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After the 1982 break up of Black Sabbath, the story of vocalist Ronnie James Dio took an interesting turn. Throughout his career in his two previous bands, he had been a collaborator with other musicians whom functioned more as leaders than he did. With the advent of Dio, he became something that he had been born for by virtue of his unique and unmistakeable voice, a leader of his own band. Calling in the services of fellow Black Sabbath veteran Vinnie Appice, fellow Rainbow veteran Jimmy Bain, and a guitar protege named Vivian Campbell, he set out to make music on his own terms.
Holy Diver is, in many ways, the continuation of Dio's evolution since his Rainbow/Sabbath days. His lyrics have remained steeped in complex metaphors and cryptic symbolism, and the music behind them carries the same guitar driven sound that defined the Sabbath years. The only weakness in this album musically is that Jimmy Bain's bass playing doesn't do more to make itself distinct amongst the other musicians and tends to fade into the mix.
The production on this album is good considering the time period, though musically it is radically different, it reminds me somewhat of the balance I heard on Metallica's Kill Em' All (though the drums have less reverb). Now let's have a look at the individual songs.
Stand Up and Shout (10/10) - A loud, raucus anthem for the heavy metal rebel that was alive and well in the early 80s. This high tempo rocker could be qualified as an early ancestor of the Power Metal genre that has been heavily prominent in Europe today.
Holy Diver (10/10) - This song bears a strong resemblence to the classic Sabbath track "Heaven and Hell", and lyrically the subject matter is in the same league, loaded with a barrage of metaphors which has since become standard for this band. The vocal delivery is at it's finest, and Vivian's guitar solo proves to be a bit flashier than that of Tony Iommi.
Gypsy (9/10) - This is a nice heavy track with a pretty striaght-forward lyrical subject, drawing an analogy to living on the wild side. Pretty memorable guitar riff, reminiscent a tiny bit of something that AC/DC would do.
Caught in the Middle (8/10) - Decent mid-tempo rocker, though a little bit on the predictable side. The lyrics are like the previous track, pretty much straight-forward in subject matter. This style of metal song would later be redone with a little more finness by Axel Rudi Pell on his 2004 album "Kings and Queens".
Don't Talk to Strangers (10/10) - Intro riff reminds me a bit of "Children of the Sea" off of the "Heaven and Hell" era of Sabbath. The lyrical subject matter deals mostly with philosophical concerns, primarily dealing with people whom use fear to convince people that they should not experience life to it's fullest. Great guitar work on this one as well.
Straight Through the Heart (10/10) - This is heavy rock the way it should be played, so catchy and obnoxiously awesome that it will kick your ass hard enough to knock your teeth out. Great main riff played by maestro Vivian Campbell, an intense vocal delivery by Ronnie, and superb support from the rhythm section. 3 cheers for the King of Rock and Roll!
Invisible (10/10) - This is the first example of what will become your standard Dio epic, a slow an easy going intro followed by 4 minutes or so of classic heavy rock in the Sabbath/Deep Purple vain. Lyrics pretty much deal with alienation of the individual by various psychological oppressors, all of whom imagine themselves able to disappear from their pain.
Rainbow in the Dark (10/10) - This is the classic mainstream Dio track that still recieves radio play to this day. The lyrics are mostly intended to glorify Ronnie's many avid fans, and also to make for an animated live show. Probably the best guitar solo on the album, and an instantly recognizable keyboard riff.
Shame on the Night (8/10) - Somewhat of a weak finish for this album, it's not a bad song, and the lyrics are a bit humorous, but it's just too darn slow and drags down the feel of the album. I would bump this one up a point if it were track 4 instead of the closer. Intro reminds me a little bit of the intro of Sabbath's "Fairies wear boots".
In Conclusion, a must have for all who can appreciate traditional heavy metal, and clearly required for the core Dio fan. If you were impressed by Master of the Moon or Killing the Dragon, give this 80s classic a spin.