Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian may not be the first to have read media critic Danny Schechter while pumping Slayer. But on Mezmerize, System of a Down's third and most consistent album, the front men take a threadbare theme--the anesthetizing effect of mass media--and have more fun aiming their piss in its face than Rage Against the Machine (while boasting a sharper aim than Faith No More). A dumber band wouldn't think to pit coiled thrash against mock funk and Muzak straight out of beer commercials; a less adept band couldn't do so while sporting the most plausible musical split personality since the 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 lyrical Tourette's--"Everybody fucks, everybody sucks"--as it is a soundtrack for a nation fascinated by naughty housewives while tens of thousands of children burn in Iraq.