Cults and Crises: Twenty One Pilots’ Trench

Twenty One Pilots’ Trench, appropriately released during the month of Halloween, is an introspective masterpiece. One of the band’s best concept albums, the songs deal with darker themes like identity crises and creepy cults, and showcase heavier sounds. They all fit to tell the non-linear narrative of Nicolas Bourbaki and reference old story-lines and narratives from past albums like Blurryface. I found myself listening to the album over and over again, and there a very few tracks I did not grow to love.

The album begins with a grungy, hard hitting bass lick, soon accompanied by an electric guitar. “Jumpsuit” is filled with anger and angst, beginning with the lines: “I can’t believe how much I hate.” It is arguably the most popular song on the album. The well shot music video mirrors the song’s heavy sound, depicting Tyler and his banditos being chased by mysteriously cloaked figures. The bridge of the song is a beautiful surprise, slowing down completely. In an almost ballad-like fashion, singer Tyler Joseph sings some violent lyrics. He says, “If you need anyone, I’ll stop my plans/But you’ll have to tie me down and then break both my hands.” His falsetto certainly contrasts with the words, creating an ethereal and even disturbing atmosphere. I loved this sudden shift, though many tracks on the album exhibited a similar transition and it soon became predictable.

Tyler’s climax in the song is an extended growl, and we are then immediately thrust into the next song which begins the same way “Jumpsuit” ends. “Levitate”, featuring Tyler’s signature rapping, likely deals with imagination and perhaps some drug use. I assumed Nico was the character Tyler adopted in the song, singing about being followed by a mysterious group that thirsts for blood and circles above him (according to the lyrics). The music video also hints at this idea of running from a cult like group, likely the banditos (bandits from Mexico). Genius lyrics points to the fact that “‘Bandito’ is titled after the group of rebels within the dystopian city of Dema, on which most of the album is based.” The actual track “Bandito”, eleventh on the album, dwells on a single bandito (the character Clancy) learning to accept his new membership as part of the group.

Going back to the character Nico, we learn more about his background in the song “Morph”, where his full name is revealed. states that the character’s name refers to “the collective pseudonym for the scientists who invented the notation for zero or ‘empty set’—the Ø used in much of the band’s branding over the years.” We then get an insight into Nico’s later life in the tune, “Nico and the Niners”, which has a more reggae-like rap beat, starting off with acoustic strumming. The song also again refers to the jumpsuit from the first song, dealing again with themes of masking one’s identity (another nod to Blurryface).

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “My Blood.” The sincerity of the lyrics match the slow tempo and the falsettos in the chorus. The music video also depicts two best friends always sticking up for each other, though the viewer then learns one of the friends is a figment of the other’s imagination. Along the lines of “My Blood”, you have another heartfelt love song, “Smithereens.” It is difficult to discern whether Nico (Nicolas) is again the main character of the song. Nonetheless, it is hard not to find charm in lyrics like, “For you, I’d go/Step to a dude much bigger than me/For you, I know/I would get messed up, weigh 153.”

Before we get to the end of album, I want to point out “Pet Cheetah.” It is one of the few songs I couldn’t quite get into, but I did like the creative and more discordant melody that began the track. However, I did not hearing “Pet Cheetah” repeated throughout the end of song; the lyric strayed from the tone of the rest of the album. “Legend” follows with another odd beat (somewhat reminding me of old disco pop songs).

The very last song, “Leave the City”, is simply beautiful. It deals with deeper themes like not belonging.  It has subtle undertones that refer to depression and suicide. Like an earlier song, “Cut My Life” (in which Tyler sings, “I’ll keep on trying/might as well), there is an attitude of staying alive without a true purpose. It is depression that leads to this suspended existence, in which one might himself in a limbo between death and life. “Leave the City” harps on this kind of existence once more, but suggests that it is worth trudging through life rather  than ending it all. The melancholy piano builds nicely, but still leaves us hanging in mid-air. The song is a perfect way to actually end the album. The character does not only leave the city, but also the listener. We literally “know that it’s over.” Despite the crestfallen descriptions in the lyrics, I still felt that the audience was left with a glimmer of hope, though many might dislike the message Tyler was suggesting.

Overall, I highly recommend that you go out and buy Trench. I guarantee there is at least one song you won’t be able to stop listening to.

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