Illusion of Fate came out swinging with their debut album, King of Serpents in 2021 and they have managed to set the bar even higher with the latest release. Portals to Kur alternates a brutal assault of fast-paced blackened death metal and ominous atmospheric sections that will keep you on your toes waiting for the next horrors to be unleashed.

In the 5 years since they formed, the band has always eschewed genre lines, blending a heavier core sound rooted in traditional black and death metal with influences ranging from tech-death to atmospheric to experimental. In Portals to Kur the band skillfully infuses unexpected soundscapes into their songs, including an atmospheric horror interlude and a couple of guitar solos that could just as easily slide into a power metal album. While they stay true to the diverse sound they’ve crafted in their EP and first album, there is a noticeable step up in the recording quality and mix in Portals to Kur. The vocals and guitar tones are much clearer, which really allows the skill of the band to shine through.

Portals to Kur begins with “Beast Beyond Soul,” a funereal piano track, that builds into a fast-paced track about fighting inner demons. Austin Vicars’s thundering blast beats and Bryan Bykowski’s guttural bass drive the album forward, layered with Hayden Crownover’s razor-sharp guitar riffs and piercing solos. The guitar riffs in the intro to “Ov Virtue, Of Malice” are particularly enticing, leading into a chugging bass riff with guitar accents before the song kicks off in full.

Across the album, King Morbid utilizes a few different harsh vocal techniques, and his signature vocals blend the sound of pig squeals with the lower, richer timbre of death metal growls in a way that creates an effect both more haunting and less grating than traditional squeals. The lyrics present the familiar concept of vampires as a metaphor for inner demons, and the story flows through the emotional journey of hatred, spite, redemption, and regret.

With so much skill packed into one album, it’s difficult to say any one part is the best, but it must be noted that the band have absolutely outdone themselves with the orchestrations. Backing sounds ranging from piano, to 80s Casio keys, to horror movie screams drive the emotional layers of the music and elevate the impact of the story.

While nearly every track includes a slower section, the faster, more intense tracks like “Visions of Sunlit Skies,” “Spiritual Mutilation,” and “Infernal End” are balanced with the atmospheric tracks “Garden of Malice” and “Odyssey.” My only nitpick with the album is that the transition from the atmospheric tracks back to the faster tracks is very abrupt and jarring, and I would’ve preferred a slight build up to the change.

Overall, Portals to Kur is a catchy, fast-paced, and emotionally driven album that incorporates significant talent and a wide range of musical influence without sounding pretentious or mentally overwhelming.

Rating: 4.5/5

Key Tracks: Infernal End, Beast Beyond Soul, Spiritual Mutilation

Portals to Kur is available on Bandcamp beginning May 10, 2024.