Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, better known as the alternative rock duo Twenty One Pilots, are back. Three years after their previous album, Blurryface, experienced unexpected mainstream success, bolstered by singles such as “Stressed Out” and non-album single “Heathens,” Twenty One Pilots have released their latest album: Trench.
Those who were hoping to get more music similar to Blurryface’s hip-hop inspired tracks may be a bit disappointed, but fans who were eager to see the band branch out and evolve their sound will be happy to know that the duo has put their Blurryface days behind them. While the new album still does incorporate rap into many of its tracks — a staple of the band’s signature blend of rhythm, rock, and hip-hop — there is a markedly different sound underlying the 14-track album, one that leans into a more base-centric rhythmic sound that incorporates far fewer hip-hop motifs than their previous album.
This change in sound is something many Twenty One Pilots fans are familiar with. 2013’s Vessel saw the band embrace a more electronic sound, which shifted into a hip-hop sound on 2015’s Blurryface. If anything, fans would have found it more jarring had the band not switched up their sound yet again.
Trench, similar to its predecessors Vessel and Blurryface, is a concept album, with each song connected by one overarching theme that ties the entire album together. Similarly to previous efforts, Joseph, the duo’s lead singer and songwriter, explores dark themes such as depression, suicide, and the struggles of fame. However, where previous albums were tied together by a common theme, Trench is the band’s first album in which the songs are connected by a story.
As listeners go through the album, they are able to piece together the story, which takes place in a location called Trench. The album follows a group of rebels known as the Banditos as they try to liberate the city Dema from the nine bishops, led by a man named Nico, who wish to keep the people enslaved by their insecurities, fears, and doubts. The full story of the album is hidden in Joseph’s clever lyrics, which include call backs to songs from their previous records that help to turn Trench into a fully realized world. Careful listeners will even be able to pick out lyrics that reveal the true identity of Nico, something that fans of the band will enjoy.
Trench opens with “Jumpsuit,” a track that starts off soft, ends loud, and seamlessly transitions into the next track, “Levitate.” These tracks serve as an introduction to the world of Trench and set the stage for the rest of the album. The highlights of the album are “Chlorine,” a song which explores Joseph’s complex relationship with his inner doubts and demons, which cause him emotional pain but also serve as the inspiration for his songs, which have become his primary source of income; “My Blood,” a song about the loyalty and bond shared between siblings, a song which any listener who has ever had a close sibling or a best friend can relate to; and “Pet Cheetah,” a song about struggling with writer’s block.
The album’s true showstopper in “Neon Gravestones.” The track criticizes the way that society and the media have come to glorify suicide and turn the tragic taking of their own lives into a way to leave a mark on society and get back at those who have hurt them. The song calls to mind the controversy surrounding the Netflix original teen-drama 13 Reasons Why, which many criticized for its romanticized portrayal of a teen girl’s suicide as a way to punish the people she felt was responsible. The song points out how depression and suicide are not things to be taken lightly or glorified, as they are serious problems. The way it is portrayed, Joseph argues, makes it seem as though taking one’s own life is a valid solution to facing hardships, which only contributes to increasing suicide rates. Instead, he offers an alternative, that our society does not offer extensive coverage of suicide and rather praises those who have devoted themselves to continue on living through hard times. It is a touching message, one that lingers as the song fades out.
Not every song is a winner, however. “Legend” strikes as the album’s weak link. The context behind the song is heartbreaking, as it is about Joseph’s grandfather who passed away in March 2018. While the song is deeply personal, the arrangement didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the album. In a similar vein is “Smithereens,” a song which Joseph wrote for his wife. The sticking point of “Smithereens” is similar to that of “Legend,” in that it does not seem to fit cleanly with the rest of the songs of the album in sound, tone, and theme.
When it comes to the songs’ arrangements, Joseph’s vocals are as good as ever, showing off his dual talents in rapping and singing, and Josh Dun continues to show off his finesse with drums. Joseph’s lyrics are also as strong as ever, sticking to his talents with imagery and pouring his own emotional struggles into his more personal songs.
Overall, Trench is a solid album, both by music standards and by Twenty One Pilots’ own standards. While this album may not exhibit as much main stream appeal as Blurryface, it appears that that may be just what the band intended. Rather than double-down on the formula that skyrocketed their popularity to the point that “Stressed Out” became a chart topping success, they renewed their devotion to their core fanbase and, more importantly, to themselves as musicians by following that path which they wanted to take rather than the path that would have assured them of further mainstream fame.