10 Things We Learned At Chicago Open Air

Korn at Chicago Open Air
Korn (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

This past weekend, one of the finest heavy line-ups of the summer descended on Chicago for the second annual Chicago Open Air festival. Hammer was on-hand to witness all the madness as a stacked lineup including Ozzy Osbourne, Korn, Lamb Of God, Slayer, Behemoth and many more took on Toyota Park – but what did we learn?


Chicago Rules

While the Windy City has been home to the more punk-leaning Riot Fest for years now, Chicago Open Air’s arrival in 2016 has given metalheads a dedicated reason to spend some time in the US’ third most populous city. And trust us on this: if you can make some time to find an extra day or two to explore while you’re in town, do it. Chicago is, quite simply, a brilliant place to go hang out in. From the array of metal and dive bars dotted around the city’s numerous districts (shout out Cobra Lounge and Flat Iron in particular), to the bazillion cool places to go eat, look at stuff and generally have A Lovely Time. Oh, and if you do go, for fuck’s sake, go eat at Kuma’s Corner. You’ll thank us later.

Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

It Sounds Stellar

Gigs and festivals held in and around sports stadiums often suffer from heinous sound issues, but almost every single band we saw this weekend, be it on the main stage inside Toyota Park itself or on the Blackcraft stage out the back, sounded ace. It’s not easy to get the likes of Behemoth and Suicide Silence sounding decent when they’re basically playing in a fucking car park, but we rarely found anyone sounding anything less than pummelling. Fair play, COA!

Code Orange Is Happening. Get Ready

We’ve witnessed hardcore’s most exciting band tear it up at indoor shows for years in the UK, but to see the Pittsburgh five-piece so effortlessly make the step up to a big, outdoor stage was inspiring as hell. This is a band fully primed to rip apart any venue you’re bold enough to put them in, and everything from the guttural riffing of Forever to the grungy, stadium-sized hooks of Bleeding In The Blur sounded absolutely massive as they stole the Friday with ease. Plus, we interviewed a lot of big names at the festival this year, and we’ve never heard a young band name-dropped so often and so enthusiastically. Believe the hype. Code Orange are destined for greatness.


Korn (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

Korn Shows Are Better Than Ever

Yeah, we know, we know, it’s a cliché that gets rolled out a lot, but in this case it’s absolutely spot on. Korn have been on great form live for years now, but armed with a sprinkling of tracks from last year’s properly decent The Serenity Of Suffering alongside a stacked set of classics, the Godfathers Of Nu Metal are on an absolute tear. Code Orange aside, they are absolutely the best band of the weekend, leaving their fellow headliners in the dust and reminding a fully-packed stadium just how great a band they are (again).

America Loves Some Proper Rubbish Bands

US, we love you, but seriously, WTF is up with Godsmack and Seether being so high up on these bills? We like a bit of meat-and-potatoes metal as much as the next mag, but there’s just no excuse for that.


Avatar (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

Avatar Could Still Be Metal MVPs

The Swedes are absolutely going places and make a big impression on Chicago this weekend, with a fun and typically hammy show getting a rave response from those gathered in the stadium early Saturday afternoon. While some songs definitely stand out over others – Hail The Apocalypse is a killer set-starter and easily the best thing they’ve written – this show is yet more evidence that Avatar are one truly classic album away from becoming something very special indeed.

Amon Amarth Have A Headliner-Worthy Stage Set

The Viking heroes will be making their UK festival headline debut at Bloodstock in August, and on the evidence of what we see from them on the Sunday, they are so very ready. A massive boat, pyro, duelling Viking warriors and a big, fuck-off, firework-releasing hammer are just some of the things we see during their epic 40-minute set. Odin only knows what they’ll be packing when they get to actually headline an outdoor festival on UK shores next month.

Body Count

Body Count (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

Some Songs Just Shouldn’t Be Covered

There’s not much to moan about across this year’s COA, but having to endure Dragonforce (who otherwise play a great set) butcher Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire, before having our ears imploded by Mushroomhead doing Prince classic When Doves Cry, is straight-up abusive. Leave it out, lads. That said, Body Count just about get it right by kicking off their set with an obnoxiously fun cover of Raining Blood. We’ll just about let that one slide.

Ozzy Can Still Go

While he looks a little lost on stage at times and stumbles over a couple of song intros, Ozzy’s voice sounds the best it has in ages as he reunites with Zakk Wylde to close out the festival on the Sunday. The Prince Of Darkness’ form was the deciding factor between good Sabbath gigs and great ones during their recent reunion run, but here he sounds solid, classics like No More Tears and Suicide Solution sounding absolutely huge. Plus, it really is nice to see Zakk back in the fold, shredding and squealing his way through some of the best metal songs ever written.

Lamb Of God

Lamb Of God (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

Metal Is In A Great Place Right Now

Every single era of heavy music is represented in some form at COA this year, with everything from stadium metal to grindcore getting a showing across the weekend – and the honest result is that it only goes to show how strong the scene is at the moment. When you’ve got everyone from legends like Slayer and Korn, to modern heavyweights like Lamb Of God and Amon Amarth, to rising young bloods like Code Orange and Avatar all on damn fine form, it’s hard not to be excited as fuck about where the genre is at. Hopefully we’ll get to see some of these names play even further up the bill at Chicago Open Air next year. We’ll see you there.

Chicago Open Air will be back next year. For more on this year’s festival, pick up Metal Hammer issue 300 on August 22.

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Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.