Twenty One Pilots try out more mature tone in “Trench”

By Peter Zemeske

“Trench” is Twenty One Pilots’ fifth studio album and follow-up to 2015’s incredibly successful “Blurryface.” “Blurryface” spent a whopping 176 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart and peaked at number one, according to Billboard. It received plenty of radio play and favorable reviews from critics, and is the first album in history to have every song on it to be certified at least gold, according to RIAA.

After such a massive album, a band can go in two directions with the follow-up: either lock in the sound and aesthetic of what made them popular, or take the opportunity to reinvent themselves and take a different approach to making music. Artists have found various levels of success committing to either option, but whichever option a band takes, the follow-up will either solidify their newfound rockstar status, or put them in “one-hit wonder” territory.

The first song off “Trench,” “Jumpsuit” makes it clear that Twenty One Pilots have morphed their radio-friendly pop-rap into a similar yet darker concoction of hip hop vocal melodies and heavy rock riffs. The song hearkens back to the 2016 single “Heathens,” which had a noticeable shift in tone and feeling compared to any single off “Blurryface.” The lyric “I crumble underneath the weight, pressures of a new place roll my way” is in reference to the band’s unfamiliarity with their position toward the top.

The album follows a fictional concept of a walled-in city called Dema and a character named Clancy who tries to escape and liberate its people. Lyrically, the songs cover the main concept, themes of conquering mental illness, suicide and feelings of hopelessness.

“Chlorine” is a stripped down hip-hop beat that flows into a quieter, more heartfelt outro. The lyrics cover struggling with dark thoughts and how to purge them. The catchy hooks and bars that made “Blurryface” such a hit remain on songs like “Jumpsuit” and “Morph.” Reggae rhythms a la “Ride” from “Blurryface” are revisited on “Nico and the Niners.”

Luckily, Twenty One Pilots didn’t cash in and replicate songs like “Stressed Out” for more listens on Spotify. “Trench” is a much more mature record than its predecessor, both sonically and lyrically. Juvenile rage is kept to a minimum and is replaced by somber, earnest hymns. Twenty One Pilots have grown up a little since 2015; hopefully their fans can too.