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Not just a revamp but an improvement - 80%

kluseba, December 27th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2007, CD, Roadrunner Records

A cover song should always pay homage to the original performers yet give the track a new identity. Killswitch Engage managed to accomplish both elements. The band didn't only revamp a metal classic to use its own popularity a decade ago to introduce classic heavy metal to a new generation of metal fans but Killswitch Engage even managed to improve the original track by correcting its few minor flaws.

One thing that has always bothered me with the original song was the overlong atmospheric introduction leading towards the abrupt start of the track. This unnecessary overture has been cut down appropriately by Killswitch Engage and the transition between the opening sequence and the start of the main riff sounds much more coherent and smooth here.

Dio was one of the most skilled metal vocalists of all times without a doubt but he often overperformed his songs with lots of unintentionally amusing exclamations like"oh!", "uh!" and "yeah!" that have inspired the James Hetfields around the world. Killswitch Engage's Howard Jones uses this style in this cover version in small doses and it doesn't overstay its welcome. His performance is more to the point yet more varied. Ronnie James Dio was an excellent performer but always stuck to one specific style that he managed to make his own. Howard Jones might not be as skilled and unique but he is more versatile, nailing Dio's exaggerated exclamations as well as the song's melodic vocal lines and adding a few passionate restrained screams in the middle section that fit Killswitch Engage's regular metalcore style without contradicting the rest of the song.

The original song is obviously a classic but had a somewhat dry and smooth production and I always thought the instrumental passages were a little bit too slow and tame. Killswitch Engage plays the track with passion and speed. The crunchy guitar sound as well as the crystal clear guitar solo add new dynamics to the track and make it sound fresh and inspired. The rhythm section adds even more energy with a more versatile drum play. Only the bass guitar sounds more dynamic and present in the more rhythmic original version. The more restrained bass guitar might be this cover's only obvious flaw aside of the fact that original material is obviously always preferable over cover songs.

As if all these positive elements weren't enough, Killswitch Engage made an entertaining video clip for this song, recalling elements of Dio's original clip but with a bigger budget and a more interesting fantasy story that is truly intriguing to watch. This shows that Killswitch Engage really gave their cover version some thought instead of just trying to get attention.

In the end, Killswitch Engage didn't only manage to revamp a great classic heavy metal song but even succeeded in the challenging task of improving this charismatic track. Obviously, most contemporary metal bands receive a lot of criticism for paying homage to classics and this is also the case for Killswitch Engage's respectable effort. Some people even call this version a rape or a sin, proving that they are using words whose meanings they haven't fully understood which already discredits most naysayers right from the start. Obviously, everybody is entitled to accept or reject this version. Attention is however always a sort of compliment, even or maybe especially negative criticism. The reactions this cover version got show that "Holy Diver" is still a song that is incredibly important or even iconic in the metal scene and that Killswitch Engage have managed to inspire and touch people with their version in one way or another. As mentioned in the introduction, this was excatly what the band had been hoping for. Mission accomplished.