After achieving mainstream success with their last record, Blurryface, Twenty One Pilots is spreading their wings for their latest release, Trench. Their mixture of rap, rock and reggae previously made for tangled songs, but with more experience and focus Trench delivers a concise message of power and strength.
Following in the footsteps of their indie pop rock elders like Muse, MGMT and Foster the People, Twenty One Pilots is the millennial younger brother who grew up in a world of added angst and technological advancement. Trench shares the same melodic and alternative tone as that of the other bands in Twenty One Pilots’ family tree, but it grows more toward synth-based songs tackling specific modern issues.
The band’s take on the beloved indie alternative aesthetic was enough to garner immense hype for their fifth LP, but members Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun have always cast a deeper story within their records to appeal to their fans.
On Blurryface, Joseph repeatedly addressed the titular character Blurryface who was revealed as a personification of Joseph’s inner anxiety and insecurities. This time around, Trench follows an allegorical journey through Dema, a fictional dystopia ruled by nine bishops who keep the inhabitants trapped. Head bishop Nico leads the civilization in Vialism, a religion of worshipping false light that oppresses those who don’t follow orders, as explained on “Nico and the Niners.”
Preceding the release of Trench, fans discovered a hidden website lodged into the band’s website that displayed notes and messages from Clancy, an escapee from Dema, who details the inside practices of the bishops and banditos, the people aiming for liberation. This story of Dema is explicitly referenced throughout, adding intrigue to the record. However, because of the central theme the songs lack individual depth due to this dependency on the plot.
With complex plotlines and references to everything from ancient Zoroastrian practices to a French mathematician, Trench is equally confusing and riveting. Underneath the highbrow analogies, Trench is, at its core, a typical Twenty One Pilots record, with the true themes being depression, isolation and anxiety.
Discussed thoroughly on previous songs like “Guns for Hands” and “Ode to Sleep,” Joseph vents his personal fears and worries through these genre-bending songs.
Among the synth-heavy majority of the record, tracks like “Neon Gravestones” and “Bandito” strive to tackle the heavy subjects of glorifying suicide and depression. “Neon Gravestones” is a relaxed, almost bare track that has Joseph openly explaining his issues with the ethos surrounding suicide in our times.
Questioning why “our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win,” Joseph admits that he himself has had suicidal thoughts and asks listeners to readjust their perspective and pleads for “some room for a new point of view.” This unique rhetoric is timely, as multiple headlines have oversaturated the media on famous suicides and shows about the topic, such as 13 Reasons Why. Joseph’s own genre of alternative rock is notorious for the almost worship-like behavior of fans over the suicides of rock icons like Kurt Cobain and recently, Chester Bennington.
The attractive “neon” in the gravestones of the deceased is, to Joseph, not only disrespectful but also unhealthy, as it feeds the ironic cycle of obsession and disregard to those who need help.
“Bandito” offers much needed hope to listeners as it details the fight for escaping the oppression of Dema, and, therefore, depression. The track stresses the power of music as the band offers, “It helps to hear these words,” noting that “the softest echo could be enough for me to make it through.”
Trench continues to optimistically lead listeners through the inner catacombs of depression to escape the inner trench. The admittedly cute “Smithereens” reiterates the power of love and how healing it feels to protect those who one cares about.
This importance of helping others is stressed in “My Blood,” where Joseph tells listeners “If you find yourself in a lion’s den, / I’ll jump right in and pull my pin.” Joseph also gets personal on “Legend” where he calls out to his recently deceased grandfather for guidance and asks him for his help. Trench guides listeners to these important lessons, both explicitly in “Neon Gravestones” and implicitly in “The Hype.”
Twenty One Pilots flies above their own boundaries, achieving both storytelling and music-making. With smoother flows and a more mature take on their lyrics, Joseph and Dun are able to establish themselves as committed artists aiming for a different destination from their modern peers.
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