it's undoubtedly their finest music to date, as well as being the kind of album they've been promising us for almost a decade.