Dio – The history and making of Holy Diver

Written by on June 18, 2020

“In ’83, ’84, ’85… We invented ourselves. We were a very special band with very special people. We liked ourselves a lot. We were making music that had no boundaries.”

  • Ronnie James Dio in 1994 about the first Dio lineup.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSKnMgXCe3o

Ronnie James Dio was many things for a lot of people. He was widely regarded as one of the greatest Metal vocalists of all time, one of the most creative lyricists of his generation and one of the definitive figures of the genre, even going as far as being considered as one of the founding fathers of what would later be known as Power Metal. By and large he was viewed as a good man, very respectful towards his fans and very stubborn when it came to arguing with his bandmates, regardless of the situation, but one thing that is mentioned a lot is that the man was brave enough to overcome difficulties and reinvent himself, with his first solo album, 1983’s masterpiece known as Holy Diver, being a prime example of that.

Whether it was with Rainbow, Black Sabbath or his solo band, Dio always knew how to add his own style to the music he was doing, but there’s something special and unique about that first lineup that he had; the combination of upstart guitarist Vivian Campbell, Ronnie’s good friend bassist Jimmy Bain and the brilliant drummer that was Vinny Appice, made this band sound really unique and each song was breathtaking in its own unique way. But that doesn’t mean this lineup was without drama–on the contrary, it could be argued that they were fueled by it.

In order to celebrate the life and career of one of Metal’s greatest artists in the 10th anniversary of his passing, I will talk about the making and history of one of the genre’s crowning achievements, Holy Diver.

The context.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddpyd9GQKgo

“The end. This was the end. I had nothing to do with the end of this particular project. We started doing this one together, but because this now became a war between Tony (Iommi) and myself, Geezer (Butler) of course sided with Tony and they thought Vinny (Appice) was on my side, for some reason. Because we were friends, he (Vinny) had to be out of the band too.”

  • Dio in 1994 about Black Sabbath’s Live Evil.

When Ronnie James Dio left Black Sabbath in 1982, it wasn’t a pretty breakup. Despite having enjoyed massive commercial and critical success with his two albums with the British juggernaut, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, the reality was that the making of the band’s first official live album, 1982’s Live Evil, was a very complicated experience due to the fact that the two camps within the group, one led by guitarist Tony Iommi and the other one by Dio, were constantly bickering regarding the mixing of the live album and eventually this led to the vocalist leaving the band and drummer Vinny Appice following suit.

By the summer of 1982, Dio was already thinking about his next steps and he was determined to take control of his own musical destiny after being casted aside by Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow and by Iommi in Sabbath. He already a deal with Warner Brothers for a solo album and the original idea, back when he was still at Sabbath, was to get a lot of his friends to record it, but once things went south with Geezer and Tony, he decided to form an established band. This is why one of his first decisions afterwards was to invite Appice to dinner and discussed the possibility of the latter joining his project.

“I said: ‘Yeah. Fuck yeah!’”, said Appice many years later. “I was just a kid, but Ronnie was a great leader. I looked at him as a brother. I loved Tony and Geezer too – they asked me to stay, but it was just a lot easier to go with Ronnie and start something new.”

The first sessions and rehearsals of what will eventually become Holy Diver were done with just Dio and Appice, with the former playing bass. Some of the riffs that were in the final product were created during this time, just like some of the lyrics and vocal lines, but there was obviously a desire to add a guitarist and a bassist to the lineup in order to improve what they were doing.

The guy that ended filling the bassist role was Dio’s former partner in Rainbow, Jimmy Bain, although Ronnie later claimed he called him to ask if he knew about any good guitar player. “Jimmy took it on himself to bring his bass and kind of made the assumption he was in too,” Dio said.

Bain had been playing with his own band since the late 70s, Wild Horses, and in 1983 was recording bass lines for the Scorpions’ Love at First Sting album, even though he was never credited in the latter. In fact, the time he was recording for the Dio project coincided with Rudolf Schenker’s offer to stay as a permanent member in the German band.

“Yes, they (the Scorpions) wanted me to stay and play full time with them,” Bain said in 2010. “But DIO was just starting at that time, and that’s where my loyalty was, so I thought it was great to be asked but… In fact, Ronnie was a little worried when I went off to do it that maybe that’s exactly what was gonna happen, that I was gonna go and stay with them, but I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it, Ronnie – I’ll be back.’ I was really excited about DIO, you know. I thought DIO was gonna be a great band, and it turned out to BE great and I wasn’t gonna leave.”

In fact, there was a period, between the recordings of Holy Diver and Love at First Sting in 1983, that both projects overlapped and the British bassist had to travel back and forward from the United States to Germany in order to fulfill his recording duties. Regardless, he committed to Dio and he was a brilliant musical force that gave the band a strong sense of stability from the early stages, which is something that he proved throughout his whole career in the many bands he played in.

Even more interesting than that was the search for the guitar player. Dio wanted a very specific type of guitarist for the sound he was looking for–after playing with the likes of Blackmore and Iommi, the Italian American vocalist had a very high standard of quality and wanted someone that could give the band an added value.

One of the first guitar players that were considered was future Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee, who was playing at the time in a LA Hard Rock band called Rough Cutt and Dio’s wife, Wendy, was managing said group. In fact, Dio produced two tracks for the band for 1982’s compilation album, L.A’s Hottest Unsigned Bands, called A Little Kindness and Used & Abused and Lee played guitar in both songs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAywlB6bZsY

Rough Cutt’s 1982 Used & Abused recording with Jake E. Lee on guitar and produced by Dio.

According to Wendy Rio, Lee didn’t make the cut because Ronnie wanted a more international approach to things, based on his experience with Rainbow and Black Sabbath. “He liked the way British musicians thought,” she said. “I think that’s why he wanted to have British players in the band.”

But the story doesn’t seem to end there. Based on Lee’s statements, he was part of Dio’s band for about a month or so before Bain joined the front and played with them in Ronnie’s garage, with the vocalist on bass.

“I was in Dio for about 4-6 weeks, Dio was the first big band that I was playing with and it was just fun because it was in his garage and Vinnie was set up with his drums and Ronnie was playing bass,” Lee said in 2018. “The most interesting thing was that Ronnie James Dio was not using a PA and we played loud and Ronnie would just sing without a mic, no PA; sing into the air and you could hear him belt those songs out. It was so impressive.”

He also claimed in that interview that he didn’t write any of the songs that were in the album, despite having rehearsed the title track during his time in the band, which also denies the rumors that he was the author of the main riff in the track Don’t Talk to Strangers. He also confirmed Wendy Dio’s statement in another interview about Ronnie wanting a more British-sounding guitarist.

“’Cause back then, and maybe to this day — I don’t know — heavy metal, you had the American version and you had the European version,” Lee said in another interview in 2018. “And the American version relied a lot on VAN HALEN; that was kind of the American metal sound. And I am more of that school — of Eddie Van Halen, Southern California. There was a bunch of us. And I was more of that. Maybe a little busier on my rhythm stuff than Dio would have liked. And I think that was the main reason.”

This of course led to Dio’s conversation with Jimmy Bain and the latter, who was based in the UK at the time due to his work with Wild Horses, had a better grasp of who was who in the British scene back in those days. One of the first names to be considered was future Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes, who was one of the hottest prospects in the Hard Rock scene at the time and even went as far as doing an audition for Dio.

Sykes at the time was playing for former Uriah Heep vocalist John Sloman’s project, Badlands (not to be confused with Jake E. Lee’s American band of the late 80s), and already failed at his audition to replace Randy Rhoads at Ozzy’s band. And while I will always be very curious to know how a Sykes-Dio album would have sounded like, Ronnie didn’t pick him as he had his sight on another young and hungry British guitar player, per Jimmy Bain’s request.

That’s how one of the most important figures in Dio’s career, for better and for worse, came to the scene: guitarist Vivian Campbell.

“We were doing Wild Horses in a recording studio in Dublin, and Sweet Savage was doing stuff in the morning so I introduced Ronnie to Vivian Campbell,” Jimmy Bain said about how Campbell joined Dio’s band. “Viv was interested despite doing the demos with Sweet Savage.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxaFv6wdcck

Sweet Savage’s Into the Night recording in 1981 with Vivian Campbell on guitar.

Campbell was from Northern Ireland and he had been playing with Sweet Savage, one of the latest bands of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, since he was a teenager and the band had enjoyed some positive receptions with a couple of singles like Take No Prisoners/Killing Time and opening for acts such as Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy and, of course, Jimmy Bain’s Wild Horses.

“I got a great vibe off the fans,” Bain said. “So I put his name forward. We arranged to meet at (London rehearsal studio) John Henry’s. The four of us got there, set up and played. It was just fucking magic.”

A monumental Gary Moore fan and a tremendously talented guitarist at an early age, Vivian Campbell could be viewed as a prodigy of sorts in the genre and Dio was blown away by his ability on the guitar from the beginning. Campbell’s personality and relationship with Dio has always been a hot topic among the fans and things would only escalate as they made more albums, but that never stopped neither of them to show admiration for the other’s work.

“We had a very strange relationship, but it really was like being in a band with your step parent, ’cause he was just about old enough to be my dad,” Vivian said about his time in Dio’s band. “And I had so much respect for him professionally. I was literally listening to (BLACK SABBATH’s) ‘Mob Rules’ and (RAINBOW’s) ‘Rainbow Rising’ and ‘Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll’, all that stuff, and then the phone rings, and it’s Dio. So it was bizarre; it really was.”

Bizarre or not, there was an instant chemistry among the four band members and the making of one of the best Metal albums of all time was certainly going to be legendary.

The album.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lvs2FzF64o

“Ronnie was a grafter. I found him intimidating. And no, I still don’t feel we got a fair shake of the stick when it came to the money or, later, the music. But he was a fantastic fucking singer and Holy Diver is still a fantastic fucking album. And I’m proud to say I helped make it with him. We all are.”

Dio didn’t like taking too long to record albums; he felt a short amount of time to make them would result in a much natural and organic sound. So in early 1983, now with Campbell in the band and the lineup fully established, they went to Sound City Studios in Van Nuys at Los Angeles, with the four band members moving to that city and with already two songs written when they entered the studio, which were the title track and Don’t Talk to Strangers.

Despite the fact that the original Dio lineup would become known for its great music and conflicts, there wasn’t much of the latter during the writing and recording process of Holy Diver–the band was fully motivated and determined to make a great album.

“We went in just having a good time,” Campbell said many years later. “We rehearsed in the Sound City complex and then right across the parking lot was the studio, so we’d write four or five songs, drag all the stuff over the parking lot to the studio, and then we’d record.”

The recording process was also divided in two very marked sections: Campbell, Appice and Bain would go into the studio in the afternoon and start jamming. No planning, no pre-established direction; just jamming and one of them coming up with a leading riff to kick start the new song. It was a process that relied a lot on instinct and creativity, which is one of the reasons that the first three Dio albums have such an organic and natural feel to it–they were written by the spur of the moment by four very talented musicians that had a knack to find the right rhythm or riff to make the song work. In that regard, Campbell in 2017 praised Vinny Appice’s talents as a drummer by stating that “When Vinny plays, even if I don’t have anything to bring to the party, we’d just jam something that would come up with an incredible idea for a song”.

Once they had a defined and structured idea, Dio would step in during the evening and offer his own take of what was working and what wasn’t in the song. A seasoned musician that had been playing, rehearsing and recording since the 60s, Ronnie had his fair share of knowledge in the industry and his solo band was the first time in years, perhaps since his Elf days in the early 70s, where he had a defined role as the group’s leader.

“He had a band when he was 10 years old,” his wife Wendy said in 2016. “He was a tough cookie. Ronnie might have been small, but he was always in control.”

It’s always important to point out Wendy Dio’s role in the band as she was the band’s manager and the closest person to Ronnie, which often led to her having a lot of influence on how things could go. This is something that Bain confirmed a while back, stating that Wendy had been trying to convince Ronnie to leave Ritchie Blackmore back when they were at Rainbow and go on his own, so when the time came to establish this new band, the lady had a lot of input in that regard.

This was by all means a professional band and that meant being treated as a business, which was something that was very clear for all the band members from the very beginning when they started recording. The other three band members have stated that the experience of making Holy Diver has been mostly positive and with a good feel, but that didn’t avoid some issues here and there.

“There was always a bit more tension in the room when Ronnie came to rehearsal,” Campbell said, looking back on the situation. “He was the boss. He’d bring the wages in every week and count it out for us in cash – then keep us rehearsing to the early hours of the morning, knowing we’d be in a hurry to go out to a club and spend it.”

Add to that equation the name of the band. Jimmy Bain was the more vocal about that because he thought that they were a team and not Dio’s backing band, which is how he felt regarding the group being named Dio. Wendy has argued throughout the years that it was Ronnie who landed the solo deal and the band was going to sell because of his name. Of course, that didn’t stop Bain from expressing his opinion in the only way the colorful Scotsman knew how: “I thought it was a shit name. I’d rather have been called The Carpets than Dio.”

“Jimmy has changed a lot since last year. I can tell you about it easily because I’ve known him for so long,” Dio said about Bain in 1984. “What happened to Jimmy is that during all these years (between Rainbow and Dio), the groups that he was in did not give him the freedom to speak. (…) From that moment he went like crazy, because he had discovered a new future. Between the time we met and when he returned from that tour, he found a rehearsal room, he had hired Vivian Campbell and had dealt with everything because he wanted out of the deepest part of himself that our group works.”

Bad name or not, the band was firing on all cylinders and it showed throughout the whole album, with a very notorious balance between all the instruments and a sound that was both organic and powerful. Dio was producing the album and despite the lack of a seasoned professional in the role, he proved to be capable enough to give Holy Diver a clean and yet strong sound, which helped a lot when they went to tour to play live.

Stand Up and Shout opens the album with a savage (no pun intended) riff from Viv Campbell and you already know that isn’t Sabbath or Rainbow; there is a more modern and straightforward approach in Dio’s early albums that fits very well with what was going on in 80s Heavy Metal at the time. It’s also worth pointing out that this song was one of the last ones to be recorded and done in quick fashion, with Bain taking the lead with that fast and mighty riff that has come to define this song so well, aided by the influence of one of Campbell’s biggest guitar heroes.

“That was a Jimmy riff,” Campbell said. “Although he and I go back and forth on this because it was similar to an old Sweet Savage thing. But that was stolen from a Gary Moore riff, so it was six degrees of separation.”

Complemented by Vinny Appice’s very musical approach to drumming, the song is also known for Dio’s phenomenal vocal delivery, as if he was proving to his former bandmates at Sabbath (and perhaps even to himself) that he still had it and that he could make it on his own. That’s why I always found a lot of power and emotional delivery from Ronnie’s end with this vocal performances–it’s so raw and straightforward. Add to that lyrics that prompt people to speak their minds and not put up with what is going on. “The opening song, Stand Up And Shout, was a negative statement of my own disenchantment, and I was projecting it out to anyone who’d listen,” Dio said many years later.

The next song was the iconic title track and a music video that has become synonymous with everything Dio stands for as a lyricist and perhaps even as a musician. It’s no secret that Ronnie had a lot of love for epic and fantastic stories, which was constantly shown in his lyrics, and in this case we had a music video that showed him fighting evil in an old castle dressed as a knight.

“Those influences come from the fact that I’m such a voracious reader, particularly of science fiction and fantasy,” Dio said in 1986 about the content of his lyrics. “What were dragons then can be nuclear bombs now. If you can escape for a while and clear your head, you can always go back and fight your demons. These lyrics are just my way of reminding people that life isn’t all that bad if you use your imagination.”

From its calm introduction to Campbell attacking with a brilliant guitar riff, the sheer rhythm of the Holy Diver shows how Heavy Metal doesn’t neglect that aspect of their musicianship. All four members have stated throughout the years how much of a joy it was to record this album and I can see that when listening to this song; despite being majorly structured before Campbell and Bain came into the fold, these two helped take the song to a whole new level and it flows in a very natural manner, like it was recorded in just one take.

Perhaps with more Hard Rock sensibilities, Gypsy is one of the less known tracks of the album, but also one of the most uplifting and where we could hear Dio moving away a bit from his comfort zone as a vocalist. I’m particularly drawn to Campbell’s guitar work in this song; for someone who was so young, there is a commanding feel in his guitar playing and it’s clear that Ronnie saw a star in the making. His guitar takes the center stage here and the solo is one of the finest in the entire album. It’s one of the most underrated songs in the album, which is a shame, but it’s one of those that show exactly why Dio hired an unknown young man from Northern Ireland to take such an important role.

Perhaps the least favorite song of yours truly of the whole album, Caught in the Middle is a very 80s song, especially with that main Campbell riff, which is not bad, but it certainly isn’t the most original track on Holy Diver. That didn’t matter to Dio, who was singing his heart out in each song and here you can hear him in his prime, singing in a very high register that doesn’t feel as such due to how his voice sounds.

“It was a great step to take because I was still under the blanket of Sabbath, so I had to overcome that firstly, but it didn’t take long because I was so happy with ‘Holy Diver’ that I wouldn’t have cared if it only sold two copies – both to my Mom! I think it’s the best all round album I’ve done and it’s certainly the happiest,” Dio said in 1983 and that is shown with his vocal performance in Caught in the Middle.

Vivian Campbell and Ronnie James Dio during the tour of Holy Diver.

Of course, one of the masterpieces of this album is Don’t Talk to Strangers. We slow the tempo for a calm introduction where Campbell adds melody and Dio adds feeling and beauty to his voice, which is a style we don’t usually hear from him. Then the track explodes, with Appice bombarding with such powerful drumming and Campbell complementing Dio in each vocal line with riffs and melodies to spread. And by the way, for those guitar players interested in these types of details, Vivian Campbell’s guitar was a wine red Les Paul Deluxe that he bought when he was 15, and a JCM800 amplifier.

It’s also interesting that this song, along with the title track, was one of the earliest compositions in the band’s history, like I have stated before. I repeat this because it has a lot of rhythm changes and you can tell in this case how it could have evolved from the days that Dio and Appice were jamming in the former’s garage to the recording process in Sound City Studios.

And talking about Vinny Appice, he can go a little bit under the radar in albums of this nature because he is not a flashy drummer; he relies on making the song work and it shows in the way he manages to complement the tracks every step of the way. Much like his older brother Carmine, Vinny always knew how to complement and back his bandmates, especially when it came to playing with Dio and that is shown in the fast-paced sections of Don’t Talk to Strangers, where his drumming teams up with Campbell and balancing the groove with Bain.

“If you listen to it (the album), I’m playing over vocal lines, I’m playing over everything, but it doesn’t sound like that,” Appice said in 2017. “I do things in weird places; I play fills in weird places. Like, if you listen to all these drummers, a lot of drummers play the same sequences; they’ll do a fill going into the next bit, whereas I’ll do a fill in the verse, in the second half of the bar, and I just hear it – I’m not doing it on purpose. It’s just the way I developed a style, I guess.”

Straight through the Heart is a very unique track due to the sheer groove that it has and how Campbell stops-starts with the main riff, with Dio almost playing around with his vocal performances–there is a certain charm to this song that I have always enjoyed. And that very groove comes from a song that Bain had saved from his Wild Horses days and you can tell the idea for the song was his with the emphasis on rhythm, with Campbell, Dio and Appice adding the final pieces to the puzzle and obviously enhancing it like great musicians do. This was one of those brilliant songs that could be genuinely viewed as a team effort.

The next song, Invisible, is an interesting one because it combines the slow beginning of Don’t Talk to Strangers with the intense groove of Straight through the Heart. I personally prefer Dio’s vocal performances in this song compared to the previous one and the chorus is a lot better, with Campbell and Appice constantly riffing and pounding respectively and that is when you find Holy Diver at its best. And even better than the song is how the band came up with the idea for the main riff.

“We had one of the riffs,” Appice said. “Then the next night we came in, we smoked a whole bunch of pot and our soundman put the tape in backwards. It started playing, and we all sat there laughing, going: ‘You asshole!’ But then we started saying: ‘Wait a minute, that sounds good!’ So we wound up learning the riff backwards. And that’s the other part of Invisible. It’s the riff forwards and the riffs backwards.

You can’t never fully understand or cover Holy Diver without the most famous song of the entire album and the most famous song of Dio’s entire catalog, Rainbow in the Dark. With a powerful main riff that Campbell took from a Sweet Savage song he wrote called Lady Marianne and Dio’s phenomenal pitch for melody, the band still felt there was something missing in the original version they made, but fortunately Bain would come up with the solution.

“But we played it (Rainbow in the Dark) for Ronnie, and he almost immediately started singing the melody on top of it,” Campbell said about the making of the song. “And then during one of the breaks Jimmy went over to this little Yamaha keyboard we had set up, and came up with the little keyboard motif and that was it, we had the fucking song written in ten minutes.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lm3acckxeXk

Wild Horses’ Criminal Tendencies was written by Bain and inspired the keyboards for Rainbow in the Dark.

It’s also worth pointing out that Bain took influence of a song he wrote for Wild Horses, Criminal Tendencies, for the keyboards parts of Rainbow in the Dark, only revamping them a bit for the latter. It worked like a charm; the song not only has strong Pop undertones, but it also shows the blend of American and British Metal music that Ronnie was striving for.

Another interesting fact is that Vivian Campbell’s guitar solo in the song was recorded in just the first take. “I never used to construct them at all until quite recently and the reason for that is because the very first solo I ever recorded with Dio was ‘Rainbow in the Dark’,” Campbell said in 2019. “The solo that’s on that track is the very first take.”

The iconic music video that accompanied this iconic song also has a history of its own, with both Campbell and Bain stating that only Dio was planned to show up in the video, but Bain got to the place where that video was being recorded after finishing his work with the Scorpions’ Love at First Sting in Germany and because he already didn’t like the perception of being viewed as Dio’s backup band, the Scotsman decided to do something about it.

“The only reason Jimmy and I appear in Rainbow In The Dark is because we gatecrashed the video,” says Campbell. “It was Jimmy’s idea. He was bent out of shape. We drove to where they were shooting in Soho, had a pint, then we walked around. The director goes: ‘Great! You guys should be in the video!’ So they sent out for some instruments. Needless to say, Ronnie wasn’t too chuffed, but we thought, fuck it. He didn’t say anything, he just gave us that look.”

Perhaps those were the first signs of discontent within the band, but Rainbow in the Dark, along with the memorable title track, became one of Dio’s first big solo hits and quickly established him as one of the most popular musicians in the early 80s as far as Metal goes.

In a very epic and dark manner, the album ends with Shame on the Night and here we can see that Ronnie didn’t forget his Sabbath past, adding a bit of that heaviness and almost Doom-based sound on the guitar. Campbell usually relied on upbeat and fast riffs during the entirety of the album, but here we hear him channeling his inner Iommi and I can say he does a phenomenal job, with Bain complementing with that pounding bass.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jjvablrfvs8

Shame on the Night live in Utrecht, Holland, in 1983.

Of course, Dio steals the show in this song. His delivery is dramatic, powerful and with a great sense of melody. Basically, Dio at his best. Despite Campbell’s phenomenal work here, I think Ronnie carries the song and shows just how great he is as a singer. He has been brilliant during the entire album, but this is my favorite vocal performance of his, where he seems to be showing all the rage and discomfort he felt after leaving Sabbath. It’s also one of the most underrated songs of his entire career and I think more people should pay more attention to it.

Another interesting part about Shame on the Night is the distorted vocals at the end of the song, which Vinny Appice finally explained in 2020 during his YouTube interview in Professor Rock’s channel:

“With Sabbath, everybody accused the band of putting backward shit in there (the songs),” Appice said. “Stuff like ‘Go kill yourself’ and ‘the devil is gonna come out’ and all that. Everybody kept bringing that up, so Ronnie said ‘Why don’t we put something backwards on Holy Diver and see what they say?’ and in the last song of the album, which is called Shame on the Night, all the sudden his voice comes out. And what Ronnie said is ‘Crucify the diver’, but we put it backwards. You can hear it. And nobody said fucking shit!”

The diver in question is of course the priest in the cover made by Randy Barrett, which has become the focus of controversy throughout the years. A lot of people have asked what Dio meant with that cover of the band’s mascot, Murray, drowning the holy priest and, of course, there were accusations of Devil worshipping and stuff like that, but there is a much more interesting reasoning from Ronnie’s end.

“I seem to remember a little bit of ‘Are you sure you wanna do this?’ from the record company,” Dio said many years after the album’s release. “But the idea was to reverse the question of ‘How come you’ve got a monster drowning a priest?’ We wanted to be able to say, ‘How do you know it’s not a priest drowning a monster?’ And I think that’s kind of been proven out in the last few years with all the problems we’ve had in the Catholic Church. In hindsight, I like to think we were right about who we put in the water.”

He also explained why he prefers illustrations in his album covers than band pictures, which was another trend in the 70s and 80s.

“I’ve always preferred illustrations, after Elf, most of the albums I’ve done have used illustrations. That’s because I think you should give people value for money, and I don’t think value for money is a picture of guys with puffed-up hair on an album cover. But I guess it depends on your ego.”

Regardless, Holy Diver proved to be a milestone in the careers of the four musicians responsible for this album and one of the greatest musical achievements in the greatest decade for Heavy Metal music.

Reception, touring and legacy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPRghdJF3rA

Rainbow in the Dark live in Utretch, Holland, in 1983.

“Holy Diver is one of the proudest things I’ve ever done. There were great songs and great playing, too.”

Holy Diver was released in May 25 of 1983 and by 1989 it had reached Platinum status, with over one million record sales all over the world. The album was 56th in the Billboard 200 chart of the United States and fared even better in the UK by being 13th in the album charts. Singles like Rainbow in the Dark and Holy Diver had a very respectable success across the globe, quickly establishing Dio’s band as one of the most exciting in the Heavy Metal scene.

The album was an instant success from the moment it was released and kick started a whole tour through 1983 where both Ronnie and Wendy Dio, who were actually living in a very humble place since they didn’t make that much money from the singer’s time at Rainbow and Black Sabbath, mortgaged their apartment in order to afford the big stage we see in the videos in that tour, including that amazing concert in Utrecht, Holland, where can hear and see the band in their prime.

“I’ll never forget it,” Campbell said about their first ever live concert in 3.000-capacity Convert Barn in Antioch, California. “Jimmy came over during Invisible and went to lean on me right as I turned away, and he fell off the stage. He didn’t miss a beat. He was down but not out.”

As an interesting fact, it was during this year where Dio recorded a new version of Rainbow in the Dark for a Budweiser commercial, with different lyrics and a few changes in the arrangement. It’s a nice throwback to a time where Heavy Metal music had a lot of commercial appeal:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVczOiOO3sg

This was Dio’s third time in the spotlight and this was also the beginning of a string of three albums that would establish him in arguably his commercial prime, with 1984’s Last in Line and 1985’s Sacred Heart being the follow-ups. It was also in 1983 where Dio would co-headline the Monsters of Rock Festival in Donington along with David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, who were also on the rise back in those days.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vkkKqoCdAM

Rainbow’s Man on the Silver Mountain by Dio live in Donington in 1983.

“That’s fair enough and I believe you could have a valid point,” Dio said in 1983 when asked if he was relying too much on songs from past bands during the show in Donington. “I disagree. You must understand that from my point of view, I’m trying to present not only Dio the band, but Dio the man. I know what people want to hear and I think we’ve balanced the material well.”

It was also during this tour that Dio hired keyboardist Claude Schnell, who Ronnie knew from Rought Cutt, Jake E. Lee’s band. Schnell would play keyboards during this tour as a hired gun, but he would then become a full-time member for the following albums. “Off the top of my head the first thing that comes to mind was the first time I found myself in the rehearsal studio with Vinny Appice playing drums, pretty much spoiling me for other drummers,” Schnell said in 2004 about the first thing that came to mind when remembering his years with Dio. “No words could accurately describe the volcanic eruption in the room once he started playing.”

Holy Diver is not only a hugely successful album and one of the best pieces of music in the history of the Metal genre, but also a reminder of what a band could be when every member does his absolute best. This album could be viewed as the best in each member’s career and it is definitely a benchmark for all of them, showing four musicians in their absolute prime.

Dio wanted this for so long. After being pushed aside by Rainbow and Sabbath, after playing second fiddle to Blackmore and Iommi, he finally had the freedom that he craved and achieved the level of musicianship he always wanted, accompanied by three of the most important musicians he ever had throughout his memorable career. You can’t fully understand Dio’s career without Vinny Appice, Jimmy Bain and Vivian Campbell.

Ronnie James Dio was many things for a lot of people, but above all he was a masterful musician and the living embodiment of constantly striving to make great art.

Dedicated to the memory of Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010, and Jimmy Bain, who did in 2016.


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