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This album gets a whole lot of undeserved praise. From new fans to experienced metalheads, almost everybody seems to worship Holy Diver. The thing is, though, it’s not all that great. Despite a few great songs and the phenomenal Ronnie James Dio, the album tends to plod along in generic ‘80s fashion. Of course, you have to give the band credit for what they do manage to achieve on Dio’s solo debut, as these peaks are some of the greatest traditional-styled metal ever unleashed.
The band’s legendary frontman as well as its rock-solid musical foundation makes for potentially engrossing music. And things go well for a few songs, after which it becomes apparent that Dio’s solo band is no Black Sabbath. Great tracks like the opener and “Don’t Talk to Strangers” are somewhat castrated by the more average songs like “Invisible.” And let’s face it – there’s nothing more annoying than an obviously talented band playing average music. When the music delivers, it delivers HARD, and so there’s no excuse for the lack of continued quality.
Such monsters as the opening “Stand Up and Shout” revel in the great, memorable riffs complemented by excellent backing bass, invigorating lyrics, and a truly powerful Dio. This song, for example, benefits highly from the rough delivery Dio exudes, a sharp contrast to his melodic style shown on his first Sabbath offering. He screams, shouts, and rallies with passion and luster. An excellently toned bass backs up the song, giving it a firm platform for blazing guitars and vocals. The title track, as well, implants a heavy dose of headbang fever. The fantasy-influenced lyrics contained within have become a staple of Dio’s songwriting craft, and the truly classic main riff and powerful vocal melodies make for a well-rounded slab of metal mastery. Let’s also not forget the immortal “look out!” in the middle. Two other songs – “Gypsy” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers” also are top-notch, offering two different ends of the musical spectrum, that being a heavy, speed-addled rocker and a brooding, malevolent and eerie ballad, respectively.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album cannot hope to compare to the glory displayed on the aforementioned four songs. Some tracks, like “Caught in the Middle,” open well with interesting riffs, but later become unimaginative and plodding. Some songs even have little to no musical appeal, like “Shame On the Night,” an immediately boring piece of drivel with its light riff that just doesn’t convey any real power and its sing-over-bass predictability. Mostly, though, the album is just plain average. “Rainbow in the Dark” is all right despite its insipid synthesizer noodling in the beginning, but doesn’t really go anywhere and remains just one song in an album of mid-paced rockers. This medium tempo just adds to the feeling of boredom prevalent in a lot of the album.
Don’t get me wrong – when Dio and company get into it, the output really works. But songs with lacking conviction and power shroud those moments. As such, the album’s typically average quality is its biggest downfall. Dio really can do much better.