Review by Tymell for Dio - Holy Diver (1983)
Ronnie James Dio was already suitably well regarded by this point. He'd been vocalist for Rainbow in the late 70s, then managed the unenviable job of filling Ozzy Osbourne's shoes in Black Sabbath for a few years at the start of the 80s. With these already impressive credentials under his belt, Dio (along with Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice, who left along with Dio in 1982) formed a new project under his own name, and Holy Diver was the debut album. It's regarded as an all-time metal classic, and rightly so.
While Sabbath's sound did take on a lighter sound in Ronnie's time there, Holy Diver still hews a little closer to Rainbow in style, pulling off that same fantastical tone of adventure and wonder. This time though, it's tempered with a firmer hard rocking core, making for a sound of its own that manages to be every bit as good in its own way.
There's a vibrancy, a raw energy, a mighty vitality here that perfectly meshes with Dio's glorious delivery, possibly more so than any work previous has managed to do. Here at last is something where it all truly comes together, the perfect sound for Ronnie to front and orchestrate, and the end product can stir the soul like little else of the time.
Much like Rainbow's Rising, the sheer consistency here is startling, as just about every track is a damn winner. We've got mighty rockers like "Don't Talk to Strangers" and "Stand Up and Shout", grand adventures in "Rainbow in the Dark", and plain old fun in the crazy catchy "Caught in the Middle" or "Straight Through the Heart". "Invisible" is a true anthem for the outcasts and the neglected, that you're never truly alone, while the title track takes a relatively simple core and turns it into a metal classic for the ages. Honestly, the only weaker track is "Gypsy", and even then it's not truly bad, it's just notably not at the same level as all the rest.
Heavy metal was still in its early years in 1983, and yet here Dio and friends are mastering the damn craft. Later albums might push things to new levels in speed, heaviness or complexity, but Holy Diver remains the gold standard to this day in creating effective and memorable heavy metal.
Choice cuts: Stand Up and Shout, Holy Diver, Invisible, Don't Talk to Strangers, Rainbow in the Dark