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Heavy metal that has stood the test of time - 90%

kluseba, January 18th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2012, 2CD, Universal Music Group (Digipak, Slipcase, Deluxe edition, Remastered)

Ronnie James Dio's highly volatile early career finally found some stability when the critically acclaimed singer with the skilled theatrical vocals formed his solo band and released the iconic Holy Diver. The record has everything heavy metal stood for in the eighties and is rightfully considered a classic. The talented singer moved away from his early progressive rock soundscapes and doom metal stylistics to release an album focusing on consistent, fast and short anthems and slightly more elaborate mid-paced atmospheric tracks. The first category is best represented by vivid opener ''Stand Up and Shout'' that makes you want to do exactly this. The second type is exemplified by title track ''Holy Diver'' with its atmospheric introduction leading into a memorable anthem.

Everything is focused on Dio's expressive vocals that work very well overall, especially in the often overlooked hard rocking ''Caught in the Middle'' where he finds the right balance between control and emotion. However, Dio also has the tendency to put too much emotion into his vocals when he is loudly singing ''uh!'' and ''yeah!'' on multiple occasions instead of giving his excellent backing band the occasion to shine as in the overtly dramatic ''Straight Through the Heart''. It's obvious where singers like James Hetfield got their inspiration and while Dio's signature sound is quite unique, it gets somewhat repetitive and tiring after a while.

The backing band shouldn't be overlooked. Vinny Appice's drum play is powerful and precise as he always finds the right approach to slow songs down or speed them up with his versatile performance. Guitarist Vivian Campbell comes around with incredibly catchy riffs that aren't a far call from Tony Iommi's skills as in the excellent ''Holy Diver'' but he also lets himself loose in some emotional yet skilled solos as in the brilliant ''Don't Talk to Strangers''. Bass guitar is performed by Jimmy Bain and adds the typical stylistic galloping sound to the record that infuses an extra dose of energy. Along with Dio himself, he is also responsible for the keyboard sounds on this release. This instrument wasn't very common for heavy metal records back then but is perfectly employed in small doses on this release as one can witness in the eerie opening passage of ''Holy Diver'' and the uplifting melody of ''Rainbow in the Dark''. Keyboard sounds have rarely sound as perfectly integrated in heavy metal records as here. The sound by experienced producer George Marino is very organic and manages to make every instrument sound present.

Fillers are nowhere to be found on this record. It must be pointed out that along obvious classics like ''Stand Up and Shout'', ''Holy Diver'' and ''Rainbow in the Dark'', there are many forgotten pearls to be found on this release like the emotional epic ''Don't Talk to Strangers'' and the melodic yet hard rocking ''Caught in the Middle''. The only songs that might not be excellent are the quite short and overtly expressive ''Gypsy'' that ends on a lazy fade-out after just three minutes and the over-performed ''Straight Through the Heart''.

Dio's Holy Diver deserves its status as heavy metal classic and hasn't lost any of its charm thirty-five years later. This record has stood the test of time and still represents everything heavy metal stands for. Let's note that the nine tracks sound even better live which can be heard on the remastered deluxe edition that includes the excellent bonus song ''Evil Eyes'' that should have replaced ''Gypsy'' and numerous live tracks but missed the occasion to feature an entire concert recording. Still, if you don't own this album yet, go grab this deluxe edition and enjoy some solidly crafted heavy metal.