[ALBUM REVIEW] Kalafina — Consolation

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Kalafina Consolation cover

Title: Consolation
Artist: Kalafina
Release Date: 20/3/2013

The introduction

For those still unfamiliar with this group, Kalafina is a vocal unit comprising three members: Wakana, Keiko and Hikaru. The group was created in 2008 by their producer, prolific anime composer Yuki Kajiura. Initially commissioned to sing the theme songs of the seven Kara no Kyoukai movies, Kalafina have since gone on become popular in their own right, and continue to have their songs featured on anime—most recently, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero, arguably the most popular shows of their respective seasons. The exquisite harmonies formed by the blend of three distinct and wonderful voices, accompanied by Kajiura’s lush compositions, make for a very recognisable sound. Consolation is their fourth album.

I don’t worry for the quality of their music; I feel Kalafina’s challenge lies more in whether they can continue to work with this characteristic style yet still produce music that feels fresh and new to those who have been following them. They’ve done a great job so far of keeping things interesting for the last three albums; would they be able to do the same with Consolation?

The package

I ordered the Type-B Limited Edition from CDJapan. CDJapan’s a little pricier, but their EMS (express mail service) to Singapore is awesome; my order arrived two days before the release date. It’s also typical for some Japanese websites to include a bonus if your order a first-press copy from them. In this case, I got a postcard:

Kalafina Consolation promo

Pretty.

This is the rest of the stuff that came with my package:

Kalafina Consolation CD

CD jacket. The is the version that comes with Type-B; the other two types have different images

Kalafina Consolation CD

Kalafina Consolation CD

Kalafina Consolation CD

Type-B comes with a bonus Blu-ray disc. Has the Yume no Daichi PV and a documentary of Kalafina’s visit to Bonn, Germany

Kalafina Consolation Photo Book

Kalafina Consolation Photo Book

Photo booklet. Comes with the Limited Editions

Pricey, definitely. But the bonuses are worth it. The photo booklet has some very lovely images.

The songs

 

Tracklist

1. al fine
2. consolation
3. moonfesta~ムーンフェスタ~
4. Door
5. 未来 (Mirai)
6. 花束 (Hanataba)
7. signal
8. obbligato
9. 木苺の茂みに (Kiichigo no Shigemi ni)
10. 満天 (Manten)
11. to the beginning
12. ひかりふる (Hikari Furu)
13. 夢の大地 (Yume no Daichi)

 

I normally don’t  have much patience for interludes, but I find al fine to be a lovely, atmospheric opening to the album. The slow buildup of the strings, and the gentle vocals, and the use of filters create an ethereal feel. For every song in the album, there is a line in al fine that makes reference to it. For instance, take the first three lines: hikari ga furu (Hikari Furu, clearly); hajimari e to (to the beginning); DOOR no hiraku (Door). Pretty neat.

My feelings on the title track of the album are decidedly mixed. The bad news is that Consolation is kind of a mess. The transitions between the harsher, chant-like verses and the more passionate choruses are too jarring; the bridge sound like another song entirely;  the use of the backing vocalist’s (soprano Hanae Tomaru) refrains in Kajiura’s made-up language (commonly referred to as ‘Kajiurago’ or ‘Kajiuran’) feel somewhat out of place, and the ending just seems to come out of nowhere.  But I hope I haven’t scared anyone off this song just yet, there is just as much good news. The various elements in the song are, on their own, well done.  Hikaru’s lead vocals in the verses are wonderfully forbidding. The chorus is distinct from the verses but no less powerful; I’ll admit that I’m a total sucker for stirring vocals against a backdrop of heavy rock, and I feel it works especially well here thanks to Kalafina’s trademark three-part harmonies.  And repeated listens revealed to me subtler details that I’d missed in the initial shock; the strings as the song approaches each chorus ease the transitions a little, and the use of bells is inspired, especially in a particular section of the final chorus where most of the other instruments fall silent. Consolation is flawed, but there is ultimately far too much about it that I adore. It’ll certainly grab your attention, at the very least.

moonfesta, in contrast, is very cheerful. The instrumental refrain in the slower verses has Middle-Eastern influences, while the upbeat chorus has a folksy feel and features some pleasant harmonies; it does sounds like something that would be danced to at some Mediaeval village festival. My favourite part of the song, though, is the surprising and sublime turn of melody in the song’s bridge.

The album slows down with Door, a mellow, bittersweet track that features rock instruments and the prominent use of the piano. Wakana’s gentler, nuanced performance in the verses sound a little at odds with Keiko’s and Hikaru’s more impassioned solos, but overall I find Door to be quite stirring.

Mirai may be familiar to fans of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s based on the track Credens Justitiam from the series’s OST, and was featured in the first Madoka movie.  It’s also probably one of the most generic-sounding and repetitive songs I’ve ever heard from Kalafina, but it’s still a track I enjoy. I like its upbeat, hopeful tone, and Hikaru’s performance in particular; her voice is strong, clear, and refreshing to listen to. Like a pleasant splash of cool water to your face on a hot day. I don’t know, that’s just the feeling I get.

Hanataba is one of my favourites from this album. It’s the first Kalafina song I’ve heard to feature an accordion. The use of it works well to set the song’s romantic tone, while the emotional yet restrained performances by the vocalists tell a sad story of love; I don’t think you need to know a single word of Japanese to be able to understand that much. Gorgeous.

signal, with its heavy use of synth beats, basically sounds like techno song with Kalafina vocals. It’s a pretty novel style for Kalafina, but otherwise not particularly genre-bending. Well, the wild accordion that materialises towards the end could be considered innovative, but to be honest I’m mostly baffled by it. I personally find the song too repetitive to regard it as anything particularly amazing, but it’s still enjoyable, and the vocal performances are strong. Wakana’s wordless soprano vocalisations, which are interspersed throughout the song, are a very nice touch.

obbligato is fast-paced as well, but more melodious than signal.  It’s another one of my favourite tracks. All three members sound especially amazing here. The guitar riff and general melody sound somewhat like a throwback to what I’ve heard of 90s-era J-pop, which is something that appeals to me. I particularly like the heavier emphasis given to the lower harmonies, which lends the song somewhat forbidding atmosphere. Hanae Tomaru’s backing vocals (in Kajiuran) are also put to great use.

After all the surprises the previous songs have thrown up, the more familiar style in Kiichigo no Shigemi ni is almost a relief. The relatively bare arrangement, which features only a piano and a cello, is also a nice change of pace. It doesn’t let up on the emotional tone, though; Kiichigo… is very moving, and a worthy example of a Kalafina-style ballad.

Manten was featured on Fate/Zero as an ending song for a special episode. Like Mirai, it’s another cover of a Kajiura BGM (let the stars fall down). The dark lyrics and the use of strings together with rock music give the song its “epic” atmosphere. The numerous key changes in the song may take some getting used but it allows for the showcasing of the impressive ranges of the three singers.

to the beginning is probably best known as the opening theme for Fate/Zero’s second season. It has a rather generic rock-ish sound, but still manages to sound quite emotional.  I like how the lead vocal switches quickly between the vocalists, giving the song a dynamic feel.

Yet another anime tie-in: Hikari Furu, ending song for the second Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie, The Eternal Story (Eien no Monogatari). Also based on a BGM (Sagitta Luminis). Because of that it may come as a surprise that the instrumental accompaniment seems to take a backseat; the moving vocals almost completely steal the show. Some of Wakana’s high notes sound a little too sharp, but for most part her voice takes my breath away. Keiko also gets the chance to demonstrate her incredible ability to hold long notes. I recall being transfixed by this song throughout the entire credits scroll at the end of the Madoka movie.  The tone of the song is bittersweet, but ultimately uplifting and hopeful.

The album ends with Yume no Daichi. It‘s fairly formulaic Kalafina-style folk ballad, and strongly reminiscent of Symphonia from the previous album. But it’s still quite beautiful song in its own right. A lovely way to cap off the album.

The summation

I’m particular happy with Hikaru’s performances in this album.  From what I can tell she has been utilising her lower register increasingly since After Eden, and she sounds stronger than she did on the first two albums. Keiko’s wonderfully deep and amazingly lovely contralto always gets my attention, even when she’s doing backing vocals; her talent for harmonising has always been very clear. I am huge fan of Keiko, can you tell? I have some issues with Wakana’s performance in a few songs, but she generally sounds pretty good; when she sounds great (which happens quite often), it blows me away.

The songs within this album are quite distinct from each other and – for the most part – from anything else we’ve heard on Kalafina’s previous albums. Sure, the usual tropes in Kajiura-produced songs are still largely present. But if you’re a fan of the Seventh Heaven or Red Moon albums and were hoping mostly for songs in the style of these albums, you may find yourself disappointed. At first. I will admit that I had mixed feelings during the initial listen. I had been hoping for some surprises, but the fact that this wasn’t what I’d expected a Kalafina album to sound like still took some getting used to. After setting aside my preconceptions and giving another couple of listens, I’m now very pleased with how different Consolation is from their previous albums.

It may take a while to grow on you, but I assure you, there is much to love on this album. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Kalafina is heading in a different direction, but on Consolation they offer wonderful things we haven’t heard from them before. It’d be a great pity if you missed it.

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  • 123

    Nice review! I can’t say I agree with your opinions on all the songs, but definitely Manten, Obbligato and Hikari Furu were pretty awesome (among others =P)! It’s cool how there was a bit of experimentation on this album with experimentation like the accordian too. I thought Consolation was much better on the whole than After Eden, but I’m still hoping they’ll go back to the epicness of Seventh Heaven/Red Moon lol.

    • Nat

      Thank you! Yeah, I’ve heard many different opinions on the songs so I can’t say I’m surprised. But it’s nice to know we concur on those songs ^_^ This was definitely a stronger album than After Eden. I do miss Seventh Heaven/Red Moon type songs, those songs, and it would be great to hear them go back to that, but I really like that they’re trying different things.