30 Years Ago: Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ Released
By May of 1983, the man baptized Ronald James Padavona had already accumulated an incomparable musical CV including passages through numerous obscure ‘60s Doo Wop groups, ‘70s blues-rockers Elf, castle-metal kings Rainbow, and heavy metal originators Black Sabbath; but now, finally, at the ripe age of 41, Ronnie James Dio was finally ready for his close-up.
Just as soon as the singer’s quarrelsome departure from Sabbath became official, Ronnie was free at last to shape his own career path, confident in the knowledge that, after years of playing second fiddle to domineering guitar legends like Iommi and Blackmore, his own name commanded more than respect to stand up on its own and carry his new endeavor: named simply, Dio.
And so, taking everything he’d learned over the years about complex band politics and scouting for talented musicians from across the globe, RJD efficiently recruited seasoned Scottish-born bassist Jimmy Bain (Rainbow, Wild Horses) and relative unknown Irish guitar prodigy Vivian Campbell (Sweet Savage) to join him and fellow American-bred, Sabbath exile Vinnie Appice to craft the celebrated songs that would comprise Dio’s debut ‘Holy Diver.’
And, whether exhorting fans directly via the adrenalin-charged head-banger, ‘Stand Up and Shout,’ or speaking in riddles throughout much of the album’s timeless, doom-laden title track, Dio and co. proved themselves masters over the gamut of the heavy metal lexicon; a mastery showcased repeatedly by chart-worthy commercial hard rockers (‘Gypsy,’ ‘Caught in the Middle,’ ‘Straight through the Heart’) and darker, fantasy-infused album cuts (‘Don’t Talk to Strangers,’ ‘Invisible,’ ‘Shame on the Night’) alike.
Also, via the irresistible synthesizer hook of ‘Rainbow in the Dark,’ Dio scored their first genuine anthem – tying Ronnie’s peculiar, career-long fascination with “water droplets that reflect light in many colors” to his intended, youthful heavy metal audience’s universal feelings of loneliness and alienation.
All that said, though, ‘Holy Diver’ was no commercial home run blast for Ronnie James Dio and his fledgling solo career.
Yes, the LP was heartily embraced by the specialized metal press and thousands of discerning fans of Dio’s prior exploits around the world, but in America, ‘Holy Diver’ stalled just outside the Top 50 albums (peaking at No. 56, to be exact) and traveled on a long road to Gold certification 18 months later.
Five years later, ‘Holy Diver’ would finally be certified Platinum in America, and while Dio, the band’s, career was itself in frank decline by then, Ronnie James Dio’s legacy was unquestionably secure as one of heavy metal’s greatest vocalists.
And, thirty years later, ‘Holy Diver’ still stands the test of time as possibly Ronnie’s finest hour, and surely one of the top metal albums of all time.