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System of a Down 

Mezmerize (Sony)

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Smartasses in more ways than one, System of a Down's Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian may not be the first to have read media critic Danny Schechter while pumping Slayer and actually absorbed both. But on Mezmerize, SOAD's third and most consistent album, the now equally billed frontmen revive a threadbare theme -- the anesthetic effect of mass media -- and they have way more fun aiming their piss than Rage Against the Machine. A dumber band wouldn't think to pit coiled thrash against mock funk and Muzak straight out of commercials for beer and tourism, and a less adept one wouldn't know how to do it with the most plausible musical schizophrenia since Bad Brains. The result, mitigating the band's turgid prog-rock tendencies, is more punk-spirited than any recent mainstream "punk." It's also as apt a setting for Tankian's bouts of lyrical Tourette's ("It's a nonstop disco, betcha it's Nabisco . . . Everybody fucks, everybody sucks") as it is a soundtrack for a nation focused on cheating housewives while countless children burn in Iraq.

More by Andrew Marcus

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