DIO – Holy Diver (2012 Universal deluxe edition, originally 1983)
Ronnie James Dio often said that the best Dio album was the first. Fans will always have their own favourites, but there is no denying that Ronnie was right about Holy Diver being a special album. Dio had always had a knack for rallying talented people around him. Just look at that lineup: Ronnie and Vinny Appice had recently fled Black Sabbath. Jimmy Bain had worked with Dio in Blackmore’s Rainbow, an integral part of that band’s lineup in the Rainbow Rising period. On guitar – Vivian Campbell, from little known New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Sweet Savage. A shredder he was, able to compete with the hot flashy players of the 80’s.
Very few people do speedy metal songs better than Ronnie James Dio. “Stand Up and Shout” is the prototype of such Dio songs. Youthful and rebellious, “Stand Up and Shout” was exactly what fans in 1983 were craving. The band got to show off their chops a bit, with Vinny Appice leading the way via a hell of a drum performance. Then it’s Vivian’s turn to shine on one of the speediest solos laid to tape. “You are the strongest chain and not just some reflection,” sings Ronnie, inspiring the masses with his positive message of self-belief.
For the first four albums, Dio always put the title track second. If this holds some special meaning, I do not know. “Holy Diver”, with its ominous opening, still remains upon the lofty peak of the best songs Ronnie has ever written. The riff, written solely by Ronnie, is iconic. Perhaps it is not recognized on the level of immortal riffs such as “Whole Lotta Love”, but among metal fans, it is held in high regard. “Holy Diver” is the shiniest jewel in the crown, a massive track that just has everything. Bain and Appice formed a tight rhythm section with the exact right amount of heft. The song is flawless…shiny diamonds indeed.
Like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue, something is coming for you.
“Gypsy” is a knockout. Ronnie belting in full voice with a solid mid-tempo song behind him is always a pleasure. This is Vivian’s first writing credit on a Dio album. The guitar solo could use some focus, but I think the directive here was “just shred”. One of Dio’s most pop moments (in terms of melody only) is “Caught in the Middle”, one of his catchiest, most concise and direct songs. Even Vivian sticks to point on the solo. But “Caught in the Middle” is soon eclipsed by an even more exciting song: “Don’t Talk to Strangers”. The acoustic fake-out intro is a trick Dio pulled again later on “The Last in Line”, but when the song really starts, it’s friggin’ frantic. It’s like the wind. These guys had so much energy, it is remarkable. “Straight Through the Heart” has balls to it, it’s a groovy tune. I loved Halestorm’s cover of it immensely. I think they really caught and emphasized what is great about the song. Lzzy Hale is one of very few people who can do Dio justice vocally.
The slow intro to “Invisible” reminds me of a 1987-era Whitesnake ballad. This is another trick! It stops and abruptly turns into another Dio stomper of high quality. There is very little letup on this Dio album. The momentum is maintained by the stunning single “Rainbow in the Dark”. That’s Ronnie on keyboards, by the way. I have a story about this song.
Our local rock station, 107.5 Dave Rocks, has a 3:00 contest called the Tedious Tiresome Trivia in the Tri-Cities, or the TTT in the TC. What makes it so tedious and tiresome are the callers. Craig seems to attract the…how should I say this? The most “interesting” callers. The most notorious of these is “Bore-linda” who has a legion of haters who can’t stand her perky tone. (She’s actually a very nice lady in real life.) Craig Fee would receive emails from annoyed listeners saying, “Hang up on Bore-linda! Play some Dio!” So that’s exactly what Craig did, and he chose “Rainbow in the Dark” as the song. And Bore-linda calls in a lot. And Craig hangs up a lot. For a while, “Rainbow in the Dark” was played almost daily between 3 and 4 o’clock. And you know what? It never got tiring. Every single time it came on was a fist-pumper.
Holy Diver deserves a dramatic ending, and that would be “Shame on the Night”. Copying the template of a song like Sabbath’s “Lonely is the Word”, it occupies the same kind of slow-paced dark metal space. Vivian’s guitar intro is very cool, but the song just pounds.
The bonus CD is chock full of Dio goodness. Deluxe editions should always present a complete set of B-sides. This has the three from this era, including the studio cut “Evil Eyes”. This excellent, cruisin’ tune was re-recorded for The Last in Line, and the B-side version has remained obscure until now. Vivian has a lot of different solos on this version, and they are all cool. Then, essential cuts “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” are both live B-sides, every bit as electrifying as the originals. They are simply more raw, probably a little faster, and there is nothing more powerful than Ronnie James Dio’s voice live in the raw.
The balance of the disc is fleshed out by six live songs recorded for radio by the King Biscuit Flower Hour. They sound excellent, thanks to King Biscuit. You get “Stand Up and Shout” a second time, but the rest of the live songs are not repeats. In the mix are some Sabbath (“Children of the Sea”) and some Rainbow (“Man on the Silver Mountain/Starstruck”). Of the two, “Children of the Sea” fares better from the Dio band’s interpretation. To be fair, I think Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore both have so much personality, that it is daunting to cover them no matter who you are. I think Vivian’s style works less well on the Rainbow song than it does with Sabbath’s material. The rest of the songs (“Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark”, “Shame on the Night”) are all quality Dio tracks. Although the market is now inundated with live Dio packages, it is still a delight to have these early recordings on CD.
I needn’t divulge that this deluxe edition is loaded with cool liner notes and pictures. You have come to expect that from a good deluxe edition. And Holy Diver is quite good indeed.