Royal Trux started out as a drugged-out duo featuring the guitar demolition-work of Neil Hagerty and the feral snarl of Jennifer Herrema, a heroin-nightmare version of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Then the cleaned-up couple retreated to the Virginia countryside, got a rhythm section, and learned how to write actual songs. The result, Thank You, was the best (or at least the hardest) hard-rock record of 1995, an ugly, brutal noise that banished melody and swung like a mother. Sweet Sixteen takes the band’s anti-pop strategy even further, while opening up the sound: a Funhouse-style sax on “10 Days 12 Nights,” a Lenny Bruce sample on “Cold Joint,” and an always welcome cowbell throughout. Herrema rants hard-luck stories about motels and canned meat, and Hagerty once again proves himself the most inventive guitarist in rock (compared with him, the Edge is G.E. Smith). “If it rocks, put it on the table,” sings Herrema on the record’s closing stomp, “Pol Pot Pie.” “If it rolls, put it in the hole.” Respectful of the music’s primal past, Royal Trux takes the beat back to the source, reminding us of Jim Morrison’s dark definition of rock: “It comes out of the Virginia swamps, cool and slow…mean and rueful of the Western dream.” Recent interviews reveal the Truxers planning a tour replete with Islamic fundamentalist stage trappings, just their way of keeping the faith.

—Eddie Dean