Michael Thomas Berkley is a talented composer who pushes his musical limits through challenging concept albums. His first release, 1998's Images From Earth, was a tight-knit history of the planet through music. Now, two years later, he's set his sights on Canada's Ellesmere Island, the most northern land mass on Earth, in order to create Arctic, his follow-up to that debut.
With the themes of frigid desolation and frozen darkness implicit in a name like Arctic and a place like Ellesmere, I was expecting this music to sound dark, cold and frost-bitten. This is where the disc caught me off guard. For the most part the tones are soft and soothing, the melodies rich and warm.
Entirely instrumental, the music has a strong soundtrack quality; one can easily envision a scenic National Geographic film to accompany it. "Moonlit Warmth" has a subtle epic side, while "Fire in the Mind" is so upbeat you could dance to it. "Frozen Reflection" captures Ellesmere particularly well, beginning with a series of murky, underwater electronics before continuing with a stoic and relaxing style of piano. The flowing percussion has a World Music flavor to it, and is perfectly blended in with the soundscapes.
Even though the music may not match up with the themes quite as I expected, Arctic is a beautiful interpretation of Ellesmere that skillfully forges scenery into sound.