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 pumping S layer 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 way 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 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 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 -- "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.