No matter how grim, humorless, and super-cereal you are about metal, you just can’t hate Dio‘s Holy Diver. The 1983 album encapsulates everything rad about heavy music, from its big swingin’ riffs to its elaborate lyrics about velvet, stone, tigers and battles. And while fans who have never squeezed into a pair of skintight jeans might not immediately understand the appeal, one spin of this disc will have them headbanging along in no time.
To celebrate the 38th anniversary of this metal benchmark, we decided to rank the nine tracks on Holy Diver in order of greatness. Here’s where the lightning strikes…
“Invisible” certainly isn’t a bad track, and includes some excellent Dio vocal work (what Dio song doesn’t?). But even in its big, riffy middle, the song smacks of cheesy ‘80s ballad pressure, as though RJD felt he needed to include an accessible love song somewhere on the record. That said, a lyric like, “In the palace of the virgin lies the chalice of the soul” sounds like a metaphysical mantra for every teen metal dude who can’t get laid. We love it.
8. “Shame On the Night”
You gotta love Dio trying to be sexy. “Shame On the Night” goes the ‘80s metal route of taking a thematic metaphor too far, in that Dio just keeps shaming the night, over and over (Alice Cooper’s “House of Fire” has similar issues — we get it, Coop, you’re in a fucking house). But the song has really powerful, heavy guitar work at its core, and involves some immortal Dio wails and snarls. Plus, an entire song about how pissed off Dio is at the night for making him horny is kind of awesome. Ridiculous at times, but if that bothers you, this whole album might be a problem.
A rollicking old-school metal track, “Gypsy” definitely has a cringe-y moment or two (hell, even the title is no longer PC, though “Romani” doesn’t sound quite as cool). That said, the road-metal riffs here are fucking awesome, and Dio’s lyrics are exceptional on this one (most notably the line, “When I heard a voice saying you got a choice/The hammer or the nail” — whatever that means, it RULES). Definitely one of the more ‘80s-ed out tracks on the record.
6. “Straight Through the Heart”
“Straight Through The Heart” is the kind of song that probably scared parents when Holy Diver came out, because it’s so damn good that even they couldn’t deny its power. With its huge mid-paced riff, cool-but-uncomplicated lyrics, and sympathetic themes, this is just a killer rock song, not an evil prayer to the Devil. As such, even those listeners scared shitless of D&D and tight pants couldn’t hate on this gem. The kids are all right, they just don’t like you.
5. “Don’t Talk to Strangers”
Whispers, references to starlight, an acoustic intro, and the word ‘danger’ pronounced ‘DAYN-JA!” — “Don’t Talk to Strangers” may be the ultimate old-school metal track. Suggesting a ballad at the outset, the song immediately becomes a chug-fest with awesome momentum and beautifully nonsensical lyrics. This one exists almost solely so that listeners can make the invisible orange while yelling, “Cause they’ll only bring you…DOOOOWN!” And that’s why we’ll always love it.
4. “Stand Up and Shout”
Holy Diver’s mid-paced singles receive so much of the album’s praise and credit that one sometimes forgets it opens with a raging pre-thrash track. “Stand Up and Shout” has a speed and chug that most metal bands only dream of, and gives Dio a place to showcase his shrieks as well as his soaring operatic vocals. For a dude leaving the biggest metal band on earth, this was a necessary, instantaneous declaration that RJD would do just fine on his own. Go on, EXPLODE.
3. “Caught In The Middle”
More than anything, “Caught In The Middle” is beautifully unexpected on Holy Diver. Amidst all these searing tunes about shaming the night and riding the tiger, there’s this heartfelt, major-key anthem to feeling out of place and attacked on all sides by real life. As such, the track has become a favorite of true fans, who once upon a time listened to the album in its entirety and suddenly found themselves unfathomably understood. A powerful track for the lost and helpless, and one of metal’s most underrated gems.
2. “Holy Diver”
God, what a riff. No one can deny that the title track from Holy Diver has one of the most headbangable guitar parts in metal history. However, it’s also the lyrics and delivery which really set this song apart from others like it. Dio is in full Dio mode, screaming about jumping from the tiger and how there’s a truth as hard as steel. Instantly identifiable and a shitload of fun to cover, “Holy Diver” remains the moment which made Dio who he is in the hearts of metalheads everywhere.
1. “Rainbow In The Dark”
How can a song sound so much like its title? Amidst all of the tough-guy devilry of the 1980s, Dio’s “Rainbow In The Dark” was a shining beacon, an upbeat song that made every black-clad dude feel like a multi-colored beam of light. Not only that, it referenced Dio’s old band and gave him a moment of introspection, discussing his own sense of heartbreak and human struggle. All of this comes together in one beautiful consummation of heavy metal thunder and uniquely personal tenderness. Cry out for magic.
Words by Chris Krovatin