Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ is an Aggressive Album with 80s Production | Album Review

Now that I’ve finished my AC/DC album review series, it’s time to kick off the first five Dio album review series. If you haven’t seen my post on Dio’s 5 Classic Albums box set, I bought it in February 2021 after hearing Sea of Tranquility, a music youtube channel, talk about how good Holy Diver (1983) is. With that thought in my head, I decided to buy the first five albums box set on Amazon because it was a good deal ($18.75 for five albums, heck yes). We’re starting off with Holy Diver, and I know Butch from Sea of Tranquility really likes this album, so I have high hopes for this album, but we shall see if it suits my taste. Without further ado, let’s get on with the music!

First of the bat, I love the aggressive guitars on “Stand Up and Shout.” Ronnie James Dio’s powerful vocals are enough to get your fist pumping in the air. The title track has a haunting intro before the drums and guitars kick in about a minute and a half later. I love the driving main riff; it’s almost like a train chugging. Vivian Campbell delivers a tasteful guitar solo and he screeches some high notes in there. 

This album came out in 1983 and you can tell by the production. It sounds very 80s, not like the 70s Judas Priest or 70s Black Sabbath, it’s not necessarily happy, but the vibe of these songs, especially “Gypsy,” is less dark, and more fun and energetic. Dio’s voice gives these tunes an edge. “Caught in the Middle” has an aggressive riff, but it’s like a heavy metal dance song. It has a spiritual feel, especially with the pre-chorus: “You’ll feel it / You’ll feel it / You’ll feel the rush of it all.”

“Don’t Talk to Strangers” has a boring intro with the acoustic guitar and Dio almost whispering the lyrics, and then BAM!!! Dio starts screaming into another stratosphere one minute into the song and the guitar is turned up a notch. I love the chugging riff, I have a couple of complaints about “Don’t Talk to Strangers” though. First of all, I hate the song title for the same reason why I hate “Danger” by AC/DC, like what’s up with these rock acts trying to do public service announcements? Also, lyrically and musically, this is easily the most depressing song on the album. “Don’t smell the flowers / They’re an evil drug to make you lose your mind / Don’t dream of women / ‘Cause they’ll only bring you down.”

I was a bit disappointed with the chorus for “Straight Through the Heart” because with a title like that, I thought they’d do something more than repeat the title over and over again. I wasn’t jumping out of my seat for this song, but it was ok. “Invisible” starts off like a sappy ballad, but then the drums and heavy riff kick in, and Dio lets his anger out on wanting to be invisible. It is dark, but it’s a headbanger! I like that throughout these songs you can hear Campbell screeching on the guitar during the main riff. 

“Rainbow in the Dark” is my least favorite song on the album, which is interesting because it’s the most commercial out of the bunch and it’s a heavily-synth based song. I enjoyed the bass riff, but the title is lame. “Shame on the Night” gave more emphasis on the bass, and it sucks that it took the last track on the album to do so, but I guess late is better than never! Dio sings like the devil has taken over, especially when he sings “shame on the night.” He sings with power that’s not forceful, but it’s enough to make people go, “ok, this dude can sing!” I wouldn’t have preferred a mid-tempo song to close off the album, but slowing things down provided closure, so “Shame on the Night” did its purpose.

Overall, I wouldn’t skip any of these tracks, though I will cringe on “Rainbow in the Dark” because of those synthesizers. Like I said before, you can tell this album is from the 80s because of the production and it has a lighter tone, compared to say Dehumanizer (1992). It’s still an aggressive record with Dio’s distinct vocals, Vinny Appice’s sledgehammer drums, Campbell’s tasteful guitar playing, and I’ll even give credit for Jimmy Bain’s bass playing for “Shame on the Night.” I have bad ears for bass players, I’m sorry people! The title track was the first song I listened to before buying the album, so at least now I can say that’s not the best song on the album. I wouldn’t say Holy Diver is a perfect album, but I’ll give it 4.5 out 5 stars. 

Let me know in the comments below what your favorite song is from Holy Diver!

Take care and see ya real soon!

Lana

25 thoughts on “Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ is an Aggressive Album with 80s Production | Album Review

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    1. Oh yeah for sure! I don’t want to be a music lover that only listens to the same three bands over and over again, so it’s good I’m expanding my interests. I still wish it came with a small booklet with some liner notes, but considering the fact that I’m not a huge Dio fan, I’m fine with this set.

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      1. You bring up a good point how the cost goes down if the book isn’t included. And it did save me some bucks! Though, I still like the booklets for fun because I grew up reading the booklets while listening to the CDs.

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      2. Oh absolutely. And LPs are even better for that, larger, more tactile, more intimate. But sometimes you’ve just gotta get those sounds in your ears, and lower cost helps out a lot.

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      3. Yeah the LPs are good for collecting. But those cheap box sets are cool too because they’re a good way to get into a band without being totally commited yet to spend a whole lot of money on them. The box sets are good for those that just want to listen to the music, like you said.

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  1. I actually listened to this album start to finish for the first time in years a week or so ago. Great songs, the production doesn’t let it down. Can’t say the latter about the next three.

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  2. You can’t go wrong with the first three Dio albums. Holy Diver is epic the whole album. Dio/Appice/Bain and Campbell especially lifts off. Vivian is a monster on this album. Ronnie struck gold getting him in the band.

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  3. Rainbow in the Dark is my wife’s favourite! But she doesn’t really know her Dio like I do.

    Good one, Lana. I like this album a lot, but as Deke said you can’t go wrong on the first three. Last week Marco mentioned that Dio just slowed down over the years, and he is right. This is not the slow side of Dio. Egypt has that vibe, but this album more or less rocks!

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    1. Oh “Rainbow in the Dark” is your wife’s favorite? I’m sorry, I feel bad now.

      I guess the vibe is that the first three Dio albums are execellent. I guess I better brace myself for the last two in the box set. Hey what about ‘Strange Highways’? I heard that was a pretty heavy record.

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  4. This is my favourite Dio album and you did a great job. All of the songs are classics to me, even “Rainbow in the Dark.” I think the synths are done smartly on the song but I have heard it played with out and it sounds just as good. While I can’t fault any tracks, the title track is the best and “Invisible” the hidden gem.

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  5. The synth in “Rainbow in the Dark” is part of the charm, IMHO! Dates the album perfectly! When they added that synth, they thought it was badass. I wouldn’t want them to change it. This is the only Dio album I have done a deep dive on so I look forward to reading what you have to say about the rest.

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