Album Review – Dio – Holy Diver

April 8, 2015 — Leave a comment

Dio – Holy Diver (1983)

“The only time I’ve ever seen Ronnie afraid,” remarked drummer Vinnie Appice in a recent interview, “was when he had just left Black Sabbath after all the work he did there, to strike out on his own.”

It seems odd, doesn’t it? “Afraid” is one of the last words one could use to describe the legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio–especially if his singing is any proof.

When I was auditioning for a college a capella group, I needed a song that would display my range to the group, as well as exude the confidence that would overpower any nervousness. Fitting that I chose the title track from this album to sing by myself, unaccompanied, in front of 25 people, none of whom even knew who Dio was. But I managed to do the song justice, even without that wonderful guitar riff to establish tempo.

And they were impressed enough to take me, so there’s that.

1. Stand Up and Shout
2. Holy Diver
3. Gypsy
4. Caught In the Middle
5. Don’t Talk to Strangers
6. Straight Through the Heart
7. Invisible
8. Rainbow In the Dark
9. Invisible

Dio already had a pretty solid career before the band that bore his name hit it big. He had already sung for Rainbow and Black Sabbath, two of the top hard rock/metal bands in the world. Millions of fans loved his “sing 110% or don’t sing at all” approach, and his storytelling made use of both a ferocious snarl and a serene tenor. Two songs on Holy Diver, “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Invisible,” have a perfect balance between these two sides of Dio’s voice.

Of course, the full experience of Holy Diver is not just about Ronnie’s vocals. The other instruments have the formidable task of matching him and finding a good space to do that in between his lines. This they pull off, with aplomb. Drummer Vinny Appice kicks off each verse of “Invisible” with flair; “Rainbow In the Dark” is notable for its lone synth hook and fantastic, overdriven guitar solo by Vivian Campbell.

They’re all perfectly at home playing major-key, radio-friendly pop (“Caught In the Middle”), or slow sinister blues (“Shame On the Night”). The entire package glows with medieval atmosphere.

Hearing these nine anthems in order, I picture the band playing in the ruins of an abandoned monastery (like in the “Holy Diver” video) as daylight progresses. You start in full sunlight at full speed with “Stand Up and Shout.” “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is the cloudy, late afternoon; “Invisible” is the blood-orange sunset, and “Shame On the Night” is the pitch-black midnight finale.

On Top 10 heavy metal lists everywhere, Holy Diver (both album and song) is a near-constant presence. It may not be the high point of Ronnie’s ENTIRE career (for my money, that’s Heaven and Hell), but it is surely his finest with Dio. After years of playing in “Ritchie Blackmore’s band” and “Ozzy Osbourne’s band,” at long last Dio had a band, and a record, that could indisputably be called his.

Ronnie James Dio (RIP)
Jimmy Bain
Vinnie Appice
Vivian Campbell

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