Despite some critical disdain, alt-rock duo Twenty One Pilots have steadfastly clung to the uniquely odd style that propelled them into the mainstream. With their fifth studio album Trench, the band has given their listeners the same idiosyncrasies in a pleasing way.
It has been more than three years since the duo’s commercial breakthrough with 2015’s Blurryface, which was the first album ever to have every track receive at least a Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. After an extensive touring cycle and a Grammy win that forced even the group’s staunchest critics to consider them alongside the rest of the pop commercial elite, the band disappeared.
Following their nearly three-and-a-half-year hiatus, Twenty One Pilots’s Trench was arguably the most anticipated rock album of the year. For people who were hoping for something new out of the band, this isn’t it.
Trench is the natural evolution of the genre-bending, hyper-conceptual style that Twenty One Pilots have leaned into since the group’s inception. Blurryface establishes a conceptual narrative about a character—Blurryface—who serves as an allegory for frontman Tyler Joseph’s insecurities.
Trench, a sequel of sorts, expands upon that idea and builds the world from which Blurryface hails. One has to really dive into Reddit threads and lyrical analysis to understand the details of the fantastical lore the group created, but listeners don’t have to master the minutiae to appreciate some of their best work to date.
One part of the album’s conceptualism that especially resonates, however, is the idea that “Trench” exists as a place. Trench is Twenty One Pilots’s most entrancing album by far; it creates a sonic landscape that truly feels like it could be the soundtrack of a unique world.
The album opens with “Jumpsuit,” a bass driven slow-burn that culminates in Joseph screaming the track’s chorus, reminiscent of past songs like “Car Radio” and “Heavydirtysoul.” The band strays from this sound as the rest of the album progresses with much more subdued tones than its thunderous opener.
This technique allows for a blend of instruments that is smoother and more nuanced than anything the band has attempted before. Because the flow between songs is so cohesive, the album is best consumed from start to finish.
This album also represents the most intimate Joseph has gotten with the subject matter of the songs. While the album’s concept revolves around escaping a made-up city called Dema, the album actually uses it as an allegory for escaping something far more real: depression.
“Neon Gravestones” reflects this theme in a particularly provocative way. In the track, Joseph raps about the problem with romanticizing celebrity suicides over a melancholy piano riff and a dramatic drum beat.
Other personal topics addressed on the album include the death of Joseph’s grandfather in “Legend,” the details of his creative process in “Pet Cheetah” and even “Smithereens” which is dedicated to his wife.
Trench is more of the same from Twenty One Pilots, but it is a more refined and nuanced evolution of the nonconformist style they cling to without apparent regrets. The duo has grown significantly—both emotionally and commercially—in their decade of existence; this album reflects that change.
Trench is Twenty One Pilots’s most cohesive, intimate and arguably their strongest album to date.