Dio - Holy Diver

by antiMusic Classics

For this week's TBT we look back at our review of Dio's landmark album Holy Diver which ran as part of our Classics series 10 years ago this week in September of 2006.

"When There's Lightning..."
by DeadSun

If one were to look back to the year 1982, and examine the most significant events which took place in the world of heavy metal, one event which would quickly emerge would be the announcement of a second great schism in the line up of metal progenitors Black Sabbath. In October of that year, vocalist Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice parted ways with bandmates Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, with the intent to form their own band, amidst (evidently) unfounded allegations that Dio and Appice were sneaking into the studio and changing the sound mixes laid out for the up and coming Live Evil album.

Allegations aside, Dio immediately set out in search of musicians to complete the line up of his future band. His first recruit came in the person of Jimmy Bain--- a man Dio was already on familiar terms with, as he (Bain) had played bass alongside Dio for the band Rainbow from 1975-1977. Bain also proved vital to Dio's vision by way of his two suggestions for the role of guitarist; John Sykes being one recommendation, and the other being a promising musician who had been working the six-string for an Irish outfit called Sweet Savage--- one Vivian Campbell. A rehearsal was arranged, and the following day Campbell was asked to join up. Wasting little time, Dio, Appice, Bain, and Campbell filed into Sound City studios (Los Angeles) to begin work on what would eventually snowball into one of heavy metal's most celebrated and influential recordings--- 1983's impervious classic Holy Diver.

Released in May of 1983, on Reprise records, Holy Diver stands--- on one hand--- as a snapshot of the views and attitudes espoused by the classic metal outfits of that period; its temperament is grandiose, aggressive, cocksure, and driven. Its themes navigate over the ideas of a struggle between light and darkness, mediums of fantasy, and stand as an exercise in the use of dream-like imagery. On the other hand, the lyrics are purposefully keen in shying away from the kind of juvenile boastfulness that was typical to the more commercial, arena rock/metal approaches of that period. That fact, perhaps as much as anything, certainly helped Holy Diver maintain its celebrated status as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s--- a time when the ethos traditionally associated with "big" rock and metal acts fell far out of popular favor among up and coming bands, exemplified by the so-called "Seattle sound" acts.

At once, Holy Diver stands as an inviolable testimony to Ronnie James Dio's shared nobility among the great vocalists of our time. With a voice range of five and one-half octaves, Dio's talents are plainly evident throughout the span of the recording. That having been stated, it is the opinion if this author that the veritable secret weapon of Holy Diver truly comes in the form of Vivian Campbell's stringwork. Just as Ozzy had his Randy Rhoades, so too did Ronnie James Dio have his Vivian Campbell , whose artistic contributions wove a crucial and brilliant dimension into Holy Diver, further inspiring the work, and aiding the collective effort in securing its status as one of classic metal's most historic and premier recordings.

The opening track "Stand Up and Shout" is well-placed and fairly straight-forward for early 1980s heavy metal--- uptempo, with picking technique characteristic to a brisk NWoBHM feel. Dio satisfies the cocksure, get-up-and-go quota so prevalent in the 1980s without sparing much time, as is evidenced is lines such as, "You've got desire, so it let out... you've got the fire... stand up and shout". The track is a tidy 3:15 and, if anything, serves its role well as the first shot fired. In a different world, it might have fared just as well switching its lead-off role with the second track off of the release--- the legendary "Holy Diver". In taking stock of classic metal staples, it should take roughly 30 seconds before this song is named. It simply defined the style of classic metal as it came to be known, and did so with the added luxury of having a musician of Dio's caliber behind the microphone. The recipe was fool-proof, and the result was a release single which helped propel the record early on into platinum sales.

Balance is always a key to the success of a classic--- and so while always conscious of melody, but in keeping with the spirit of rounding out the release with meat and potatoes, mid-rhythmic punch, comes the blues-fueled tracks "Gypsy" and "Straight Through Heart". With "Straight Through the Heart" one finds excellent examples of Dio's traditional lyrical approach of fusing the figurative with the universals of the human experience; e.g., "Hanging from the cobwebs in your mind, it looks like a long, long way to fall", or "Living in a world of make believe, I can hide behind what's real... but wearing your emotions on your sleeve, and they all know what you feel". In terms of moments where melody takes the lead over rawness and aggression, "Caught in the Middle" furnishes the listener with an above average example of Dio's versatility and ability to excel in different climates of song-smithing.

The second single released from Holy Diver was "Rainbow in the Dark". Awash with exceptional leadwork by Campbell, the cut opens with wording worthy of the classic Dio designation, "When there's lightning, you know it always brings me down. 'Cause it's free, and I see that it's me who's lost and never found." --- This is the time honored reach, the struggle to attain, to become, the position where as people we strive for something higher during the course of our lives. These are ideas which recur in much of Dio's writing and, due to their universal quality, have played an integral role in imbuing Dio's work with its timeless nature. These are not ideas which are exclusive to a specific time or place.

Despite "Rainbow in the Dark" and "Holy Diver" securing the vote to have been the two singles released off of the record, the musical centerpiece of the release is unquestionably "Don't Talk to Strangers"--- easily an epic, classic metal masterpiece in league with such heavy hitters as Iron Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name", and Black Sabbath's "Fairies Wear Boots". Here is truly where the vocals and the guitar leads soar with a rare and priceless majesty. For any listener, one first spin should suffice to furnish adequate proof to this claim. Here we find Dio playing one of his favorite roles--- that of the riddling Sphinx, or Oracle--- "Don't write in starlight, 'cause the words may come out real"... "Don't smell the flowers, they're an evil drug, to make you lose your mind", and "Don't hide in doorways, you may find the key, that opens up your soul".

Again--- and as one must do when attempting to qualify a classic--- the litmus test is simple. After the passage of years, how does the work hold up to the ravages of time, and against the fickle ebb and tide of popular (but typically short-lived) trend?

Holy Diver has lost none of its luster--- it is possible that its appeal has even increased against the odds of time, and the advent of different styles pursuant to the evolution of heavy metal. In light of heavy metal's pedigree and lineage, Ronnie James Dio should be regarded as one of its first blue bloods--- a living legend, a king in his own right, by virtue of the decades of the mutual adoration between him, the fans, and the rock community at large.


A True Rainbow in the Dark
By Keavin Wiggins

After reading DeadSun's review, I scrapped the one I had written. I mean, how can you top that? And there is no use repeating the points he had (much better then I had), so as I often do with this series, I'll get a little personal and relate a short story of how this album changed my life.

I was a wee lad, not yet a teenager but getting into music big time. As such I was glued to MTV pretty much 24/7 (back when they actually had music on) and then one day it happened, "Rainbow in the Dark" came on and I discovered heavy metal. Up to that point the heaviest stuff I was listening to was Def Leppard and KISS so comparatively, Dio was absolutely earth shatteringly heavy.

A few weeks later, I went to a local record store with my 1st girlfriend, Mary, and she had a bunch of money her mom had given her and wanted me to help her spend it. Who was I to refuse? So I immediately went up to the longhaired clerk and asked him if he had the record by the band DIE-O, he laughed and asked "do you mean DEE-O?" I shrugged and he took me over to the rack that held Holy Diver. I was blown away with the artwork. You just can't get the feeling for album covers from CDs, you need the LP to appreciate the full size glory of a cover. And this cover was gloriously evil and so to my young eyes it was an instant sale. Who cared what it sounded like?

Mary bought a Duran Duran record for herself and we rushed back to my house to listen to our new acquisitions. Being the selfish bastard that I am and totally ignoring the fact that Mary had shelled out the money for the two albums, I put Holy Diver on first and from the opening bars of "Stand Up and Shout" a metalhead was born and I was sent on musical journey into metal that lasts to this day.

I became a huge Dio fan and played this album endlessly. For a while there, nothing else was permitted to touch my turntable. In fact, I was so engrossed in this album; I named my cat after the song "Gypsy". I still get chills when I hear the riffs to "Caught in the Middle" and it sends me back in time. Since then, every new Dio release was a mandatory purchase, but nothing can live up to your first time and unlike many albums that you grow out of as you get older and your tastes expand, Holy Diver has remained an absolute favorite. Like DeadSun said, this album has aged beautifully and in a lot of ways is even more powerful today than it was twenty some years ago when it launched Dio's solo career.

The follow up, The Last in Line also ranks right up there too. There was something magical about the pairing of Dio's amazing vocals and Vivian Campbell's unmistakable licks. If you don't own the album, then you are cheating yourself out of one the best metal albums ever made. Screw that, one of the best albums to come out of any genre!

"Don't write in starlight, cuz the words may come out real."

Mighty and Majestic
By Zane Ewton

Ronnie James Dio weaves a mystical web. Themes of good versus evil, love versus hate, finding strength within yourself and a celebration of the mythical imagery of demons and dragons strike vividly within his music. Dio's voice is mighty and majestic, far too big to be coming from that man on stage but in a Dio song everything is bigger.

After stints with Rainbow and a resurrection of the fledgling Black Sabbath, Dio formed his own band and recorded an album that stands as the greatest in an outstanding career. Holy Diver is full of furious riffs, heavy metal imagery and the devious Dio's monolithic vocals but also the catchy hooks that made it accessible to the masses. Accessible is not always a bad thing and the songs on Holy Diver stand as testaments to the strengths of a good song done by an exciting band.

Much of that excitement comes from Vivian Campbell, at the time a young guitar player who brought the right amount of function and flash developing the signature Dio sound. Every front man needs a worthy foil and Campbell was great in the role of heavy metal axe slinger.

The songs on Holy Diver range from quick blasts of metal fury to epic tracks and even catchy metal that stand as forebears of hair metal. Any Dio compilation includes at least half of the tracks from Holy Diver, which is actually a disservice to the other tracks that are just as exciting as the hits.

"Stand Up and Shout" screams through the speakers and opens the record on a high note, a trend that followed Dio records up to his most recent release. "Holy Diver" is the epic track that even non-fans of Dio know. "Don't Talk to Strangers" changes the pace midway through the album and stands as the centerpiece of the record. A moody number full of Dio imagery. His lyrics straddle the line between Heaven and Hell, but you never really can tell which side he is on.

"Straight Through the Heart" may be the heaviest track Dio has unleashed, giving way to the final three of "Invisible", the keyboard inflected "Rainbow in the Dark" and the heavy closing number "Shame on the Night."

It's great to see Dio still taking to the stages 22 years after the release of this classic album. Even better his voice is as strong as the first time he screamed "Look Out!" over a piercing riff and thundering rhythm. Hail the King of rock and roll; he's come to haunt your dreams.

Dio - Holy Diver

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