IF the Australian music industry wasn't hurting enough last year at the height of the pandemic, its collective heart was almost certainly broken by the passing of Mike Noga on August 26.
Aged just 43, Noga had established a fine career as a one-time drummer for award-winning rock band The Drones and as a solo artist in his own right.
Noga's 2016 concept album King, based on the 1830s play Woyzeck by German dramatist Georg Buchner, was an unnerving - and at the same time - beautiful listen.
Shortly before his death, which a coroner attributed to a cerebral haemorrhage exacerbated by bouts of heavy drinking, Noga described his upcoming album as "a healthy dose of impending doom about the state of the world."
Noga's fourth and final album Open Fire was written in his hometown of Hobart before he travelled to Minnesota in August 2019 to record with Alan Sparhawk of indie-rock band Low.
Open Fire is imbued with a foreboding undertone of Berlin-era Bowie and The Velvet Underground. Creeping synths introduce the opener Covered where Noga pleads, "Could you start at the beginning/ Close your book and face the world."
But there's also elements of hope breaking through the bleakness, like green shoots in the snow.
The title track bounces along with a Bruce Springsteen swagger and builds before crashing into a soaring blast of saxophone.
Little Birdy is another playful number as Noga urges, "Come on little darling now dance with me."
What Noga lacked in vocal range was more than compensated in character and drama.
You Breathe For Me is the album's centre point, a gut-wrenching and yearning love song made more poignant by backing vocals from Low's Mimi Parker.
"Like a soul needs saving/ Can the world below me see/ You breathe for me."
Noga will forever be remembered for his powerful drumming on The Drones' classic albums Gala Mill (2006) and Havilah (2008), but Open Fire will ensure his legacy as a solo artist also continues to illuminate.