A group of students hammer the drums behind Imagine Dragons as they play the Transformers: Age of Extinction theme song, “Battle Cry.” The scene cuts to a collage of the band collaborating with director Michael Bay, signing autographs and performing at sold-out stadiums.
I’m inside Rose. Rabbit. Lie., and tonight, 200 diehard fans are here for a sneak-preview of Imagine Dragons’ anticipated second album, Smoke + Mirrors, out February 17. But before the listening sesh starts, we’re treated to a short clip about the band and a Q&A session with artist Tim Cantor. The San Francisco native was commissioned to create album artwork, one painting for every song, 13 in total.
A teenage girl raises her hand to ask Cantor a question, then envelops the girl to her left in a giant hug, tears flowing down her face. The excitement in the room is palpable—and the Dragons are still an hour away from dropping in unexpectedly. “This night is really about you guys,” says band manager Mac Reynolds. “You’re the people who’ve been talking about and supporting the band for five years.”
We’re led into a dark room overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard, where a space has been converted into an art gallery for the night, with Cantor’s paintings on every wall. A thumping beat starts to trickle through the headphones we’ve been provided.
New-album opener “Shots” finds the group in different territory, built on synthy, dance-pop beats and starry melodies. “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done,” Dan Reynolds sings, the Vegas-bred band’s signature grand choruses and marching drums still front and center amid sharp guitar lines. Reynolds’ confessional tone, drowned in apologies and self-reflection, is dominant. “Everything is crashing down/You’re all I know/I’m ready for everything that I believe in to drift away,” Reynolds sings on closer “The Fall.” The result is a darker, more evolved version of their Night Visions sound.
Bursts of light continue to flicker throughout the record (“I Bet My Life”), but the Dragons also experiment, from the Arctic Monkeys-ish “I’m So Sorry” to the elemental, industrial-rock of “Friction.” Smoke + Mirrors finds the band not where it left off, but in the middle of the group’s quick rise to stardom, documenting the ups and downs and learning how to make sense of it all. But if Visions made Imagine Dragons famous, on Mirrors, they sound driven to achieve even more.