Holy Diver


Warner Brothers Records, 1983


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When I was a teenager growing up in the Chicagoland area, the traditional rite of passage for males was discovering the only heavy metal radio station in the area. When I first heard the metal show after discarding my previous favorite radio station (I called it "B-Ninety-sucks"), I fell in love with the intensity of the music that I heard pounding out of my cheap plastic stereo. (I also didn't know the show was on a bartered-airtime station; imagine my surprise when I turned it on the next morning and heard a foreign language program!)

One of the artists I discovered at this time was Ronnie James Dio. His first album fronting his self-named band, 1983's Holy Diver, featured some incredible music that got my adrenalin pumping. The guitar work of then-unknown Vivian Campbell (who later staked his claim to fame with Def Leppard), the bass thumping of Jimmy Bain, and the drumwork extraordinaire of Vinny Appice - all wrapped around Dio's ominous-sounding vocals - was a touch of evil that a clean-cut product of Catholic high school needed.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even now, 15 years after this album came out, it stands out as a solid album for its time - possibly even ahead of its time, in some ways. And while there are some signs of aging on this album, it remains a high-water mark of Dio's career.

The songs that got airplay that we young, hormone-driven adolescents thought was significant have held their worth well over the years. "Rainbow In The Dark" has become a song that has defined Dio's career, and also highlighted the fact he was an early member of Rainbow in the mid-'70s. Likewise, the title track still sounds like a Texas stomp through a garden of idealism; it has a dark feeling to it, though it leaves you feeling good in the end. Somehow, Dio's music has always seemed to be able to do this.

The one thing I do notice after the passing of over a decade is Appice's drumming. While he remains one of rock's most underappreciated drummers, his rhythmic beats (especially heard in choruses) is a tad simplistic, relying on quarter-note beats a little too much. It leaves me feeling like I'm occasionally listening to a metronome.

And I'd be lying if I said that I like every track on Holy Diver. "Gypsy" has never been a favorite of mine - it always seemed a little corny to be following "Holy Diver" - and "Caught In The Middle" almost seems like a nod toward trying to get radio play; it's the most commercial-sounding track on the album. (I also would have preferred a little more bass in the mix; Dio's production has always seemed to be a little treble-heavy.)

But the unheralded classic on this album is "Don't Talk To Strangers," a song that is well-known among Dio's fans. This one track merges the light and dark streaks of Dio and his music into a song that should have been a hit. Building from a simple acoustic guitar line from Campbell into a softer approach from the whole band (an idea that lasts only a few precious seconds)before kicking into the power riffs.

Campbell's presence on this band is not lost on me; he truly was an incredibly hot talent at the time, and one whose light just didn't seem to burn bright enough with this band. It does surprise me that he would leave the band after one more album; he did seem to be the best fit with Dio.

Holy Diver is still an album that was a defining moment for heavy metal's dominance in the mid- to late-'80s. And while there are a few moments I could live without, there are still many moments that are incredible - even 15 years after it was released.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.