Since arriving on an increasingly busy US festival scene last year, Chicago Open Air has wasted no time in attempting to establish itself as America’s greatest metal festival, and this year’s line-up is testament to that. Everyone from iron-clad legends to rising stars are present and correct – and it’s one of the latter that make the earliest and best impression of the whole weekend. CODE ORANGE  continue to show why they are one of the single most exciting young bands in our scene today with an absolutely punishing set on the Blackcraft stage. “We respect the legends, but it’s time for some new shit!” screams Jami Morgan before launching into Bleeding In The Blur. It’s hard to argue when the new shit is producing bands this fearless and this damn good. SUICIDE SILENCE  have shown they too are fearless with this year’s enormously divisive self-titled opus, and while the record itself was ultimately an honourable failure, tracks like Doris and Hold Me Up, Hold Me Down are finding their feet nicely in the band’s live shows, and both sound good today. CROBOT  undermine an otherwise solid set with a lacklustre cover of Cochise (the sentiment, of course, is a fine one), while VIMIC  do enough to show that Joey Jordison has plenty left in the tank yet. The idea that we’ll never see THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN  bring this level of madness to festivals again is a sobering one, while a thrash double-header of ANTHRAX  and MEGADETH  has the main stage headbanging itself into oblivion. After MESHUGGAH  bring the Blackcraft stage to a close for the day in suitably emphatic, groove-laden style, it’s down to two of rock’s greatest spectacles, ROB ZOMBIE  and KISS , to see out Friday. The former is fun as hell, even if Rob’s inability to cover all the notes hinders the party a little, while the latter goes some way to proving that one of rock’n’roll’s greatest ever live bands are most definitely into their twilight years. The show itself, of course, is as fire- and pyro- and blood- and platform fuelled as ever, but Paul Stanley struggles to hit even the most basic of notes, and the whole thing feels a little lacklustre. Hopefully just an off day.
CANE HILL  are getting better and better live, opening up Saturday’s main stage shenanigans with a heavy-as-hell nu metal slam dunk. DRAGONFORCE  are still one of the funnest tickets in town and get a great reception on the Blackcraft stage, even if their Ring Of Fire cover is absolute bum. AVATAR  command the main stage like headliners, and if they can write more songs as good as Hail The Apocalypse, greatness may yet be waiting for them. STEEL PANTHER  aren’t quite as big in their homeland as in the UK, but they still bring in a big-ass crowd today. Some of the shtick is wearing hella-thin now, but they play so damn well it remains impossible not to be bowled over. Sound issues make BODY COUNT  a bit of a misfire – and proceedings aren’t helped by bassist Vincent Price having to play most of the gig in a wheelchair after doing himself in. CLUTCH  provide the high quality filling in a turd sandwich bookended by SEETHER  and GODSMACK . Quite how these bands get so big in the US is beyond us. At the other end of the spectrum, KORN  are a revelation. They’ve been on blinding form for years now, but killer cuts from last year’s solid The Serenity Of Suffering opus have brought a fresh sprinkle of awesome to a set already brimming with prime cuts.
The most stacked day of the weekend gets truly swinging when DEVILDRIVER  remind Chicago why they remain one of our scene’s most beloved festival bands. HELLYEAH  are the kind of meat’n’potatoes metal that does big business here in the States, and to be fair, they take their main stage shot well. Things enter another stratosphere, however, when AMON AMARTH  get onstage. Now boasting a fiery show fit to headline, they’re one of the weekend’s highlights. As are BEHEMOTH , who once again show everyone why they have all the tools to become extreme metal’s biggest breakout band of the 21st century. That new album has a hell of a bar over it. The run of awesomeness continues as LAMB OF GOD  obliterate the main stage. One of the greatest metal bands does what they do best, and Walk With Me In Hell sounds as devastating now as it did 10 years ago. STONE SOUR  have amassed a fair few bangers of their own, and newiesTaipei Person/ Allah Tea, Song #3 and a closing Fabuless fit in nicely with the golden oldies today. SLAYER  close the Blackcraft stage for the weekend with a fired-up, typically imperious showing, while OZZY OSBOURNE  surprises us all by sounding the best he’s sounded in years as he reels through the classics with Zakk Wylde back at his side. The Prince Of Darkness does look lost at points and bumbles over a few intros, but you just can’t fuck with songs as big as No More Tears. What a line-up. What a weekend. Same time next year?