Twenty One Pilots album explores mental illness

Photo courtesy of Fuels by Ramen

After three years of anticipation, Twenty One Pilots’ long-awaited fifth album, “Trench”, was officially released on Friday, October 5th. Upon first listen, “Trench” is an amalgamation of the band’s characteristic honest vocals, driving percussion, and catchy synth. However, further inspection reveals the album to be an extended allegory about mental illness told through the guise of a story centered around a character who must escape a walled city ruled by nine bishops. 

In the musical duo’s previous albums, lead singer Tyler Joseph was always candid with his lyrics, and “Trench” is no exception. With the content of each song ranging from “a call to action” for those struggling with depression to society’s inclination to glorify suicide, “Trench” explores the tribulations faced by people laboring to overcome mental illness. 

Before the official announcement of “Trench” on July 11, 2018, a mysterious website called “dmaorg” appeared, which revealed information about the upcoming album. The website alluded to the album’s story surrounding Clancy, who is attempting to escape the walled city of Dema. Dema is governed by nine bishops who control the citizens through their religion called “Vialism”. Clancy accompanies an alliance of rebels known as “banditos” who work to liberate people from the walls of the Dema and the clutches of the bishops. 

The banditos are symbolized by the color yellow because of the bishops’ inability to see yellow, which allows the banditos to utilize yellow jumpsuits to facilitate escapes. Despite the danger and difficulty of the quest, Clancy overcomes the challenges of Dema and is eventually able to free himself from the hold of the bishops.

The entirety of the city of Dema is a metaphor for mental illness, while its high walls exemplify the complexity of conquering depression. Clancy might be a representation of Tyler because of his own struggles with mental illness as well as his desire to save others from the grip of depression. The nine bishops symbolize symptoms of depression, and their religion, Vialism, signifies the feelings of hopelessness and isolation that can accompany depression. The banditos represent people who have overcome depression and are working to help those who still suffer from it. 

Not only do they utilize yellow as their symbol because the bishops are unable to see it, but it also connotates sunlight and hope. Because of the risk attached to escaping from Dema, not all who attempt to escape survive, which symbolizes the severity of depression as a serious affliction. 

The intriguing allegory told within “Trench” created tremendous hype, and the album did not disappoint. From the bass-heavy, angsty opening song “Jumpsuit” to the gentle piano and pleading vocals of the concluding song “Leave The City”, the album weaves an intricate tale about the challenges of mental illness through melodies and beats that make it perfect for mainstream consumers. Prior to the official release of “Trench” on October 5th, four singles were released throughout the months of July and August: “Jumpsuit”, “Nico and the Niners”, “Levitate”, and “My Blood”. 

The first two  singles, “Jumpsuit” and “Nico and the Niners” laid an excellent foundation for the lore of the album. Through the use of bold bass riffs and mellow vocals that grow in intensity to powerful growls by the song’s conclusion, “Jumpsuit” describes how the protagonist, Clancy, attempts to escape from Dema. 

In a style reminiscent of the popular “Lane Boy” from the album “Blurryface”, the bishops who rule over Dema are introduced. The subsequent singles from “Trench”, “Levitate” and “My Blood”, further tie in to the album’s allusions to liberating oneself as well as others from the confines of mental illness. 

With its dreamy synth tones paired with persistent percussion, “Levitate” breathes life into the vulture that graces the cover of the album. In spite of its quasi-danceable nature and alluring use of falsetto, “My Blood” is wrought with serious and heartfelt promises and earnest pleas for the singer’s “blood” — which can be interpreted in a multitude of ways — to stay with him.

Despite the growing commercial success of “Trench”, Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are still focused on bringing the issue of mental illness into the public eye. The duo’s music is exceptional at achieving this goal because of their utilization of mainstream techniques such as lyric repetition and memorable melodies contrasted by their openness in discussing mental illness. 

Because of their presence in the mainstream radio and the home pages of music streaming sites, Twenty One Pilots is able to inform a broader platform about the obstacles of depression and suicide. These are topics that are not often discussed in mass media, but the band uses their presence in the hope that speaking openly about mental illness will encourage those who suffer to seek help as well as educating those who are uninformed to break the stigma.