Holy Diver



by Steerpike USER (24 Reviews)
March 26th, 2006 | 147 replies

Release Date: 1983 | Tracklist

Few names conjure up the plethora of reactions and thoughts as Ronnie James Dio. He started out as a young singer in a blues-rock band called Elf. His career took a dramatic step forward when he met Ritchie Blackmoore at Hollywood’s famous Rainbow bar. When Ritchie split from Deep Purple, Dio was his first choice for vocalist of his solo project, titled Rainbow after the bar.

After a falling out with Ritchie (two men with egos like theirs can’t work together for long), Dio had a stint with Black Sabbath before going solo. His self-named solo work is often regarded as his most influential. Though known to be notoriously difficult to work with, his songwriting, stage presence, and emotionally faceted voice have kept legions of fans buying his albums and attending his concerts for years.

Holy Diver was the debut effort in Dio’s solo career, and it debuted with quite a blast. Even the dramatic cover art raised clear expectations of what within as the ubiquitous, brawny demon (affectionately named Murray) waved the Sign of the Horns, representing the forces of darkness in the struggle between good and evil that defines most of Dio’s lyrics.

The music was a unique blend. For a rhythm section he recruited Vinnie Appice, formerly of Black Sabbath, on drums and bassist Jimmy Bain whom he had performed with in Rainbow. For the guitar, he picked up a young unknown from Ireland known as Vivian Campbell. Once the line-up was solidified in 1983, the quartet immediately began work on the debut album.

Holy Diver would ultimately become highly influential in the formation of the genre of power metal, and it’s easy to see why. The whole thing is pervaded by a deep sense of melodrama, and everything is emotionally magnified to make it seem larger than life both lyrically and musically.

The album opens with the staccato riffs of Stand Up and Shout, Dio’s roof-raising anthem of self-empowerment. The sound is at once gritty and polished, an interesting balance struck up in the production. Vivian demonstrates his ability as the archetypal NWOBHM speed demon on lead.

Second is the title track, a groovier song with some curious metaphors and imagery. A slower tempo and a long, atmospheric intro lead into this prime example of Dio’s style. Repetition of several metaphors gives them a weight despite their ambiguity, and the solo is so much more than a flurry of notes, with restraint shown in just the right places.

Leading into that is one of my favorites, Gypsy. This hard rocking song has been criticized by some for it’s over-the-top nature (“She could crack your brain/With magic pain”), but then again this is a predecessor to power metal. You wouldn’t listen to death metal without the growls would you" That said, it has a great melody, some wonderful solos, and a real sing-along vibe.

Caught In the Middle has a distinctly 80’s sound to it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dio intended this to be the single off the album as it has a more laid-back sound than the other songs so far, and Dio takes some of the snarl out of his voice for more of a crooning sound with lots of “oohs” and “ohoos”. It has a catchy main riff and another sing-along chorus that would later become a hallmark of many power metal bands.

Sixth track on the album is Don’t Talk to Strangers. This is a much darker track that’s been heard previous. It starts out soft with Dio sounding almost vulnerable as he croons out cryptic warnings behind Vivian’s guitar arpeggios, which are soon joined by subtle drumming and basslines. With startling abruptness, the music turns much heavier and urgent. Dio’s snarl is back in full force and his warnings turn to accusations. The solo on this one isn’t my favorite, but it’s not bad by any means.

Straight Through the Heart is probably my least favorite track on the album, but like the solo in Don’t Talk to Strangers, that’s not to say it’s bad. This song is more reflective of Dio’s hard rock roots with crunchy riffs, pulsing bassline, and some of Vinnie’s best drumming on the album.

Invisible is also another track I tend to skip, but the lyrics are quite intriguing. Again, another sing-along chorus which hints to us the coming of the conventions of power metal songwriting. Dio does have a penchant for relating human issues to his strange metaphors, and on this one seems to be taking a rather snide shot at the decay of family life in modern times.

Rainbow in the Dark is the masterpiece of this album. The band has been playing this in concerts from the beginning. Vivian really hits his stride as a guitarist here. The song really only has two riffs, but they’re so constructed that they beautifully carry the whole song. The blazing solo is easily one of his best as well. Remember all the references I made to sing-along choruses" This one is the top of the heap. Dio himself also played a synth riff in this song, proving once again it is perfectly acceptable for a metal band to use an instrument other than the standard R&B guitar, bass, drums combo.

The album closes with the low-tempo Shame on the Night. A darkly sinister, groovy number in which Dio is practically condemning the very sources of his inspiration. This goes back to my earlier reference in that a large part of his music and lyrics revolve around an abstract struggle between good and evil. With Shame on the Night, the listener is left wondering who the true victor of this first round really was.

All together, Holy Diver is an essential metal album. Much like Iron Maiden’s early works, this proved to be essential in the progression of metal. Though Dio has never made an album that garnered quite the same level of commercial success and has gone through band members faster than MTV goes through one-hit wonders, he has given us this classic album if nothing else that metalheads of today are still discovering more than a generation after its release.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
March 26th 2006


Dio is cool.

March 26th 2006


I only heard the whole thing one time, it was pretty cool. But I have heard holy diver like a thousand times and I love it.

Pretty good review.

March 26th 2006


Rainbow in the Dark is an amazing song.

March 26th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Fantastic review, Dio is a godly singer. This is probably the best album he's made, everythings great on it. Cambell can shred like a beast, and Dio is, of course, in top form. Don't Talk to Strange might be my favorite song on here, although the title track and Rainbow in the Dark are both classics.

south_of_heaven 11
March 26th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

hmm...seems like i should probably check this out...good review btw

Digging: RAM - Rod

Apocalyptic Raids
March 26th 2006


I really need to get this.

March 26th 2006


Dio is unspeakably great, and still puts out quality material today.
This is a fantastic album, but I'd have to say that The Last In Line is better, even though the title track on this is so good that it might just make your hair fall out through it's sheer rockingness.
It's impossible not to sing along to it too. Go on, try.
Excellent review.

April 9th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

Excellent album.

British Beef
June 12th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

good solid album, though not heavy enough for me personally

June 20th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

Great album and great review!

June 21st 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Excellent review. How anyone can rate this as anything other than 'classic' is beyond me.

June 25th 2006


holy shit
i found your review through met65, and holy shit
with reviews like that one, you deserve to pick on reveiws like that lol

June 25th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

yes, steerpike writes great reviews

October 7th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Heh...i still couldn't believe that i first heard Dio in stoopid serial like South Park:D It was first time i heard Holy Diver.....and after that i must find whole his album and i will never regret it. Dio became one of my most favourite singers. I read in some interview that he didnt want to release "Rainbow in the dark"......

November 22nd 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Just got into this. Dio is fucking metal.

November 27th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

Classic album. Wonder how many COB fans picked up the "Holy Diver" riff on "Chaos Ridden Years" just before they launch into "Downfall."

March 15th 2007


definitly a classic album that everyone should own a copy of

May 27th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

nice album.

May 27th 2007


Album Rating: 2.5

I need this, I am sinful for not owning this.

October 3rd 2007


Fantastic album, completely accessible from the beginning.

I've listened to it many, many times now, and only picked it up a few days back. It's addictive as hell.

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