Album Review: Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Trench’

The Band of Generation Z

21 Pilots album cover for Trench

Twenty One Pilots dropped their long awaited album, Trench, after a three-year “hiatus” of sorts. The band began to drop cryptic hints on their website and social media, changing their theme colors and logo back in April and May. Twenty One Pilots is composed of lead singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun and are sometimes referred to as “The Band of Generation Z.” Recorded in secret, Trench is a concept album exploring mental health, suicide and doubt; themes prominently featured in the band’s previous works. For a large portion of their fan base (lovingly named the Skeleton Clique) the songs vocalize the struggles that so many of us go through. The album contains many different genres of music, including alternative rock, reggae, hip hop and pop.

Concepts and Hidden Meanings

The band has a reputation of slipping cryptic messages into their songs as well as their social media platforms. For example, at the beginning of the hiatus, the band posted a video of an eye closing, and then the eye opening . The album was preceded by the release of four singles. One of the first two, “Nico and the Niners”, was released on July 11th and included rewinding bits of audio. Josh Dun said, “We are Banditos. We will leave DEMA and head true East. We denounce vialism.” Fans theorized that the “Banditos,” who appear in several of the new music videos, were Tyler’s friends and family, helping him to escape from DEMA, a fictional walled city of entrapping feelings of depression and insecurity. The city is ruled by nine “Bishops”, whose names are Nico, Andre, Lisden, Keons, Reisdro, Sacarver, Nills, Vetomo and Listo. The chief bishop, Nico, was revealed by Tyler Joseph to be Blurryface, the personification of his insecurities from their previous album of the same name. The bishops keep control through a religion called “Vialism.” Other characters call themselves “Banditos” whose aim is to liberate the people of DEMA. They adopt the color yellow, specifically 0xFCE300, which the bishops are unable to see.

The Album

Music video screengrab

  1. “Jumpsuit” comes out fast with its throbbing bass line along with insecurity in the lyrics (“I can’t believe how much I hate/Pressures of a new place roll my way”). Joseph jumps on a burnt-out car and says, “I’ve been here the whole time you were asleep,” signaling the end of Blurryface and start of the new Trench area. Some fans also think the red villain is Blurryface pursuing Tyler and that Josh/the new era has saved Tyler from Blurryface. It deals with Tyler Joseph’s insecurities and ends with him screaming the chorus amid an air-raid bass breakdown.
  2. “Levitate” is a minimalist rap track featuring Dun’s kinetic drumming. Joseph is in a confident mood during this song, even mocking songwriting itself— “Chorus, verse, chorus, verse/Now here come the eight.”
  3. “Morph” takes on the main story behind Trench which is that limbo between being in your darkest moments and making it out the other side. “Morph” explains how Joseph will keep himself distracted and moving forward and keep “morphing” so he doesn’t wallow in isolation.
  4. “My Blood” is very The Killers-like and Joseph sings, “If you find yourself in a lion’s den, I’ll jump right in and pull my pin.” This harkens back to the old fan favorite “Migraine” (from the album Vessel) in which he sings about being on a violent island full of suicidal, crazed lions trying to eat him while he collects weapons to fight back.
  5. “Chlorine” (my personal favorite) begins with a deep voice asking where he’s been, which seems likely to be Blurryface. It first sounds like a cry for help, but you realize the ingestion of the chemical is less about harming himself and more about cleansing himself of the dark thoughts inside him. Creating music is cathartic, but going to that place for too long can be harmful, much like drinking chlorine.
  6. “Smithereens” is a love song that is fun and quirky, but what sets it apart is how much heart it’s got. It’s the perfect way to show that you can be depressed and still have beautiful, happy experiences and moments.
  7. “Neon Gravestones” may be the song that may redeem the band of those who accused them for romanticizing and glamorizing depression in the past. They break down in great detail how our society and the media glorify those that die by suicide, providing details about their death as opposed to their life. The “neon” is a fake light, distracting from the person and attracting all the attention towards the death itself.
  8. “The Hype” is very ‘80s-sounding. It features some of the most notable lyrics on the album: “Yeah, they might be talking behind your head/Your exterior world can step off instead/It might take some friends and a warmer shirt/But you don’t get thick skin without getting burnt.” The lines are deep and offer a glimpse of hope for fans who may be dealing with the pain suggested in the song.
  9. “Nico and The Niners” as explained beforehand, are a band of enforcers called Nico & The Nine who keep the depressed citizens of DEMA at bay. Joseph, Dun, and their allies, the Banditos, are trying to invade DEMA to set them free. “Vialism” also ties back to “Neon Gravestones”—the worshiping of the fake light. It tells you what to think, do, and say, but it’s not real, much like the voices in your head when you’re battling with depression.
  10. “Cut My Lip” is a slow burner where Joseph and Dun show maturity in not overworking songs. It conceals darker messages under a beautiful melody.
  11. “Bandito” keeps repeating a message throughout the chorus about how Joseph could take the high road, but instead he’s “going low”. The lyrics convey emotional vulnerability about connecting with the fans and creating music in search of peace.
  12. “Pet Cheetah” conveys the dystopian part of DEMA evident in the heavy and intentional autotune. Joseph mentions that his house is the one with the vultures on the roof. This would suggest that his house is DEMA, where the vultures perch on the roof to pick apart their prey.
  13. “Legend” has Joseph’s old soul shining through it. It tells the story of Joseph losing somebody close to him. The love and pride in his voice carries through the speakers. He concludes the ballad by declaring his faith that they will meet again in the afterlife.
  14. “Leave the City” is the final song that never quite reaches that crescendo and leaves you feeling a little incomplete. This perfectly reflects the fact that you never quite reach the end of the battle with mental health. It’s an ongoing struggle that you need to keep working on. Joseph reiterates how hard he’s working to keep the fire burning and keep himself alive, but it’s exhausting to put in so much effort for barely a flicker.

Final Thoughts

With poetic, powerful lyrics that everyone can relate to across the world, Trench is a great listen and a thought-provoking piece of work. The album title is fitting because it chronicles Joseph’s journey through the trenches of his deepest fears and battles with depression. It’s a waging war to escape his depression and anxiety, while encouraging others to keep fighting as well. While the music styles themselves may not appeal to everyone, the lyrics leave a lasting impression. Trench has racked up overwhelmingly positive reviews and their Bandito North America Tour is already sold out in most cities.

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