twenty one pilots – ‘Trench’

By Yasmin Brown

“Welcome to Trench”, says a low, warped voice. Whether this statement is a threat or an invitation is hard to tell, being just two tracks into twenty one pilots’ latest conceptual venture: ‘Trench’. Openers ‘Jumpsuit’ and ‘Levitate’ run into one another, seemingly two halves of the same chapter, as they introduce us to Dema – a metaphor for the place we find ourselves when dealing with our demons. This record feels like an extension of ‘Blurryface’ – containing some of the same threats we found in the 2015 album – but this time, it’s even more inclusive of their fan base (or Skeleton Clique) and their role in the band’s life and, indeed, their music.

These introductory tracks lead into the instantly catchy ‘Morph’, a track that boasts an RnB influenced chorus, and the same kind of hip-hop verses that we instantly fell in love with all those years ago. This track is the first mention of Nico, the leader of the bad guys in ‘Trench’, and where the concept of this record starts to develop. As the track draws to a close, a mention of the band’s drummer, Josh Dun, is subtly slipped in among a repetitive string of the line, “Not done” – perhaps a nod to the part Josh plays in Tyler’s continued battle against his mental health issues.

‘My Blood’ is a promise to the Skeleton Clique. A hard yet loving shake that aggressively says, “We’re in this together!”. With lyrics such as, “If you find yourself in a lion’s den, I’ll jump right in, and pull my pin”, twenty one pilots boldly claim that they’d make the ultimate sacrifice for us. Every lyric screams that this band is by our side no matter what, and with the cliché “blood is thicker than water” in mind, it’s clear that this duo considers us more than friends. We’re their family.

With that fact firmly cemented in our minds, front man and lyricist Tyler Joseph moves on to address his struggles in ‘Chlorine’, a track that combines catchy rapping with ethereal softness; the change in tempo towards the end unexpected yet unquestionably effective. It addresses our attraction to toxicity, whether that be people or certain situations, and our inability (or even unwillingness), to move away from them despite this knowledge.

With Tyler’s wife, Jenna, now firmly accepted by the Clique, the almost sickening devotion presented in ‘Smithereens’ will warm hearts across the world. After the release of the band’s first ever love song, ‘Tear In My Heart’, back in 2015, Tyler predicted that he would never write another one again, and yet here he is three years later, happily singing of his willingness to be beaten to a pulp for the woman who stole his heart.

A sharp deviation from the joy we feel in ‘Smithereens’, what follows could be one of the most important songs written this decade. ‘Neon Gravestones’ aggressively and determinedly addresses the numerous suicides we’re hearing about in the media, and the glorification of such acts. Accompanied by strong, forceful beats, it touches on the toxicity of the belief that ending your own life will achieve notoriety as well as Tyler’s own struggle with this exact thought. This is in conflict with his fear that if he gives into his temptations that he’ll soon be forgotten, and you’ll hear your own heart break as he begs you, “Promise me this, if I lose to myself, you won’t mourn a day and move onto someone else”. While the majority of the song feels like a reprimand, it ends with encouragement: find a reason to live. Respect and love those that lived before you and fought for you to be here.

It’s tough not to find yourself weighed down by the themes addressed in ‘Neon Gravestones’, but the mood is elevated by the fun and accessible, ‘The Hype’, in which our beloved ukulele features for the first time this record, accompanying the idea that Tyler finds comfort in the knowledge that his Clique is by his side. It leads into another of the first songs released from ‘Trench’, ‘Nico and the Niners’, wherein we feel for the first time that an escape from Dema may be possible with the help of some jumpsuits and a compass. The line, “Save your razorblade” is a poignant one, both a nod to George Orwell’s 1984, and a plea for us to not hurt ourselves.

‘Cut My Lip’ acts as an introduction to the idea that both Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun may have struggled with the fame that came with the release of ‘Blurryface’, and in particular their most popular track to date, ‘Stressed Out’. ‘Bandito’ then explores this idea in detail, with lines such as, “Where we used to bleed and where our blood needs to be” pointing to the idea that they were propelled from regional to international fame, with no choice but to ride that wave. While this may have been terrifying for them, with the support of either the Skeleton Clique or Tyler’s faith (or, indeed, both), he pushed through: “Either way it helps to hear these words bounce off to you, the softest echo could be enough for me to make it through”. Despite the softness of this ethereal track, you can feel it deep within your chest as the realisation that we keep this band going as much as they do us, kicks in.

With new-found fame comes the ever-increasing pressure to create something else amazing; to outdo everything released up until this point for the sake of your fans. This is something Tyler states boldly with the lyrics, “This clique means so much to this dude it could make him afraid of his music and be scared to death he could lose it”. Sonically, this track perfectly reflects the lyrics with the verse being fast paced and frantic until the chorus when it slows down to represent him taking his time with the writing process.

Penultimate track, ‘Legend’, feels reminiscent of 2013’s ‘House of Gold’, in the sense that it’s written both for and about a specific member of Tyler Joseph’s family. Like, ‘House of Gold’, the use of ukulele results in a buoyant and sunny vibe, although the lyrical content draws from the very personal experience of losing his grandfather to Alzheimer’s. While it is, of course, heartbreaking to not be recognised by someone who once knew you so well, the track ends positively with Tyler’s faith reassuring him that they’ll see each other again.

In typical twenty one pilots fashion, they close ‘Trench’ with the softest, most emotional track on the record. Piano led ‘Leave The City’ is just that. It’s another track that suggests Dema is a metaphor for a dark place filled with mental health demons, but also – more optimistically – that his ‘Clique’ will allow him to handle the relentless touring and pressure that comes with increasing fame. With a nod to 2013’s ‘Truce’, Tyler promises to stay alive, despite the hardships, and the record draws to a close with one final reference to his fans. As the band sets out to embark on their biggest world tour to date, Tyler acknowledges that, “These faces facing me, they know what I mean”. And we do. Because we’re twenty one pilots, and so are they.

YASMIN BROWN

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