Twenty One Pilots are back with the release of their fifth studio album Trench and they've definitely stepped out of their comfort zone. Not just in terms of style, because it also features an overarching narrative set in an alternate world called Dema. Without getting into the meat of it, let's just say there are many layers to this story which you can easily get into by digging a little online. If that's not your cup of tea and you can't be bothered, that works too since the songs work well standalone despite the many references to the world of Dema.
Of the 14 songs in this fairly large album, four have been out for a while – “Jumpsuit”, “Nico and the Niners”, “Levitate”, and “My Blood”. If hearing these made you think you're up to date on their new sound, you'd be sorely mistaken. The songs on Trench are quite different from their usual catalogue. Their older albums were quite piano-heavy, with the ukulele thrown in now and then. In this album there is so much more going on, all the time. The production value is much higher with many techno, ukulele, bass, and piano sequences playing in tandem. The mixing hits the mark and leads to instantly memorable riffs like the ones in “Morph”, “Pet Cheetah” or “Smithereens”. There are plenty of songs you can jam to, especially with Josh Dun supporting the tracks with his well-paced drumming. He's neither too fast nor flashy, doing just enough to support the songs.
When it comes to songwriting, Tyler Joseph is again stellar. He steps back a little from the fast-rap trend of Blurryface, instead carefully placing his rap sections into songs for maximum impact. The lyrics are wonderfully familiar though, with many centred on long-standing themes. “My Blood” is basically a love letter from Tyler to the fans, with its chorus in falsetto, “Stay with me, you don't need to run/Stay with me, my blood,” sure to be a fan-favourite at concerts. In “Levitate” he pokes fun at mainstream music's repetitive “chorus-verse-chorus-verse” format. Another memorable listen is “Legend”, where Tyler talks about his deceased grandfather and how he regrets him not being able to listen to this album. This is a spiritual successor to “Pantaloon”, a song from their first album, which was about his grandfather settling into old age. His grandfather also featured on the cover of Vessel, so you can tell how much this meant to him.
Besides saying he has a pet cheetah called Jason Statham in “Pet Cheetah”, Tyler also poured his heart into “Smithereens”—a sweet love letter to his wife which will remind you of “Tear in My Heart”, but here he says he would gladly get beaten up to smithereens for her. For me, the pinnacle of this album is “Neon Gravestones”. It touches on the topic of glorification of mental disorders and suicide in pop culture. This song is choc-full of hard-hitting verses on this topic, and the haunting chorus reaffirms the seriousness of this topic. The lyrics and the flow here are the best out of all the songs on Trench, and this is definitely one to put on repeat.
As good as the album is, it's not flawless. In some of the songs like “Cut My Lip” and “The Hype”, it seemed they tried too hard to make the song different-sounding, and I think they also fell short on the final song “Leave This City”. What was meant to be a climactic end to the album just felt slow and not impactful enough to back up the highs of the entire album. That, however, does not take away from how far the band have progressed with this album. They've diversified their sound, matured with their lyrics (ignore Jason Statham the cheetah) and shown that Blurryface wasn't a one hit wonder. Of course, the fans already knew that.