Switzerland is not exactly a world force when it comes to heavy metal. The small, non-opinionated country has a few folk metal bands, a few death metal bands, and a few traditional metal bands — Krokus and Shakra come to mind in the last category, and we can add Headless Crown, as well1. These upstarts came onto the scene in 2011, and Century of Decay is their second album, following 2015’s Time for Revolution. The band’s style is firmly entrenched in ’80s metal — Judas Priest, Saxon, and Accept come to mind — and as always, the question when listening to these dad-metal bands is this: is Headless Crown producing something worth listening to, or should we just dust off our old copies of Screaming for Vengeance and Metal Heart?
There’s one twist to Century of Decay: it’s a concept album. Not often does a traditional metal band do this; concept albums are usually the demesne of prog bands. And of course, this particular concept centers around a dystopian future (doesn’t it always) where the protagonist seeks to escape his mundane factory job via his dreams. Ugh. It’s not original in the least, and honestly, I’m not interested in it. I’ll go watch Brazil if I feel so inclined. Thankfully, the songs rise far above the beaten-to-death concept. The title track opens the album aggressively, with in-your-face riffing and a snare drum that you feel in the back of your head. Steff Perrone also shows he is in possession of a classic set of pipes. “Century of Decay” is a pro song, with better skill and a stronger arrangement than I would expect of a band on just their second album, and immediately has me listening with more than just cursory attention.
Throughout Century of Decay, Headless Crown show an above average knack for traditional metal songwriting. “Grinder of Souls” opens with a lightning-fast riff and is full of fist-pumping stop-start rhythms, and Perrone’s voice reveals an interesting edge, as his style often brings to mind Voivod’s Denis “Snake” Belanger. This is most evident in the choruses of “Plan 9” and “Outermind Travel,” the latter of which could be a Voivod song if not for the conventional chord progressions. “The End” sounds much like modern Saxon, brimming with energy, and finale “Degree Absolute” features aggression on par with Judas Priest’s latest. In other words, traditional metal with a modern sheen.
As good as the musicianship is, the songs on Century of Decay do suffer to a degree of sameness. Chunky riffs and relentless drumming dominate, and although it’s all very well performed, eleven songs of similar arrangements get onerous. By the time the ninth song hits, I find myself checking the playlist to see how many are left. Some more variety in tempo and instrumentation would have been great. And to go completely off topic here, one of my favorite quirks on the album is Perrone’s pronunciation of the word “production.” With this being a concept album about a factory worker, the word comes up more than once, and in more than one song, and Perrone’s “work hard, increase prahdookshin” on the anthemic “Listen” is endearingly unique.
As for the concept, it’s executed to an acceptable degree. The songs make sense and the story is told, however unnecessary it was. So back to our original question: is Centuries of Decay a worthy addition to the realm of traditional metal, and are Headless Crown worthy of a spot alongside Krokus? The answer is yes on both parts. Centuries of Decay is an energetic and compelling album full of solid songs, creating sweet noise for these olde ears.