By the time Imagine Dragons finished touring around their fourth album Origins, the band decided to take a much-needed breath, and break, in 2019 after a decade on the road to work through loss and grief, along with breakdowns and breakthroughs in relationships and other tribulations all summarized on Mercury – Act 1.
Written over the course of three years, and around the time the band—vocalist Dan Reynolds, guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman—went on hiatus, Mercury – Act 1 is caught in the most vulnerable states, peering deeper inside and at the soreness of the outside world, with reflections of survival. A collection of lucid lyrics centered around mortality and more revelatory notions of existence, Mercury – Act 1 walks through a procession of grieving and renewal.
“I’ve had a lot of realizations about the fragility of life,” reveals Reynolds. “I was going to a lot of funerals.”
When Reynolds also stepped away from the band to focus on family, he also looked inward to find some healing. “It took walking away from everything to find a lot more clarity and happiness,” he says. Writing since he was 12 years old, regardless of the highs and lows within his own life, Reynolds continued writing while the band took a break, transferring all his swaying states into 300 songs.
“When we were putting this record together, the main themes were really grief, the loss of life, and the finite state of life,” says Reynolds. “I lost a lot of people that I was close to during this time period from suicide, drug addiction, cancer, and it was a lot of grief and dealing with that and trying to find some meaning in it all.”
Referencing the volatility of the metal, Mercury – Act 1, works as a metaphor for shifting mindsets and new perspectives. “I have fewer answers than I ever have,” says Reynolds. “But I’m at a point where I’m at peace with no answers. It actually feels like a nice place to be.”
Originally, Reynolds wanted to use the word “mercurial” to express life’s extreme highs and lows but landed on Mercury. “Either the songs very heavy or angry, or very sad or very happy, so it [mercury] just made sense, and I also liked the visual effects of mercury.”
Produced by Rick Rubin at his Shangri-La studio in Malibu, the band initially sent the producer 100 of the original 300, and were surprised when he responded with the set of tracks he liked and focused on specific lyrics where he could reach a deeper intimacy with the band. Eventually, Rubin narrowed the batch down to the final 13 tracks with the band. Likening Mercury – Act 1 to a journal entry, Reynolds wanted to pick out the songs that correlated and told the story of the past three years, and everything in between the previous album cycle, and Rubin offered an outside perspective that helped them formulate that journey.