DIO - Holy Diver (1983) Jun 13, 2010 19:53:23 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Jun 13, 2010 19:53:23 GMT -5
When Ronnie James Dio left Black Sabbath late in 1982 no one could imagine what a landmark album he was about to release with his new band, DIO.
While there were certainly a lot of Black Sabbath fans (and some Rainbow fans) who were eager to hear the first, "Solo," album from Ronnie James Dio, there wasn't this sense that a groundbreaking album was in the making.
Which made Holy Diver all that much more impressive when it was first released on May 25, 1983.
Holy Diver was a landmark album. It set a new standard for Heavy Metal. Strong, strong melodies could be married to heavy riffs in a way that was catchier than had been done before. This was music not unlike what Dio had done with Black Sabbath, only catchier with stronger hooks and catchier riffs. Sabbath was darker and ever so slightly heavier, but Dio had a more commercially acceptable sound without sacrificing the heavy base of the music that the fans and the band both wanted.
Beyond the music, the audio production was spot-on. It was perfect. The guitars had crunch, but some depth and warmth as well. The bass was punchy, but also had warmth as well. The snare drum sound was just big enough to fit in the 80's, but real enough and snappy enough to not be dated more than a qarter century later. The mix was also absolutely perfect. The album had a crispness that wasn't harsh - it was a sound that has held up over the years far better than most albums released in the early 80's. Engineer Angelo Arcuri did the finest work of his career on Holy Diver, and he should be noted for that.
But the most important part of any album is the music. Just how good are the songs? That's the only question that really matters. On Holy Diver the songs are amazing.
The album explodes to a frantic start with, "Stand Up and Shout," a burst of pure adrenaline that amazes not only with it's infectious energy, but with it's fantastic sense of melody. It is something of a proto-Speed Metal song (not real speed metal, but something that helped lead to it), but it also has a great sense of tunefulness. (Is that even a real word? If not I just made it up.) There is a very strong vocal melody in the verse, and a chorus hook that is absolutely perfect for the song. The guitar riffs are also as catchy and tuneful as the vocal melodies. "Stand Up and Shout," is a flawless song, from the opening riff to the vocal melodies to Vivian Campbell's guitar solo to Vinnie Appice's flashy but rock solid drumming - it's all absolutely flawless.
Thank you, and goodnight!
Oh, wait. That's just the opening song!
As would often be the case on DIO albums the fast opening song would be followed up by a slower heavy song with a driving beat. In this case it's the title track, which is another of DIO's finest songs. Again we're talking about a perfect combination of great riffs, amazing vocal melodies (some of the best vocal melodies that Ronnie wrote in his entire career), and fantastic performances from the entire band. "Holy Diver," the song, is another landmark for the Heavy Metal genre. It raised the bar for songwriting and performance quality to a level that hasn't really been surpassed since.
So is it fair, then, to compare those two songs to one that is merely great in, "Gypsy?" "Gypsy," isn't quite as good as it's two predecessors, but where they are both 6's on a 5 scale, "Gypsy," is a solid 5. This mid tempo song features another great set of riffs and some more great vocal melodies. Vivian Campbell's music makes for the perfect foil for Dio's vocals, and this is the first song on the album that teams them up on the songwriting. "Gypsy," is one of those lost classics - a great song that was unfairly overshadowed by the two that came before it.
"Caught in the Middle," is the first song that is less than great. It's merely very, very good. When an album's weak links would be the highlight of most other albums in the same genre you know you've got a special kind of album. "Caught in the Middle," is a little more commercial than it's predecessors, but isn't wimpy in the least.
And if that is the album's, "Weak link," then for many, "Don't Talk to Strangers," is one of it's strong points. Starting with a moody, almost mellow intro with clean guitars (a combination of acoustic and undistorted electric), leading into a galloping heavy main riff that is near the Sabbath style from the Mob Rules album, but one that has a slightly different feel. Like, "Holy Diver," (the song), this one was written solely by Ronnie, showing the depth of his abilities as a musician (he played several instruments, including guitar, bass, keyboards, and trumpet, among others). "Don't Talk to Strangers," has a sense of dynamics that is among the strongest on the album. "Don't Talk," is a near-epic of a song that gave the album even greater depth than the previous four songs.
If, "Don't Talk to Strangers," was all about dynamics and depth, "Straight Through the Heart," is all about straightforward, pounding drums and riffs to match. This is one of those songs that almost sounds like the music was written to match the beat that the drummer was playing. It's very cohesive - all the parts fit together perfectly - and it again features mammoth riffs and vocal melodies. And, as should be noted (like every song on the album), it features a simply amazing vocal performance from Ronnie James Dio. Big and bold and twice as big as life, Ronnie's voice was majestic. Combining a smooth, almost operatic approach with just a bit of the Heavy Metal growl, Ronnie's vocals on the entire Holy Diver album set new standards - topping his work with Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Songs don't get much better than, "Straight Through the Heart," (if they come better than that at all), and Heavy Metal vocals don't come any better than Ronnie's on this song (or any song from Holy Diver, for that matter).
In fact, Ronnie again shows the depth and breadth of his vocal abilities with the soft, gentle, melodic intro to the next song, "Invisible." And from that beautiful intro the song explodes into pure rage. Dio growls as he sings about the kind of kids that he would champion with his involvement in the Children of the Night charity in this one, and he clearly feels empathy for abused and misused kids. Dio takes that rage and turns it into a set of melodies that is both rough and beautiful at the same time. There is a depth to this song that is simply world class. For those who just listen to the loud guitars and Ronnie's angry sounding vocal and don't hear the melody, they miss out on something special. This is a song for the ages on an album for the ages.
As if to offset the dark, angry tone of the previous song, "Rainbow in the Dark," is accessible and almost poppy. Almost. Pop has never, ever been this heavy, but the sense of catchy melodies and a chorus hook that almost defined the band gives this one an accessibility that few songs of this genre have ever had. It is a classic. It is one of DIO's signature songs, and with good reason. It is, again, a flawless song.
The album closes with one of it's darker offerings, "Shame on the Night." It is another slow-ish song with a good sense of dynamics. This one brings the band back to Dio's Black Sabbath sound, not too far removed from the classic title track to the first album he did with that band (Heaven and Hell). There are again some great vocal melodies to be found in this song, and some very good music. This is a great way to end the album, as there is almost a sense of theatricality to the song like the final act of a stage play.
Does a band know when they're making an absolute classic album? Most bands believe that any new album that they're making is really good - they wouldn't make it otherwise - but do they really know when they've captured lightning in a bottle?
DIO - the band and the man - captured lightning in a bottle on Holy Diver. It is one of the greatest straightforward, "Old School," Heavy Metal albums ever recorded.
It's a classic regardless of genre. It's greatness goes beyond genres and beyond musical styles. It is simply a great album.