Album Review: Dio – Holy Diver (1983)

The Ronnie James Dio era Black Sabbath ended in acrimony due partly to disagreements regarding the mixing of the “Live Evil” album. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler accused Dio and drummer Vinnie Appice of sneaking into the studio to increase the volume on their respective contributions. Something which was later denied by all parties with the blame for the misunderatanding being given to a ‘tale-telling engineer’. The finished version of “Live Evil” didn’t help matters either with neither happy at the resulting album or the artwork and layout.  Dio’s own opinion being “I refuse to listen to Live Evil because there are too many problems. If you look at the credits, the vocals and drums are listed off to the side. Open up the album and see how many pictures there are of Tony, and how many there are of me and Vinny”. Dio was also unhappy at being credited as simply Ronnie Dio, a name he hadn’t used since 1967, whilst Appice was angry at being listed as a special guest rather than as a member of the band. 

These were not the only issues Dio had at the time though as he was becoming increasingly annoyed about his lack of input into band decisions and felt he was being squeezed out by Iommi and more particularly Butler. He later said, “When it comes time for the vocal, nobody tells me what to do. Nobody! Because they’re not as good as me, so I do what I want to do.” By late 1982 had Dio had realised that he now had a name which carried some weight in the rock world and he was quite possibly tired of being treated like a hired hand. After four years under the controlling hand of Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow, and three in Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio felt the time was right to fly over the rainbow under his own stewardship.

In October 1982 Dio and Appice left Black Sabbath and set about forming a new band. At the time Dio was keen to get the point across that the project was a band and not a solo project despite it bearing his name. This was something that wasn’t uncommon at the time so it never caused anyone any consternation. Dio isn’t actually Dio’s given birth name as he was born Ronald James Padavona but changed his stage name to Dio in reference to the Italian mobster Johnny Dio in the early sixties. Given the fact that Dio is the Italian word for God it is also pretty ironic that Dio the band chose to have a demonic character they christened Murray as a recurring mascot on the early album covers.

Soon after leaving Sabbath, Dio hired former Rainbow cohort Jimmy Bain as the bands bass player. Since departing Rainbow, Bain had fronted his own band Wild Horses with ex Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson and had worked with several well known artists in a session capacity. When Dio came a calling he was completing work on “The Dreaming” by Kate Bush. Although he was not given any opportunity to write during his time in Rainbow Bain was a talented composer and he and Dio quickly came up with the best part of an albums worth of material. The guitar duties during these initial sessions were handled by Jake E Lee and he was expected to become the bands guitarist. However, following the death of Randy Rhoads, Lee was offered the guitarists position in Ozzy Osbourne’s band and decide to accept. This led to a worldwide search for a suitable guitarist around Christmas time in 1982 which resulted in the surprise hiring of little known Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell from the band Sweet Savage. I actually saw Sweet Savage perform live during 1982 and it was clear to many then that he was destined for a bigger stage so his appointment wasn’t a surprise to all. With the line up complete Dio the band went into Sound City Studios in Los Angeles and laid down what many believe to be the best album to bear the Dio moniker.

The album kicks off in true hard hitting style with the blistering ‘Stand Up and Shout’. Almost a blueprint for future Dio openers it is lightningly quick with an anthemic almost tribal beat and melody. Campbell is clearly not phased by following such luminaries as Blackmore and Iommi and delivers a high octane solo which sets the precedent for many more such examples on the rest of the album. The title track is next and after an extended intro which would not have been out of place on a Rainbow album simply stomps out of the speakers with a menacing strut and totally envelopes your being. It is a classic example of Dio’s ability to blend melody with heaviness and power without one being detrimental to the other. ‘Gypsy’ is the shortest track on the album but could quite easily be the heaviest. Written by Dio and Campbell it was one of the last tracks to be written and has a few similarities to the Black Sabbath track ‘Lady Evil’. Once again Campbell delivers a fast paced solo which in style is not unlike Iommi. If ‘Gypsy’ conjures up images of Sabbath then ‘Caught in The Middle’ is straight from “Long Live Rock n Roll” era Rainbow with its almost operatic vocal hook. The first half of the album ends with the atmospheric ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ which starts with a melodious vocal over an acoustic introduction before it explodes into full blown menace. Structure wise it has a similar feel to ‘Die Young’ or ‘Children of the Sea’ from Dio’s first Black Sabbath album “Heaven and Hell”.

The second half of the album opens with ‘Straight Through The Heart’. A thundering riff and a ridiculously infectious melody for such a heavy track it is close to heavy metal commercial perfection. Campbell’s solo work towards the end of the song is second to none and Dio’s vocal and melody are as ever straight from the top drawer. Despite this the following ‘Invisible’ may just be the highlight of the whole album. It certainly is for me. It could almost be lifted straight from the “Rainbow Rising” sessions with its Rainbow like intro, signature Bain bass line and classic Dio vocal. Appice’s drumming is nearly as hard hitting as Cozy Powell’s and although Campbell is always more Iommi than Blackmore his guitar parts are still in keeping with the Rainbow feel. The lyric possibly holds a hidden meaning and gives a little insight into Dio’s feelings about the way he was treated by his former bands, ” ….. you’ll never touch me, never feel me, never see me again because I’ve just become unseen ….”. The most well known song from the album ‘Rainbow in The Dark’ is next up and features another trademark Dio singalong melody and a great keyboard riff.  The keyboard parts were actually played by Bain and Dio as future keyboard man Claude Schnell was not brought in until they began touring. A song which has become synonomous with Dio it is interesting to note that after recording it Dio himself wanted it scrapped as he felt it sounded too light and poppy. The rest of the band persauded him that it was worthy of inclusion and the rest as they say is history. Once again the lyrics may point to his dis-satisfaction with the way he departed his previous bands. The final track ‘Shame On The Night’ is another riffing strut which would not have been out of place on one of Dio’s Sabbath albums and features some great bass playing from Bain. Despite this it is still probably the weakest song on the album.

“Holy Diver” perfectly blends the sound and feel of Ronnie James Dio’s albums with Rainbow and Black Sabbath whilst still creating a new different sound which is now as recognisably Dio the band as it is Dio the man. With the release of this album Ronnie James Dio was no longer the singer that used to be in Rainbow or the bloke that replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. With this album Dio the legend was truly born. “Holy Diver”is a part of the trilogy of albums along with “Rainbow Rising” and Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” that are the pinnacle of Ronnie James Dio’s recording career and whatever anyone thought of that tell tale engineer back in 1982 we now have a lot to thank him for.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM June 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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