Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

The ties that bind and the great sea beyond. - 93%

hells_unicorn, February 22nd, 2006
Written based on this version: 1987, CD, Mercury Records

Nostalgia is an interesting beast, one that can make majestic mountains out of impressive (or occasionally unimpressive) hills, and can reveal certain detailing within the resulting horizon that has since become the subject of hindsight. The author of this review has himself shifted around a bit regarding the historical significance of several of his old favorite albums, not the least of which being the one that kicked off Ronnie James Dio's solo career, which has adorned his collection for more than 20 years. When asked about the very idea of being a solo artist, Ronnie was himself dismissive of it, asserting rather emphatically that he had always been a team player and one to give credit where credit is due concerning the musicians with whom he associated. While any prominent artist would be remiss to suggest that they alone should claim authorship over something that is a collaborative effort simply because the project bears his name, the modesty that Dio would display in this regard went a tad overboard and fails to really match the resulting output of Dio as a band.

Holy Diver is a continuation in many respects, one that builds off of the astounding musical accomplishments by RJD while working with Rainbow and Black Sabbath. This stands in direct contrast to where Sabbath itself went at the same time with Born Again, an album that could be likened to a musical compromise between the Ozzy years of Sabbath, emulating said icon's subsequent solo work, and Ian Gillian's involvement also providing an incidental element of Deep Purple's sound, which did bring out some of the more epic qualities of the two preceding, Dio fronted albums. In fact, Dio's 1983 debut leans a bit heavier in the direction of the fast, nimbler, and heavier character of British albums of the early 80s that paved the way for thrash metal, as can be observed by the riff happy and aggressive character of Vivian Campbell's guitar work, which is the most distinctive feature of this album save Ronnie's soaring yet gritty vocal display. Indeed, the massive similarities in Campbell's soloing approach and the character of the songs themselves suggest that the front man for which this band was named was likely micromanaging the efforts of each instrumentalist supporting him in order to retain the strong points of Dio's tenure with Sabbath, though Vivian's playing also shares some distinct commonalities with fellow Irish ax man Gary Moore.

The musical affinity noted previously is arguably at its most blatant here than was the case on all subsequent Dio efforts, but also provides a blueprint from which the more distinct aspects of this band's sound would later emerge. The fast paced, almost speed metal oriented nod to rebellion and individuality "Stand Up And Shout" is a bit grittier and faster than "Neon Knights" or "Turn Up The Night", but it carries the flashy lead gymnastics of the latter as well as the stop and start transitional character of the former. Likewise, the dreary ballad turned fast paced rocker "Don't Talk To Strangers" could be subtitled "Children Of The Sea" part two, though it cooks a bit more and has a more real world oriented lyrical message despite the heavy use of metaphors. It isn't much of a stretch to draw similar comparisons between the mid-paced anthem to human relations "Caught In The Middle" with the similarly rocking, catchy and often panned love song gone wrong "Walk Away" off the Heaven And Hell album, not to mention one that would serve as the archetype for Dio's more radio-friendly single material while still carrying more of a hard-edged demeanor. Perhaps the lone Sabbath-styled offering here that doesn't really resemble Dio's handiwork with said band is the closer "Shame On The Night", which has a bit more of a bluesy-rocking meets doom metal demeanor that is more in line with 70s Sabbath, and on a side note, is credited with inspiring a number of more epic doom outfits like Solitude Aeturnus.

Not to be tied down solely to the Sabbath years, Ronnie and company find themselves often emulating the exploits of his time in Rainbow, particularly on the more hard-rocking material found here. Crushing mid-paced anthems like "Gypsy", "Straight Through The Heart" and "Invisible" incorporate various aspects of Blackmore's riffing style as heard on the likes of "Man On The Silver Mountain" and "Long Live Rock And Roll" (two songs that would enjoy regular live play by Dio while touring during the 80s and 90s), though Vivian's more biting guitar tone gives it much more of a metal edge, and his noodling solos retain about as much of an Iommi character as they do on the rest of the songs on here. The latter of these three songs also presents a pretty blatant archetype of the more epic-tinged songwriting where a non-recurring atmospheric intro would be followed by a driving rocker, though "Invisible" proves to be more of a chunky, heavy-ended groove machine than a lofty nod to "Gates Of Babylon" or "Temple Of The King". Even though Vivian's playing proves quite versatile, he along with Ronnie's skyward vocalizations and Vinnie Appice's loose, fill-happy drumming style (very reminiscent of Bill Ward) even lean these songs in more of a Sabbath direction, whereas Jimmy Bain's bass work proves the biggest point of contrast, opting for something a bit more structured than Geezer Butler's traveling, almost improvised sounding bass work for something a tad raunchier but also a tad more disciplined.

As with any highly ambitious project, while the really interesting stuff tends to happen during the less radio-friendly moments, the most curious songs found on here are the ones that became both MTV and arena staples. The title song "Holy Diver" could be likened to an abridged reinterpretation of "Heaven And Hell", possessing the same sort of slow-paced galloping feel, but reversing the acoustic outro into a haunting keyboard intro and cutting out the jump in tempo. In essence, this is the same basic song, but featuring most of the emphasis on Dio's vocals and opting for a more standard structure. But ultimately the real point of curiosity here proves to be "Rainbow In The Dark", which is essentially the token Dio song that everybody knows and also arguably his only real foray into an 80s pop/rock song. RJD himself had stated that his exodus from Rainbow was largely due to Blackmore's desire to go in a more mainstream rock direction, and that this particular song came off as a little too close to that type of feel. Granted, due to Vivian's biting guitar sound and Bain's raunchy bass work, the song comes off as far heavier than anything that ended up on Difficult To Cure or Straight Between The Eyes, but if those things are taken out of the equation, it runs along fairly similar lines.

This album's status as a great album, nay, an iconic one, is not really a matter for debate. However, as with many first attempts, it does find itself being ever so slightly rough around the edges and a tinge out of focus. There isn't a single song on here that is found wanting, but as an entire album, it listens a bit more like a reworked compilation of RJD's past. Part of it is the fairly green status of Vivian Campbell, who attempts to throw everything but the kitchen sink at his prospective audience, and while making a good show of things, doesn't come off as disciplined and polished as the rest of the band. To a degree, it is understandable that this would be the go-to album for most metal fans as it is rawer and more aggressive than the rest of Dio's 80s output. Be this as it may, this band's greatest moments were always when staring off into distant magical horizons, and the sound that would be developed on The Last In Line and Dream Evil is where Dio truly came into its own as one of the best, if not the best heavy metal institutions of the 80s. Think of this as the opening chapter of an expansive fantasy novel, it breaks the ice and ropes the reader in, but ultimately doesn't represent the climactic point of the story.

(Rewritten on September 23rd, 2017)