The barren tundra of Ellesmere Island sits on the tip of North America in the Canadian Arctic Circle. This small island provides the inspiration for ARCTIC, a concept album by Michael Thomas Berkley. Predictably, this record has a frosty sound to it. Ambient and spacey, Berkley uses sharp, shimmering keyboard lines to exact the feel of ice sheets and howling wind.
On "Frozen Reflection," Berkley floats a bleak piano melody over rumbling keyboard textures and low-pitched bubble sounds. "Ice Break" uses a serial melody and synthetic loops to create a kind of chilly, mystical dance. In contrast, "Moonlit Warmth" brings some tenderness and heat to this music. Here, Berkley's theme is not only inviting, it is restful and soothing. The focus of this album is the four-movement piece "Ellesmere Island." On "Part I," the mood is ominous, dissonant, and cool. Berkley's reverberant organ sound gives "Part II" a decidedly heavy and lethargic feel. "Part III" and "Part IV" are more calm and reflective, but Berkley never loses his sense for eerie timbres and dissonant chordal variety. Overall, this programmatic album leaves one with a keen sense of the snow- and glacier-covered landscape it depicts.