Dragons taking down demons? That might sound like the setup for some sort of strange fantasy role-playing game. But in this case, the metaphorical spirits in question are haunting a man's heart in much more realistic ways.
"Demons" is the third big hit from alt-rock act Imagine Dragons, and the second consecutive song from the band's 2012 debut Night Visions to crack the Top 10 on Billboard's mainstream singles charts (a feat precious few rock acts these days are accomplishing). Perhaps that's because these guys from Las Vegas have a knack for pairing soaring, singable melodies with emotional, relatable themes.
The song focuses on a man's longing to provide shelter for his beloved from the harsh world. "When the days are cold," it begins, "And the cards all fold/ … When your dreams all fall/ … I wanna shelter you." But there's a problem: Something similarly dark lurks even in the shelter he hopes to provide, a reality he'd rather avoid but can't escape. "I wanna hide the truth," he admits, "But with the beast inside/There's nowhere we can hide."
We never learn for sure exactly what this beast is. But it's safe to say that his "demons" feed on his weaknesses and failings, of which he is painfully aware ("No matter what we breed/We still are made of greed"). Then, in the chorus: "When you feel my heat/Look into my eyes/It's where my demons hide."
Frontman Dan Reynolds offers counsel with regard to that sobering reality. First, he advises the woman he loves to be careful, to keep her distance ("Don't get to close/It's dark inside/ … Don't wanna let you down/But I am hell-bound"). Maybe that's why he ponders pulling out of the relationship altogether in an effort to spare his beloved from that spiritual blackness: "It's woven in my soul/I need to let you go/Your eyes they shine so bright/I wanna save that light."
But instead of letting his demons drive him away, the man turns once more toward this woman and suggests tentatively, "I can't escape this now/Unless you show me how." So instead of fleeing into further isolation and darkness, there's an important—and redemptive—recognition that the only way to confront our deepest failings and flaws is do so hand-in-hand with the ones we love the most, trusting that somehow their influence and positive presence in our lives might point us away from an infernal fate and toward one that saves us.
The song doesn't detail what that salvation actually is or looks like. All we can infer is that it's not something we're capable of finding inside of ourselves. (Because in there be dragons!)
The song's video reinforces the idea that we all face hidden hurts, struggles that perhaps no one else even knows exist. Self-image. Loss. Tragedy. Hardship. It concludes with the tag, "In memory of Tyler Robinson (1995-2013)/Who inspired us with his courage as he battled cancer." And then the band's encouragement to donate to Tyler's foundation, which helps other children battling cancer, puts a poignant punctuation mark on this ultimately light-filled song about the darkness of demons.