Dio Holy Diver was released on the 25th of May, 1983. The debut Dio (band) album has been hailed by critics as Ronnie’s best work and a staple in heavy metal.
“I grew up in the days of actual album sleeves, part of the beauty of albums was that you wouldn’t just listen to what was inside — you’d also spend time examining the cover before you even took the plastic off.” – Ronnie James Dio
After spending most of the 70’s fronting bands like Rainbow and Elf, Ronnie replaced Ozzy in Black Sabbath in 1979 but split-out after just three records (he later rejoined Sabbath for 1992’s Dehumanizer). When the time came to design the album cover for Dio’s self-titled 1983 solo debut, the singer knew he wanted to use an illustration rather than photo-based artwork that was already overused in the industry.
“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.” – Ronnie James Dio
It was Ronnie’s then-wife, Wendy, who came up with the idea for Holy Diver’s distinctly unholy cover art: an illustration of a red-eyed demon attempting to drown a priest. “The initial concept was more hers than anyone’s,” Dio explained. “But we both kind of developed it. We thought people might think it was too controversial. Nothing’s over the top anymore, but this was back in 1983, you know?”
Needless to say, the reps at Warner Bros (North America) were none at all thrilled. “I seem to remember a little bit of ‘Are you sure you wanna do this?’ from the record company,” the vocalist chuckled. “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.”
The initial rendering of Holy Diver’s cover was by Gene Hunter, but the illustration that actually appears on the finished product is the work of Randy Berrett. “Gene was this musician we knew could draw pretty well, so we asked him to try it for us,” Dio said. “Originally, the artwork had the priest underwater, hanging inverted and chained to a cross. Eventually, we decided the cross was a little bit too much, but Gene did a great job with it, and Randy did the final rendering.”
Randy Berrett now works his magic for Pixar Animation Studios along with many other ventures.
The Dio Holy Diver album cover also solidified the brand with the first depiction of the devil-beast known affectionately as Murray. “Much like Iron Maiden’s Eddie.”
Murray became a kind of mascot for us,” Dio said. “And if you’re going to have a monster, you’ve got to give him a silly name. It personalizes it in a humorous way. But even early on, we didn’t want to show Murray from the waist down. We thought maybe that would give away too much — in more ways than one.”
Ronnie James Dio, born Ronald James Padavona, is credited with popularizing the “Metal Horns” hand gesture in heavy metal culture and is known for his brilliant medieval themed lyrics. Dio possessed a powerful, yet elegant and versatile vocal range capable of singing both hard rock and lighter ballads.