[Review] Dio: Holy Diver (1983)

Ageless metal from an ageless man, forged in a bygone age of demons and wizards.

Kronomyth 1.0: Truly, a rainbow in the dark.

Heaven and Hell was a very good album. Holy Diver is a great album. The debut of Dio introduced the melodic heavy metal of its namesake and a new hero in the pantheon of guitar gods, Vivian Campbell. Campbell was just 21 when this album was recorded. Ronnie James Dio was 41. But age is nothing but a number, while classic metal like this is ageless.

Ozzy Osbourne, the obvious precedent for a solo career by an ex-Black Sabbath lead singer, was already on the decline when Dio ventured out on his own. The death of Randy Rhoads, of course, had a lot to do with that decline. Dio, Campbell, veteran bass player Jimmy Bain (ex-Rainbow) and Vinny Appice (ex-Black Sabbath) offered heavy metal fans new hope. Holy Diver and the albums that followed influenced a new generation of headbangers, from Anthrax to Guns N’ Roses. Dio’s songs were mystical, magical, melodic and, most of all, heavy metal at its finest.

Holy Diver is one of the best f*cking albums of all time…. That’s kind of the perfect record.” – Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, in a 2019 interview.

You’d be hard pressed to think of a better opening track that Stand Up and Shout. (Deep Purple’s “Speed King.” Okay, so it wasn’t that hard to think of.) The young guns, Appice and Campbell, come out with guns a-blazin’ while the old guys slog through the ranks of mediocre metal bands with their battle-sharpened skills. The next track, Holy Diver, begins with a hushed introduction before it explodes into more molten metal. The tiger reference in the lyrics is a little, er, unicorny (Survivor has pretty much ruined the image of the tiger for eternity), but the song totally rocks. Gypsy is another great track, with Dio singing at a lower register for a darker edge. “You got a choice / The hammer or the nail” is also an awesome line. Caught in the Middle is a good example of Dio’s melodic side, which I’ve always enjoyed. Ronnie James Dio was never afraid to mix light and dark; perhaps he was caught in the middle himself. The song also has a neat groove to it, something that seems to come up consistently on the songs where Appice receives a writing credit. Don’t Talk to Strangers, I song I used to like when I was younger, sounds merely okay these days, but that could just be me becoming jaded after four straight songs of unquestionably classic metal.

Straight Through the Heart is another track that probably wouldn’t come up in a conversation of Dio’s best, although Campbell’s performance is well worth hearing. Invisible is one of the album’s sleepers: the sort of song that a teenager could really relate to, with another great rhythm behind it. That sets up the stage for the album’s highlight, Rainbow in the Dark. Over a long career, this is the song I most identify with Ronnie. It’s hopeful, it’s heavy, it’s so good that even a cheesy 80s synthesizer couldn’t kill the beast. The album closes on an epic note with Shame on the Night. Forget about rock music, this song is a boulder.

The material on Holy Diver, written mostly by Dio and Bain, is remarkably solid and right in line with the new wave of heavy metal. The synergy and the energy is amazing; not surprising considering that Ronnie is a supernatural sparkplug and he had already developed a chemistry with Appice and Bain. What I didn’t expect from this album was the excellent engineering and production. You don’t usually think of heavy metal in terms of production value, yet Holy Diver is one of the best sounding albums from the early 80s. At least in my opinion, with the caveat that the first half of the 80s wasn’t the golden age of anything.

Holy Diver still turns up on a lot of “best metal album of all time” lists. Rolling Stone ranked it #16. I’ve seen it called the best metal album of 1983 (and wouldn’t disagree with that assessment). All by way of saying that if you have an ounce of metal in you and don’t own Holy Diver yet, you need to get kraken.

Original elpee version

A1. Stand Up and Shout (Ronnie James Dio/Jimmy Bain) (3:15)
A2. Holy Diver (Ronnie James Dio) (5:54)
A3. Gypsy (Ronnie James Dio/Vivian Campbell) (3:39)
A4. Caught in the Middle (Ronni James Dio/Vinny Appice/Vivian Campbell) (4:15)
A5. Don’t Talk to Strangers (Ronnie James Dio) (4:53)
B1. Straight Through the Heart (Ronnie James Dio/Jimmy Bain) (4:32)
B2. Invisible (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Vivian Campbell) (5:26)
B3. Rainbow in the Dark (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Jimmy Bain/Vivian Campbell) (4:15)
B4. Shame on the Night (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Jimmy Bain/Vivian Campbell) (5:20)

Bonus CD – Disc Two (2CD reissue)
B1. Evil Eyes
B2. Stand Up and Shout (live)
B3. Straight Through the Heart (live)
King Biscuit Flower Hour – 10/30/83
B4. Stand Up and Shout
B5. Shame on the Night
B6. Children of the Sea
B7. Holy Diver
B8. Rainbow in the Dark
B9. Man on the Silver Mountain

The Players

Vinny Appice (drums), Jimmy Bain (bass, keyboards), Vivian Campbell (guitar), Ronnie James Dio (vocals, keyboards). Produced by Ronnie James Dio; engineered by Angelo Arcuri.

The Pictures

Original concept by Wendy Dio. Original art rendering by Gene Hunter. Illustration by Randy Berrett. Art direction/design by Simon Levy/Jeri McManus.

The Product

Released on elpee and cassette on May 25, 1983 in the US (Warner Bros., 23836-1/4), the UK (Vertigo, VERS/VERSC 5), Australia, Brazil and the Netherlands (Mercury, 811 021-1), Canada (Warner Bros., 92 38361), Greece (Mercury, 811021-1), Japan (Mercury, 25PP-87) and Venezuela (Mercury, 90.034) with picture innersleeve; reached #56 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record) and #13 on the UK charts. Also released on cassette on March 24, 1984 in Korea (Mercury, 811 021-4).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1986 in Germany (Mercury, 811 021-2).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in Japan (Mercury, PPD 3070).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in March 1988 in the US (Warner Bros., 23836-2).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on November 5, 1996 in Japan (Mercury, PHCR-4127).
  5. Re-released with Carolina County Ball (Elf) in 1999 on 2-for-1 compact disc in Russia (Purple/CD-Maximum, CDM 0799-288).
  6. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 2002 in Japan (Vertigo, UICY-3727).
  7. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2005 in Europe (Mercury/Rock Candy, 9830994) with bonus Ronnie James Dio interview.
  8. Re-released on remastered picture disc elpee (Universal, 0600753265802) as part of Universal’s Back to Black
  9. Re-released on 24k remastered compact disc in 2012 in the US (Audio Fidelity, AFZ 136).
  10. Re-released on expanded 2CD in 2012 in Europe (Universal, 5337835) with bonus disc.

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