Greetings, Glancers! Last time around I was treated to some Dio fronted 80s Black Sabbath and today we listen to probably the vocalist’s most heralded and famous work, Holy Diver. I used to listen to this quite a bit but I thought I would cover it again because it has been a long time since I’ve been through the whole thing.
‘Stand Up And Shout‘ blasts furiously out of the stereo and doesn’t let up. It has that early Maiden relentless charge, but Ronnie’s vocals blow Di’Anno out of the water. The band chooses to avoid that awful chorus chanting which so many bands employed at the time – any other band of the era would have had a host of voices singing ‘shout’ together, but that’s another reason why Dio stood out from the crowd – that added class and intelligence and subtlety. There is one moment of this later in the song but we can excuse it and it’s sandwiched between two brief but battering solos to soften the annoyance.
‘Holy Diver’ is one of the most famous title tracks in metal and a song every metal fan should have on their playlist. Possibly a precursor to prog metal thanks to the airy synth, atmospheric slow building, and assorted sound effects. You can tell Dio had a definite tone in mind when creating this – the move into verse is a little too abrupt but that’s just me. The slower pace might not work with a lesser vocalist but it allows him to wrap those vowels neatly and placing a desire on the listener to copy along. It takes a powerful song to make such an impact on the metal world when it is this slow – add to this the fact that the chorus is a non-event. The eye watering solo surely has something to do with it – a series of layered riffs and almost careless playing which moves both leisurely and frenetically. Lyrically, Dio has also been a step ahead of most other metal bands, adding to the mythology of the genre more than any other artist since Black Sababth emerged.
‘Gypsy‘ kicks off with a mini solo right off the bat and takes us in an AC/DC direction, a sordid tale of lust and ladies delivered with a raunchy roar. It’s a little silly but again Dio’s authenticity and vocals carry it through.
‘Caught In The Middle‘ has a lighter, positive feel – metal with hope and joy without cheapening itself by finding joy between a pair of tits. Not like that’s a bad thing either, but it’s such a cop out and a sign of an unimaginative band. Dio had an imagination and the tools to unleash that on us. It doesn’t manage to soar or truly stand out, but it’s quite lovely.
‘Don’t Talk To Strangers‘ has the requisite acoustic opening – we could do without the whisper, but elsewhere it’s a darkly skimmed intro and verse. Then it explodes into another pulsating series of chords while Dio lets his full theatrical side out. We get the most blistering solo of the album so far – it just keeps going – and leads to a suitably thumping climax.
‘Straight Through The Heart‘ is the song I’ve always found most catchy from this album. Those verse melodies, complete with growls and yearning howls are plain on the surface but have a knack of sticking in my brain. It’s not the most complex song in the world, it’s very drum prominent to the extent that the guitars almost take a back seat, but there’s something irresistible about the melody, even as I recognise their simplicity.
‘Invisible‘ has a lovely extended intro hinting at another moody near-ballad, nice use of harmonics before the synthetic vocals come in. Lighters up, in other words. This switches shortly after the minute mark, transforming into a thunderous stomper. The production shines again – everything is crisp and meaty and given equal space. The heavier portion of the song isn’t the most exciting, the riffs now feel generic though the scratchy solo is still suitably manic like it has been lifted from another song on another planet.
‘Rainbow In The Dark‘ is the first song which feels full 80s, thanks to some synth stuff in the intro accompanied by crunching guitars. Again Dio’s vocals lend credibility to it all and the verses soar from screech to hook. The chorus feels like a natural continuation of the verse and the solo is another encouraging call to all metal-heads to grab their nearest guitar and give it a crack.
‘Shame On The Night‘ starts with dog howls and a brief repeating riff before fading down to another very slow stomping rhythm. The song again isn’t the most interesting, but it’s Dio who gives it an invigorating quality. The bass and drum led verses are punctuated by more screeching harmonics and some of Ronnie’s finest wails. The intro riff returns, feeling like it drifted in from a different song entirely, and we close with a growing collection of mournful voices mimicking one final riff in disdain.
Although released just as heavy metal was exploding almost forty years ago, the album still backs a punch and sounds fresher than many released in the genre in later years. I think that comes down to the musical choices made and Dio’s vocals. The vocals never age and are eternally powerful while the musical choices are not hindered by the fashion and tropes of the genre which would soon become prevalent. Quite a few of the songs are of middling quality on their own – you feel as if they would not be as interesting if another singer was performing. It’s a sign of just how unique Ronnie was, but a reminder that he could have been even bigger with the right song to sing. Other bands of the era starting writing better songs yet lacked a truly great vocalist, while those who merged frontman talent with songwriting skill became huge. Nevertheless, this was a game-changing moment in metal, melding the NWOBHM attack with Dio’s penchant for lyricism and 70s songwriting. As such, and on the strength of the stellar handful of songs in the first half, this remains a must-have for any metal fan.
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Stand Up And Shout. Holy Diver. Caught In The Middle. Don’t Talk To Strangers.