By Adam Waldman
After recording three studio albums with Rainbow and two studio albums with Black Sabbath, legendary heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio set off on a solo career with the band Dio. I was already a tremendous RJD fan when Dio released Holy Diver (35 years ago today) on May 25, 1983.
There are only a handful of albums that I remember listening to in their entirety with friends. It’s an experience that is not likely to be replicated by the younger generation, but I digress.
Freshman year of high school was winding down when Holy Diver came out. I was over my friend’s house, and we blasted the album from the first track to the last. He was a heavy hitting drummer, so volume was no issue in his house.
Vivian Campbell blew me away right at the outset with a blistering riff on the album’s opening track, “Stand Up And Shout.” Campbell was the only member of the band that was new to me, but he quickly became one of my favorite guitarists. His work on the entire Holy Diver album is outstanding. Although he went on to have a successful career with Def Leppard (among others), in my opinion, he’s never shined nearly as brightly as he did with Dio.
Though “Rainbow In The Dark” is the song that virtually everyone in the MTV Generation knows, hard rock and heavy metal fans are well aware of the impact that the entire Holy Diver album made on the world. If you dig deeper, “Rainbow In The Dark” feels like more than just the single that everyone knows. In some ways, it seems like an homage to Dio’s past, which combined RJD’s previous bands (Rainbow and Black Sabbath), and members from each.
Dio brought drummer Vinny Appice with him from Black Sabbath, and bassist Jimmy Bain from his Rainbow days. Listening to the Holy Diver album, you’d swear that this powerful rhythm section had been playing together for years. However, their only connection was RJD.
The chemistry between the members of the band is on full display throughout the album. RJD played with a veritable who’s who of rock and metal throughout his career, but a case can be made that his finest moment came on Holy Diver because he was finally able to guide the entire process.
Perhaps the greatest example of the band’s chemistry is on the song “Straight Through The Heart.” It begins with Appice bringing the thunder with a ferocious drum intro that dovetails into an aggressive, piercing riff from Campbell. Dio’s signature passionate vocals have a sense of anguish that brings the lyrics to life. To the casual listener, Bain’s bass playing might get lost in the sheer intensity of the song, but it’s the foundation that he lays that allows for Appice to deliver drum fills that are anything but straight forward metal drumming.
Always powerful and drenched with adrenaline, Appice feels like he’s trying to drum “straight through your heart” with each crushing blow. Campbell’s guitars seem to cry out in pain, while Bain’s bass provides the heartbeat of the song, existing in the background like an actual heartbeat. It’s not just the driving wall of sound that highlights the chemistry of this four-piece unit. It’s the masterful way that they use hard breaks that leave you (momentarily) at the edge of your seat waiting for the next beat.
It’s common in prog rock to give each band member time to showcase their talents at various times during a song. Those songs tend to be longer and more overtly intricate. “Straight Through The Heart,” on the other hand, is like a four-and-a-half minute roller coaster ride that barely gives you a second to catch your breath.
From the familiar “Rainbow In The Dark,” to the iconic title track, to the bombastic “Straight Through The Heart,” and everything in between, Holy Diver is an album filled with one brilliant track after another. As the saying goes…“all killer, no filler.” Anyone who hits the skip button on this album is not a true Dio fan.
Dio continued to release new music for nearly three decades after debuting with Holy Diver. There were numerous lineup changes and incredible moments, but none that compare to the magic that was created on one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all-time.
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