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Old 09-25-2011, 09:37 AM   #293 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Holy diver --- Dio --- 1983 (Vertigo)


Rarely does it happen that an artiste's debut album is their best, but this is widely accepted to be the case in this instance. Although, technically, this was not the first album for band leader and founder Ronnie James Dio, who had worked with Black Sabbath and Rainbow before, it was his first solo effort, or more correctly, the first album released with his own band. “Holy diver” is an impressive debut, and there's really very little, if anything, bad to say about it.

It's pure metal and rock all the way, from the headbanging opener “Stand up and shout”, with guitarist Vivian Campbell making a name for himself, Ronnie's distinctive voice grinding out the vocals with the enthusiasm and delight of a man who has finally achieved his lifelong dream. The lyric reflects this: ”You've got desire, so let it out/ You 've got the power/ Stand up and shout!” The first of many excellent solos from Campbell and thunderous drumming from veteran sticksman Vinnie Appice just pull this song along at a breakneck rate, and even though things slow down for the title track, it's in no way a ballad (there are none on this album) --- it's a slow, epic cruncher that starts off with keyboard and sounds of wind and thunder, an introduction that almost treads on prog rock territory before Campbell's insistent guitar dispels any such notions, and the track gets going.

Definitely one of the standout (among several) tracks on the album, “Holy diver” closest resembles Ozzy-era Sabbath, but very much updated from Sabs' somewhat doomy and plodding approach. The young guitarist keeps it fresh, while RJD's vocals are clear, sincere and powerful. This sort of beat, the aforementioned cruncher, would become something of a trademark for many of Dio's future songs, probably honed during his time with Sabbath.

Back up to fifth gear then for “Gypsy”, with a big yell from Ronnie and a powerful, stomping metal song replete with heavy guitar and some nice keys. Ronnie really stretches his voice on this one, mostly roaring the vocal, and things don't slow down for “Caught in the middle”, another fast rocker, but the real standout track comes with “Don't talk to strangers.” Built on a whispered intro and a jangly guitar line, it soon takes off and heads off into the stratosphere, courtesy of Appice and Campbell. Excellent track!

“Straight through the heart” is a great mid-paced rocker, with a terrific solo from Campbell, while “Invisible” is similar in pace, with an expansive guitar opening and a faux-balladic start before it takes off. Jimmy Bain's keyboards finally come properly to the fore when “Rainbow in the dark” kicks in, and it's another of the standout tracks. Much gentle fun has been poked at RJD over his seeming fascination with rainbows --- they crop up a lot in his lyrics, in addition to his being vocalist on the “Rainbow rising” album and also writing a song called “Catch the rainbow” for Rainbow. And here he is again, singing about rainbows. But it's a fantastic track, a real power metal song, with banks of keyboards carrying the sound while Vivian Campbell manages to stamp his own authority on the song with one hell of a solo.

After the majesty of “Rainbow in the dark”, the album closer feels like something of a footnote. It's no slight on the track, but “Shame on the night” just doesn't come close to the quality of the track that preceded it. It's a slowburner, starting off with the sound of wolves howling, then Campbell's bluesy guitar intro which turns into some heavy licks, and the song gets going in earnest, a real cruncher with a lovely little bassline from Bain.

I personally feel that Ronnie James Dio lost his way about four albums into his solo career, and with the exception of one or two, his last few albums did not impress me, and in fact one or two really disappointed me. This however is from his golden age, and for the next few years he could really do no wrong. “Holy diver” will always stand as the perfect Dio album: even its follow-up, “The last in line”, though almost as good, had one or two bad tracks on it, and as the albums went on they tended to have more sub-par tracks than good. But this is how I would prefer to remember the late Ronnie James Dio: slaying all before him with power metal in a class all of his own.

TRACKLISTING

1. Stand up and shout
2. Holy diver
3. Gypsy
4. Caught in the middle
5. Don't talk to strangers
6. Straight through the heart
7. Invisible
8. Rainbow in the dark
9. Shame on the night

Suggested further listening: “The last in line”, “Sacred heart”, “Killing the dragon”, “Magica”. Also Rainbow's “Rainbow rising” and “Long live rock and roll”, and Black Sabbath's “Heaven and Hell”.
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