Once again, we’re back with another song for our week of metal music. This time, we’ll be looking at a band that came on the tailwind of Black Sabbath: Dio. Dio formed in 1982 by frontman and lead singer Ronnie James Dio, who left Black Sabbath to start the band with another former Black Sabbath member, drummer Vinny Appice.
So far this week, we’ve covered some contemporary metal with Mastodon’s “Blood and Thunder”, as well as some of its earliest incarnations with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”.
Now, we’ll take a look at metal as it progressed after Black Sabbath pioneered it into existence. Dio played a big role in that, and the song “Holy Diver” is considered to be one of the quintessential metal songs.
“Holy Diver” is the second track from Dio’s 1982 debut album, and one of the two singles that released with it. While it only reached No. 40 on the Mainstream Rock chart at the time, it remains today as one of Dio’s most popular songs.
The song has a driving rhythm, in a now classic pattern that emphasizes the end of each line with a blast of guitar chords. The same riff is repeated for most of the verses, coming out more strongly in the chorus.
After September 11, 2001, “Holy Diver” was listed as one of the “post-9/11 inappropriate titles” distributed by the Clear Channel. Other songs placed on the list include Cat Steven’s “Peace Train”, and the entire Rage Against the Machine Discography.
While I understand why a song titled “Holy Diver” would be banned from the airwaves post-9/11, the message of Dio’s classic actually contains themes of Christianity. But I guess you can’t count on the corporate men at the top to actually understand the themes behind every song they ban. But seriously, “Peace Train”? Okay I’m done.
In an interview with Sam Dunn in the “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey“, Dio sums up the narrative of “Holy Diver”.
“The song ‘Holy Diver’ is really about a Christ-figure, who on another place, not Earth, has done exactly the same as we’ve apparently experienced or were supposed to have experienced on Earth: dying for the sins of man so that man can start again and be cleansed and do it properly”.
Dio sings from the point of view of one of the people who has lost the Holy Diver Christ-figure, and now feels lost. “Holy Diver / You’ve been down too long in the midnight sea / Oh what’s becoming of me?
On ronniejamesdio.com, he adds, “It’s simply a song about things that are not always what they appear to be. You need to look at more than what the package is, you need to look inside”.
I have a little confession to make. Before this week, I’d never listened to Ronnie James Dio before. Heavy metal enthusiasts, I apologize. I think the most I ever heard from him was his short cameo in Tenacious D’s “The Pick of Destiny”. But I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to “Holy Diver”. I think there’s some more Dio in my future.
There’s something both silly and incredibly awesome about “Holy Diver”. Some of the lyrics are just ridiculous, but still maintain an epic quality to them through the conviction in Dio’s voice. Take these lines: “Got shiny diamonds / Like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue
/ Something is coming for you, look out!” I feel like they shouldn’t work, but they do. And they make me love “Holy Diver” even more. Look out!
That about wraps up our discussion for today. Tomorrow, we’ll round out the week with a song from a band who bridged the gap between early heavy metal and contemporary.