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Dio: Holy Diver - Album Of The Week Club review

A debut album to savour from Ronnie James Dio, and part of the singer's Triple Crown Of Metal

Dio - Holy Diver album art
(Image: © Vertigo)
Dio - Holy Diver

Dio - Holy Diver album art

(Image credit: Vertigo)

Stand Up And Shout
Holy Diver
Gypsy
Caught In The Middle
Don't Talk To Strangers
Straight Through The Heart
Invisible
Rainbow In The Dark
Shame on the Night

One of the classic heavy metal debuts, Holy Diver is a work of such bravura and bombast that Sounds magazine stated emphatically: “Ronnie James Dio has thundered back.” 

This was a new beginning for Ronnie, but his past was in evidence both in his choice of two former bandmates (ex Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, ex-Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice) and in the epic feel of the music. The little fella’s masterstroke was the acquisition of 19-year-old guitarist Vivian Campbell, the man who “put the fast in Belfast”, who gave the band a vital, contemporary edge. 

With its electrifying opener Stand Up And Shout, its spooky title track and the majestic Rainbow In The DarkHoly Diver was the album on which Dio, the man, was able to fully realise his own singular vision.

Holy Diver was released in May 1983. Its striking album cover was designed by Ronnie and Wendy Dio and illustrated by Randy Berrett. The image of a demon drowning a priest stirred up some minor controversy – something the band didn’t shy away from. 

“I seem to remember a little bit of, ‘Are you sure you wanna do this?’ from the record company," said Dio. "But the idea was to reverse the question of, ‘How come you’ve got a monster drowning a priest?’ We wanted to be able to say, ‘How do you know it’s not a priest drowning a monster?’ And I think that’s kind of been proven out in the last few years with all the problems we’ve had in the Catholic Church. In hindsight, I like to think we were right about who we put in the water.”

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Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in May 1983

  • Zig-Zag Walk - Foghat
  • Feast - The Creatures
  • Ring of Changes - Barclay James Harvest
  • Piece of Mind - Iron Maiden
  • You Bought It, You Name It - Joe Walsh
  • Crises - Mike Oldfield
  • Too Low for Zero - Elton John
  • Speaking in Tongues - Talking Heads
  • Back to Mystery City - Hanoi Rocks
  • Cool Kids - Kix
  • The Eleventh Hour - Magnum
  • Head First - Uriah Heep
  • The Net - Little River Band
  • Siogo - Blackfoot

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What they said...

"Dio went into the sessions with something to prove, and he left with one of metal’s holy grails, a classic of the same magnitude as Paranoid and The Number Of The Beast. His work with Rainbow and Sabbath was just as pivotal to the genre, but Holy Diver is his zenith – the most Dio album of all time. These are the songs that made Dio the avatar and patron saint of dorky metalheads everywhere. (Pitchfork)

"Aside from Ronnie's unquestionably stellar songwriting, Holy Diver's stunning quality and consistency owed much to his carefully chosen bandmates, including powerhouse drummer (and fellow Sabbath survivor) Vinny Appice, veteran bassist Jimmy Bain, and a phenomenal find in young Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell, whose tastefully pyrotechnic leads helped make this the definitive Dio lineup. So, too, is Holy Diver still the undisputed highlight of Dio's career, and, indeed, one of the finest pure heavy metal albums of the 1980s." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

"Lyrics like the title track’s “Beneath the velvet lies/ There’s a truth that’s hard as steel” make even the most accurate Tenacious D-style parody superfluous; they are metal self-parody par excellence, resplendent in their silliness. The fact that Dio belted these purple-prosed axioms in the voice of a goblin angel makes them even more remarkable: after decades of conditioning with Gen-X irony, the sheer earnestness of his delivery can’t help but feel a little bit miraculous." (Spectrum Culture (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Alex Hayes: Okay, now we're talking. We've hit the mother lode with this week's choice. One of the the finest, purest seams of classic rock goodness of all. A couple of weeks ago, there were a few comments made on here about 'greatest debut albums ever', and here we are with another contender.

When I say debut album there, I'm obviously referring to the actual band Dio, as Ronnie James Dio was already a well established figure in metal by 1983. I tend to split Ronnie's recorded output into three different categories, his good albums (Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, Sacred Heart, Dream Evil), his great albums (Mob Rules, The Last In Line), and that unimpeachable, essential trinity (Rising, Heaven And Hell and Holy Diver).

My favourite of that latter category will always be Rising, one of the finest hard rock albums of the 1970s. Holy Diver doesn't quite scale those lofty peaks. By normal, everyday standards though, this stands tall as an all-time rock/metal classic, and one that I can't recommend highly enough. Plus, what an initial line-up of musicians Ronnie managed to put together to help bring this music to life.

Vivian Campbell on guitar, Jimmy Bain on bass and Vinnie Appice on drums. In an age already blessed with an abundance of great bands, this first incarnation of Dio could easily hold its own with any of them. I'd even say it's comparable with it's nearest contemporary, Blizzard Of Ozz.

I was only nine in 1983, so can only imagine, but the contrast between Holy Diver and Black Sabbath's Born Again must have been very stark. There is still no contest between them when it comes to the old quality control. Holy Diver wins that bout emphatically. Total K.O. In the first round. With one arm tied behind its back.

Again, a little similar to a fortnight ago, I'm not sure what fresh perspective I can bring to tracks like Stand Up And Shout, Don't Talk To Strangers, Rainbow In The Dark and the title-track. I don't think I can. All I can do is suggest that any rock fans out there not familiar with Ronnie's body of work (Good God, do those people actually exist?) should pick up a copy of Holy Diver for themselves straight away. You'll never look back.

Just make sure you buy Rising first though. Holy Diver is marginally inferior. With that in mind, I'm only gonna award it a score of 10/10.

John Davidson: Dio's first solo album cemented him as the king of heavy metal sword and sorcery . If it's not quite as good as Rising or Heaven And Hell, then that's understandable as there are few artists out there with the songwriting chops of Iommi, Butler and Blackmore.

Dio is joined by a couple of familiar names in Jimmy Bain and Vinnie Appice and the relatively new boy Viv Campbell on guitar is a great find, but despite the distinctive voice the album doesn't quite have the presence of Dio's previous collaborations nor the wow factor that Ozzy found on his albums with Randy Rhoads.

Rainbow In The Dark and Holy Diver are rightly lauded as classics, but Invisible is the best 'album track' that most folks won't have heard too often. 8/10

Frank Copper: The first three Dio albums (Dio, Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain, Vinny Appice and Claude Schnell on Last In Line and Sacred Heart) are all classics. Imagine doing those three albums after three legendary albums with Rainbow and two with Sabbath. That's eight fantastic albums in the years 75-85. 

I think Dio being in three different bands kept things fresh, and after working with two of the best, guitar players and songwriters in rock, he worked with the young Campbell in his Dio project, who brought a very different sound, but just as good. The solos Campbell play on those albums are just amazing (wish he did something like that in Def Leppard). Holy Diver, what a solo debut!

Brian Carr: It boggles my mind a bit that in 1983, this was the first time I had heard of Ronnie James Dio. But I shouldn’t get too down on myself because I was only 10 or 11 years old at the time, still finding things new to me in my uncle’s record collection and, of course from MTV.

It was that vinyl collection that first brought Holy Diver to my consciousness. That cover! Honestly, I can’t even remember if I listened to the album (though I probably did), but I’m sure I saw the videos for Rainbow In The Dark and the title track. It couldn’t have taken too long to hook me, though, as I was definitely a fan with the following year’s classic The Last In Line.

Absolutely stellar metal. Ronnie James Dio is on my Mount Rushmore of metal singers (though I still can’t determine my fourth). What has always struck me with Dio was although the lyrical content and imagery were very metal and often dark, but the guy could write hooks. To me, Caught In The Middle is the prime example of this on Holy Diver. But none of the tracks here are duds.

Massive kudos go out to the amazing guitar work from Vivian Campbell (Ronnie’s Randy Rhoads?). The riffs, the leads - exceptional throughout.

Andrew Cumming: Classic album. Best Dio album (as in the band) and second best of his career? (Not as good as Heaven And Hell but better than Rainbow albums?)

Greg Schwepe: So, still trying to figure out how Holy Diver did not make its way to my turntable right when it was released. It was a good 25 years after its release that I bought it. And man, what had I been missing?

Freshman year of college and dorm friend had two albums that we played a lot. The live Rainbow album that featured Ronnie James Dio and Sabbath’s compilation album We Sold Our Souls For Rock and Roll ‘N Roll. Then one day on the radio I hear that the new lead singer for Black Sabbath “will be Ronnie James Dio, formerly of Rainbow…”. Heaven and Hell was released (got to see that tour and played the heck out of that album) and the Dio-era of Sabbath began. Devil horn salute here!

Back to what I was missing… a lot. A number of years ago I finally decided to purchase all things Dio (this was even before he passed away). All the Dio-era Rainbow albums, and most of the Dio catalogue; the good, the not so good, and a lot of live albums.

Hearing Holy Diver in its entirety for first time was a massive kick in the pants. I had a new “go to” metal album. Ronnie’s incredible vocals, the guitar of Vivian Campbell, Vinny Appice’s drums, and the bass of jimmy Bain. A little bit of Sabbath, Rainbow, with some Sweet Savage added to the mix.

Gypsy is probably my favourite song and I love the line “your choice…the hammer or the nail…” And that leads to Don’t Talk To Strangers, another fave from this debut. Which leads to the next great song, and it continues all the way through.

Not much more to say about this one. Great debut by a great vocalist. Wish I would’ve found it back in 1983!

Neil Benson: If Carlsberg made albums, Holy Diver, Heaven And Hell and Rising would definitely pass the taste test. Holy Diver were Dio at his absolute peak. There were good albums after this but nothing to match the golden trilogy that went before.

Mike Canoe: I have a copy of Stand Up And Shout: The Anthology which cherrypicks the best of Ronnie James Dio from Sabbath, Rainbow, his own band, even Elf. As the title of the anthology suggests, Dio's debut album looms large with five songs (more than half the album) represented. As such, I probably haven't listened to all of Holy Diver in, well, about 40 years.

While those five tracks (Stand Up and Shout, Holy Diver, Don't Talk to Strangers, Straight Through the Heart, and, of course, Rainbow In The Dark) always hit hard, I was drawn to the four songs with which I was less familiar.

Caught In The Middle is a chugging upbeat anthem that disguises the downbeat lyrics. It's no revelation to say Ronnie James Dio was a great singer but he absolutely soars here. It's also no revelation to say he was a great lyricist, but Invisible really shows how unique and gifted he was. I don't know of any other metal band that offered a remotely sympathetic portrait of a gay teenager in the eighties. Shame On The Night starts out with some howling wolves straight out of a B-horror picture but, again, the music and lyrics go deeper and darker making for a Sabbath-worthy closer. Gypsy, admittedly, hasn't grabbed me yet but that's just me.

Holy Diver was, of course, a band effort and it would be churlish not to mention how great Vivian Campbell, Vinny Appice, and secret weapon (to me anyway) Jimmy Bain worked with Dio both as musicians and songwriters. Like most lineups involving Ronnie James Dio, it didn't last long but they made one, arguably two, perfect metal records.

Uli Hassinger: Hell of an album. Ronnie managed to continue the run of outstanding albums he previously started with Rainbow and Black Sabbath. This album is equivalent and also an absolute rock classic.

Dio gathered fantastic musicians around him. Vivian Campbell and Vinny Appice are the instrumental counterpart to Dio's outstanding voice. They built a very strong line-up. Saw them many times live during 1984 and 1990. The starting line-up of Dio was the strongest on stage.

All the songs are killers. It's an excellent mixture between straight forward rockers (Stand Up And Shout, Straight Through The Heart) and more melodic tunes. My favourite songs are Don't Talk To Strangers, Shame On The Night and the mighty title track.

It's by far the best of his solo albums and a very influential album to me. After this album I started to explore Dio's earlier records back to the Elf stuff and became a huge fan. Because of him I even started to explore the early Black Sabbath albums, which are still amongst my most admired records.

Only a 10/10 will do it justice.

Elad Winberg: One of the greatest metal albums of all time. Every song is a classic, and Vivian Campbell's guitar playing is top notch

Adam McCann: Stone cold classic. Nothing more, Nothing less.

Neil Immerz: Damn good album. Stand up and shout is absolute gold.

Douglas Mackenzie: It's really cool, still stands up.

Adam Ranger: Its a bona fide 1980s heavy metal classic. Possibly Dio's finest moment, what all those years in Rainbow and Sabbath led up to. The band are tight and on form. Vivian Campbell plays a blinder (it a shame there seemed to be tensions about the band and the Dio name and who was in charge etc., but that does not detract from this album, or indeed the follow up The Last In Line).

Perhaps the lead track Stand Up And Shout bears a strong resemblance to Neon Knights in its opening and phrasing.. But that's not really a complaint.

Neil Wilson: The perfect follow up album to Mob Rules!

Wade Babineau: If things between Ronnie and Iommi/Butler had not disintegrated, this could have been the follow up to Mob Rules. Definitely some ideas here that could have worked well under the Sabbath banner. Be that as it may, we do get the classic Dio lineup of Appice, Campbell and Bain, and that counts for something. As many have stated, this is a metal classic with very little to complain about. Nice to see the deluxe reissue will include the live Fresno concert. I had the bootleg, and it's a corker of a gig. Rainbow In The Dark was used recently on the Thor - Love And Thunder soundtrack.

Daniele Purrone: It’s Dio’s best, and it’s really good, but in my book still not as good as Rising or Heaven And Hell

Great songs, a flashier style updated to the 80s, but a bit on the predictable side. I think Campbell was a good player, but nowhere near Blackmore’s and Iommi’s class (or in the same class as Ozzy’s guitar players, Randy in particular).

Philip Qvist: As 1983 started, the late, great Ronnie James Dio had already sung on five great albums with two different bands; and two of them, Rising and Heaven And Hell, were 10/10 perfect classics. With his new band, Dio, he was about to release his third 10/10 classic, Holy Diver - and, in my humble opinion, this was probably his best album.

Enough has been written about this record, and most of it is true; with Stand Out And Shout, Don't Talk To Strangers, the title track and Rainbow In The Dark being my standout tracks from a stellar playlist.

Great songwriting and musicianship from all four band members - and this was definitely a band effort; with guitarist Vivian Campbell my Man of the Match.

Any complaints about Holy Diver? Yes, the promo videos for Rainbow In The Dark and Holy Diver were dreadful. But that does not take anything away from a superb record; a hard rock masterpiece.

Phil Wise: Yes! What an album! Top 20 of all time in my opinion. Saw him in Heaven and Hell (Dio form of Black Sabbath) a few years before he died, and he brought the house down. Neon Knights for an encore - does life get any better than this?! Will look forward to giving this one a blast!

Joe Cogan: The third gem in Dio's Triple Crown Of Metal (joining Rainbow Rising and Sabbath's Heaven and Hell). A masterpiece from arguably the definitive metal vocalist, with Viv Campbell's guitar also standing out for special praise.

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Final score: 9.09 (202 votes cast, total score 1836)

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