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.