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Classic 80s heavy metal albums tend to be overrated beyond belief. I could list a ton of examples here (including many that’d put me on many metalhead’s death-lists) but I’ll refrain from that, you get the picture.
Overrated is a word that doesn’t quite fit to an album titled “Holy Diver”. It really does fill the shoes it’s usually placed in and therefore “Holy Diver” is a landmark in heavy metal history. Dio has just left Black Sabbath after the release of “Mob Rules” and gathered soon-to-be guitar legend Vivian Campbell, Rainbow-bassist Jimmy Bain and now also ex-Sabbath drummer Vinnie Appice around him to record a truly legendary album.
Both Jimmy Bain and Vinnie Appice deliver good performances on bass and drums, especially the latter does make “Holy Diver” quite a bit more technically demanding, compared to Sabbath’s output around that time. Vivian Campbell is an excellent guitarist and while he’d hit his peak on the next album, he already shows a lot of flashing talent on here.
The album kicks off with the fast rocker anthem “Stand up and Shout”. It’s almost speed-metal in execution and Dio’s aggressive delivery makes this one a winner. Not my favorite song on the album by a long shot, but it definitely has the right power to be the opening track.
Now of course I have to devote an entire paragraph to the hymn that is the title track. Many fans see this track as the highlight of Dio’s entire career and I can clearly understand why. The slow synth-intro is probably skip-worthy after the thousandth listen, but the great main riff that opens the track is what truly makes this one a stand out. It’s heavy and has balls the size of Jupiter. Of course, when Dio’s voice kicks in, the aforementioned balls don’t even fit into this galaxy anymore. Definitely one of the strongest songs he has ever done vocal-wise and the lyrics are in the same league. Dio has always been a great writer, but the lyrics on this album are almost out of this world. One thing that I have to point out though is the guitar solo, which could have been greater than it is. Don’t me wrong, it’s a good solo, but it doesn’t quite match the level of all other elements in this track.
Fortunately, the album doesn’t end here (some people seem to remember the title track, but nothing else). “Gypsy” is one of the lesser songs on the album, but it’s worthy nonetheless. It focuses more on a rather strange vocal performance (“I’m riiiiiding on the gypsy, the gypsy queeeeen”) by Dio instead of riffs and we all know that this is never a good sign in this genre (even in Dio’s case). Still, it’s quite catchy and I wouldn’t call this filler by a long shot.
After this, the album reaches its peak by having 3 total winners in a row. “Caught in the Middle”, “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Straight Through the Heart” are all awesome rockers (“Don’t Talk to Strangers” has an awesome ballad-esque part as well) with lots of riffs, great vocal lines and awesome solos all over the place. Especially the first two of the mentioned tracks are at least equal to the title track, contrary to popular opinion. To me, these three tracks are the core and the overall highlight of the album.
After that, the album does not reach that level of excellence again as “Invisible” and “Rainbow in the Dark” are a tad unspectacular (apart from Dio’s vocals, which do fire up the songs quite a bit) and the closer “Shame on the Night” does plods a little in the verses.
Overall though, “Holy Diver” is a classic heavy metal record and despite my few minor gripes, this is an essential listen for all fans of metal, hard rock or music in general. Heavy metal doesn’t get much better than this, and said album is definitely one of the best in Dio’s lengthy career.
Highlights: Holy Diver, Caught in the Middle, Don’t Talk to Strangers