In the pantheon of classic metal albums, Dio's Holy Diver is on the shortlist of most widely beloved and revered. A near perfect opus of soaring heavy metal wizardy and a welcome stamp of approval that, after years of living the vision's of others, Ronnie James Dio was ready to write his own.
Vinny Appice remembers the era fondly.
The legendary drummer, who performed alongside Dio across three decades under the Dio band, Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell, reflects on the pace of the era, a time in which yearly albums coinciding with break-neck levels of touring were the norm.
"You know what? Back then that's the way it was. You usually did an album every year, year and a half, and that was the schedule. So we'd finish the album, we'd have a little time off, then rehearse and go out on tour," Appice recalled during a sit down with Metal Injection.
"With Dio and Sabbath we did a lot of touring, a lot of countries and a lot of places that we played and then we'd come back, have a little time off, and then let's start another album. That's the way it was. That was just natural for that to be that way, you know? So it was like nonstop. It was cool."
Reading the writing on the wall in the dog days of his stint as frontman for Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio set out to carve his own path, throwing all his chips in the middle for the debut album of the Dio band, the mystical, magical and awesome Holy Diver.
He'd brought along Appice on drums, reunited with former Rainbow bandmate Jimmy Bain on bass, and enlisted the talents of then Sweet Savage guitarist Vivian Campbell, who would go on to worldwide notoriety for his work with Brit rock legends Def Leppard.
"I guess coming out of Sabbath, the original idea was using that record deal that Ronnie had in place. He had that record deal in place while in Sabbath, while we were doing Mob Rules. And he had a deal from Warner Brothers, and he was going to do a solo record. But at the end of the touring after Mob Rules, we did Live Evil," Appice recalls, delving into the formation of the Dio band.
"By then, the band was on the verge of breaking up. And this is between those three guys, not me. I'm the new kid on the block. He decided 'that's it. I'm going to put my own band together for once!', because he just worked with Sabbath, and he's not in control of his whole destiny. It was always somebody else that can make decisions. Same with Ritchie Blackmore. So he decided, 'well, the hell with this stuff. I'm going to do it myself!' And he was determined and had told me he was going to leave the band and do his own band and he'd like me to come along. So I said, 'Yeah, let's do it!'
"I thought it would be very exciting because we got along really well and he lived really close to where I lived in California, so it was easy to get together and it was just a natural thing. And then we finally got the band together and we started writing and rehearsing and jamming. Nobody came in with finished songs. All those songs were put together at rehearsal and jamming riffs and trying different crazy changes and smoking a lot of pot and all that shit. And that's how we came up with Holy Diver. And we tried everything."
Unconventional methods bled into the recording process as Dio and co. forged ahead with a brave, vibrant and powerful new sound. Ingenuity and outside the box thinking were encouraged in the loose, free flowing and admittedly fun studio sessions that dominated the early Dio era.
"We've got backwards stuff on that album. The beginning of 'Invisible', to get that sound [makes a swishing sound], was a tire. Our friend, actually the guy who brought over the pot all the time, had a tire in his truck, because Ronnie wanted that sound. And we said it's like air escaping. He goes, 'I got a tire in my truck!' 'Bring it in!' We miked up the tire, you know? Anything went with us back then.
"It was so cool. There wasn't the word 'can't' in the equation, and we mic'd up a tire. Probably the first time a tire has been miked up in the studio. And we did a couple of takes before we depleted the tire of air. And that's what's in the beginning of 'Invisible'. I don't know what they did to it if they put it backwards or whatever, but it was all on tape, you know? So we were just having so much fun making that record and hanging out at Sound City. They let us do anything we wanted there and it was a very, very happy creative moment in time."
"Rainbow in the Dark", one of the album's breakout tracks and constant of any Dio set since its inception, so goes the legend, was nearly scrapped by Ronnie in the studio.
"Ronnie didn't want to be a hair band and he didn't want to be a pop band. So he didn't like the idea of having a single, simple song. The other bits of the song are a little more complicated. So he didn't like that. We all liked the song. And then when we finished it, he didn't like it." Appice recalled, admitting that they were able to talk the steadfast frontman off the precipice of cutting one of his biggest hits.
"Luckily, we all convinced him that this is the song that needs to be on the record. It's a strong, strong [song]. it's not a real pop song, and it's easy to listen to and the girls like it. And luckily for that song, it pumped the album up. And that song was used in numerous movies already and a Budweiser beer commercial back in the day. Then he learned to love it."
Four decades later and Holy Diver is considered a landmark classic album and arguably the jewel in Ronnie James Dio's crown across decades as one of the Mount Rushmore voices of heavy metal.
To ask Appice, all hands at the time knew they had something special, but the longevity and lore surrounding the record would even surprise its main architect 40 years later.
"We thought it'll probably do good. You know, the road crew used to say 'it's going to be platinum!' We thought uhhh, probably a couple of hundred thousand back then. And that wasn't that good back then. Now it is. And then it came out and it just rode the charts right up, brought us right into the arenas and then and we never thought it would last. 40 years later.
"Ronnie would freak out if he was alive to see that this is still happening. And the movie [Thor: Love and Thunder] came out and they used his songs. "Rainbow in the Dark" was in the Thor movie at the end and got publishing requests for some of the songs. I'm out there playing it. We're playing some of the songs. Amazing, 40 years later, what album lasts that long?"