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When the word spread about Dio planning a solo project, anxiety aroused. The fans expected it to be just another solo record, filled with songs that did never fit the artist's original band. And so they got Holy Diver. Somehow the album was a meltdown of Ronnie's musical experiences in Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Elf, Elves and whatever his early band was called, spiced with some evolution. Instead of yet another let-down this year just after Judas Priest's and Black Sabbath's golden days, just before Iron Maiden's ditto, we got an album crashing down into our inner, most secrets circles of metal followers, smashing, destroying and wiping away whatever standards there had been before. Holy Diver was like the Flood, in its musically purest and most concentrated form. It literally slayed every album preceding it and wins over more or less every metal albums released afterwards. No band, not Dio, not Maiden, not Priest, has produced an equally great - or better heavy metal album - so far. They probably won't either.
Holy Diver was recorded back in the day when one still had to take special measures because of the constraints of the LP format. One always puts the best songs on side A. While both sides are pretty damn flawless, A sure is the best side. That's where the title song is. As you all know, or should all know, it starts with a mystic, atmospheric intro like a weak wind blowing in a mist, then comes keyboards bringing a dramatic touch, sound effects somewhat like whales' communication - and then what's most probably the best song ever kicks in.
Like most of the Holy Diver songs, Holy Diver itself is a classic. Even after all these albums, all these years it's the only song played at every gig. Let me try telling you why. This is the recording on which Dio does his best effort ever, sounds better than ever before and ever after. There's some serious passion, the man gives it all. But most important is the fact that this is most probably the point where his vocal cords were at their best.
And then the guitars. While Craig Goldy never was a bad guitarist, he never was as good as Vivian Campbell. Especially when Vivian Campbell does his very best as he did on Holy Diver. Then Mr. G has a lesser chance than that of a snowball in hell, seeing he might play the stuff but song writing and throwing together riffs never were his strong cards. Oh yeah, riffs. Holy Diver is almost like a thrash record, coming to that respect. There are loads and loads with great, competent and varied riffs in here. Wobbling, hardrockish, fast, and circular - the man does it all.
The guitars are what many metalheads of today would call melodic, just because they aren't as overly downtuned as death metal guitars. But I assure you; no crunch doesn’t exactly equal no good. Because this is good. Campbell never resorts to the easy ways, no power chords in here. At simplest he's tapping the melody or plays a slower riff. And then there are solos too. It's cool how they combine keyboard chords with the high guitar tones at times. Oh yes, the organic guitar sound of the eighties leaves nowadays' production models standing in the corner.
Jimmy Bain does the bass, and who'll complain? He's clearly audible, all time, and do most of the rhythmic work, especially in the two stompier tracks Gypsy and Invisible.
Vinny Appice, the drummer, is the last man aboard. Steady, no echoes, no double bass, instead something I love: A varied sound, having a big set, using different drums in nice rhythmical patterns, never louder than the guitars. The cooperation of drums and guitars is amazing. At times the guitars seem like flowing, levitating and dancing upon the power of the drums. This is especially true on the last of the three real classics' Holy Diver, Don't Talk to Strangers and Rainbow in the Dark.
Keyboards are played by Ronnie himself, just accompanying the general sound, providing intros and effects at a few places, not like quite a few bands nowadays having more or less stationary synths (cough Iron Maiden cough Rhapsody cough) or more or less rely on them (cough Children of Bodom cough Bal-Sagoth cough).
Anyone with heavy metal in his veins shouldn't have to read this (or other) reviews. He should already have the record in a prominent place, preferably an extra stereo so that he never removes it from the record player. Holy Diver is one of the few real essential albums.