Review Summary: You damned nitpickers.
A lot of people have been talking about Holy Diver since its first release in the year 1983. What rock fan doesn't know who Dio is? Even without the help of guys like Jack Black and his insipid musical endeavors, Dio is just a crucial part of rock and metal culture, with his iconic voice, mystical and imaginative lyrics and unstoppable charisma. He doesn't change, he doesn't sell out and he is always at tip top form on any album he is asked to sing on. Holy Diver is perhaps his most iconic point, and here I go, diving right in to review it.
Right from the start, Dio wastes no time, barreling open with the ricocheting "Stand Up and Shout" motivating you to do what metalheads do best, and providing a thoroughly uplifting hook in the process. The sound is a very thin one, crisp and nimble, without any real crunch to the guitars, and there will probably be some days when you yearn for something a bit meatier and more fattening, but the charm is always there, there is no denying that. The melodies are agile and laid back, the riffs are classic slabs of rocking goodness and Dio's voice is as melodious and wondrous as it has ever been. It soars, it dives and it belts out some of the catchiest vocals you'll ever hear.
The title track is perhaps the most known song on here, with its hard rock groove and idiosyncratic lyrics being fronted by Dio's signature wail and creating what is one of metal's all time trademark tunes, right up there with "Master of Puppets," "Painkiller" and "The Number of the Beast." Yet, it's not even near the only great song on here, or even the best one: it's followed up with the AC/DC-invoking "Gypsy," the catchy, infectious hook of "Rainbow in the Dark," the melodious fretting of "Caught in the Middle" and "Straight Through the Heart," the ominous and significantly more metallic "Invisible" and "Shame on the Night" and my favorite in the half-ballad "Don't Talk to Strangers." See? I told you every song had something to offer. Next time you should just take my word for it.
But really, this album is just full of great moments as well as great songs. It lacks any form of pretension and doesn't try to do that much; it's only goal is to provide a set of good songs, which it does. Every song is instantly memorable and automatically replayable. The album is short and allows for multiple plays in a short period of time, if one so desired - which I usually do not; for any album. It's the little things that matter, like the build up in "Don't Talk to Strangers," or the sheer mountainous heaviness of a song like "Shame on the Night," which is especially effective at the very end of the album. How about the opening of "Rainbow in the Dark," with its supremely catchy keyboard melody, and then the bouncy groove that follows? Or the intricacy of the guitar melodies in "Caught in the Middle" behind Dio's vocals? Every song has these subtle and yet simple things to them that make them insanely enjoyable. The hooks here are masterfully crafted, effective from just one listen. Sure, it isn't terribly innovative, but it's just such a damned crafty album - the hooks are devilish; they'll never leave you! Dio certainly knew how to work his target audience.
And the ***ing drumming, too. Vinny Appice is no stranger to the metal scene, and here he plays his heart out as if he were a man with ten hearts instead of one. His playing is acrobatic, dynamic and all around superb, backing up the songs on Holy Diver with insane precision and delicacy. Just pick any song here, and the drumming is out of this world. Would I lie to you? I don't think I would. Especially since I just devoted a whole paragraph to the drumming.
Recently, it has been a trend for people to subject this great album a kind of revisionist scrutiny that leaves me quite confused. I see people on this website calling it overrated, calling certain songs 'filler,' and saying there are boring parts...what? Did they just not grow up listening to rock music? Have they some higher standard to which this kind of classic, rocking metal must conform? Really, there's no accounting for taste and all, but I just can't legitimately see eye to eye with the view that this and albums like it are overrated. They just...aren't. Even if you don't personally like this album, calling it overrated is about as silly as calling it underrated - it is what it is, and what it is is one of the classic metal albums. You can nitpick all you want and dissect every song, but it's missing the point, and I have never had a taste for such so-called scholarly reviewing practices, anyway.
Just...the way I always think of this album is just that it isn't doing any harm. That can also be misconstrued as a bad thing in some cases, but here it's just different. Holy Diver is as honest and stripped down as rock music comes. It is teaching moral lessons and telling stories, veiled in a cloak of electric guitars and harmonious solo playing, and it is not attempting to do anything but that. There isn't any anger here, only a creative fire that needed to grow and be nurtured, and Dio knew it. Bashing this album doesn't seem very productive at all; it wasn't doing anything to you, so why would you do it? There is far too much value placed on dissecting every single last tidbit of a song - I just call it trying too ***ing hard. I know it doesn't really apply to everyone, but really, there is some truth to the whole idea of people placing too much weight on how heavy or technical something is, and as soon as they can put aside those presumptions, they will be able to enjoy music like Holy Diver a lot more. Yeah, even I don't think this is as good as Heaven & Hell or some of the better Rainbow stuff, but that says absolutely nothing for the quality of this album on its own.
I mean, it's Holy Diver, one of the easiest going and most simplistic Heavy Metal milestones you'll find. Yet we have endless cases of people who listen to this album expecting something other than what it is, which is basically a metal album from the days when the subgenre was just getting off its laurels to progress. It is an album that does not aim to offend a single soul, an album crafted from a simple and basic love of the rock and metal genres, of the sound of a distorted guitar, a wailing voice and a kick ass drum beat to go along with them, and the magic they produce. And that is a damn worthy cause.