Scaled and Icy: Does it Deserve the Hate?


Scaled and Icy’s cover art, featuring Trash the Dragon. Album art by Brandon Rike.

On May 21, 2021, the band Twenty One Pilots released a new album composed in quarantine called “Scaled and Icy”, which was received with mixed reviews from long-term fans and casual listeners alike. It marks the beginning of a new era of music from the band, who are known for their distinctive albums and deeper storylines behind the lyrics. The new sound created controversy among long-time fans because expectations were not met with the deep and brooding aesthetic, but the shift was important to the development of the band. Over the different albums, new sounds have been experimented with, and “SAI” is a continuation of this trend. Despite some of the lash back and dislike, I could argue that the album is still high quality and just as important to the overall storyline as “Trench” and “Blurryface”.

Most of the songs in “Scaled and Icy” have a light and bouncy beat coupled with 80s-Esque rock undertones. This directly contrasts the darker themes and sound of the previous albums. Despite this shift, the album has a pivotal role in the storyline of Dema. For those who do not know, Dema is the fictional world that represents the hold of mental illness on those who experience it. It is ruled by nine bishops who rule over the nine factions within the city, with Nico (referenced in the song Nico and the Niners) ruling over the faction that Tyler resides in. The album “Trench” follows the path to freedom from Dema, with the Banditos being the rebels that fight the Bishops. You can read more here.

The album “Scaled and Icy” seems to go off track from the Dema storyline upon first listen, but that is not the case. 

There was a website on which letters written from the perspective of the main character of the storyline were published. It was filled with cryptic pictures, gifs and narratives from inside the city of Dema and the stories of the Banditos in Trench. However, before “Scaled and Icy ” came out, the website was changed. The contents were removed and replaced with a message, supposedly from the Bishops, that said that “…The account is in violation of terms established by The Sacred Municipality of Dema… and the offender no longer has access to this account.” The official website for Twenty One Pilots was updated as well, and every piece of advertisement was stamped with a logo that read “Good Day Dema”.

Upon watching the livestream, it became clear what that meant. The first track of the album is called “Good Day”, and the stream opened with Tyler (apathetic and numb) being interviewed by a man named Dan Lisden and a woman named Sally Sacarver. These names correspond directly with two of the Bishops of Dema;  Lisden, who represents anxiety, and Sacarver, who represents the fear of heartbreak.

Throughout the experience, it was clear that when Tyler would fight back against the holds of the Bishops, he would be forced to sing “Scaled and Icy” songs, and suddenly, the upbeat lyrics and happy sound became sinister. “Scaled and Icy” was propaganda made by Bishops to keep the citizens of Dema within the walls of the city. Then, at the end of the experience, when Tyler was singing “Choker,” the message coming across was that he was trapped and didn’t think that anyone would be coming to save him.

So, with everything that is known about Dema and the storylines of “Trench” and “Blurryface,” the storyline could not have been advanced without the new album. But, even without the influence of the overall merit within the world of Dema and Trench, “Scaled and Icy” came at a time when everyone needed a little bit of upbeat and carefree in their lives. So, “SAI” caters to both the Clique and the casual listeners, and establishes itself as a quality addition to the Twenty One Pilots discography.