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System of a Down

Smart-asses in more ways than one, Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian may not be the first to have read media critic Danny Schechter while playing Slayer and actually absorbed both. But on Mezmerize, System of a Down's third and most consistent album, the front men, now equally billed, revive a threadbare theme -- the anesthetizing effect of mass media -- and have more fun aiming their piss than Rage Against the Machine while landing a sharper shot than Faith No More. A dumber band wouldn't think to pit coiled thrash against mock funk and Muzak, and a less adept one wouldn't know how to do it with such a plausible musical split personality. 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 -- "It's a nonstop disco, betcha it's Nabisco/Everybody fucks, everybody sucks" -- as it is a soundtrack for a nation fascinated by cheating housewives while tens of thousands of children burn in Iraq.

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