At its surface, this song is about Satan, and his descent to Hell (his "dive"). But according to Dio, there's a lot more to it, and the main character isn't really The Devil. "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," he told Sam Dunn for the film Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. "So, the same thing happened on this other far-distant planet, and all the people on this planet are calling him the Holy Diver because he's about to go to another world to do what he did to the first: absolve them from their sins by having himself killed. And the people are saying to him, 'Don't go,' with innuendos of tigers and stripes and hearts and being eaten. It was meant to show just how selfish humanity is, that this one form of humanity on this one world said, 'No, don't go down there and save anybody else. Stay here, we need you, you are ours.'"
Dio is Ronnie James Dio, the replacement vocalist for Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath and the original lead singer in the band Rainbow. His solo career was far less successful than Ozzy's, and there was some animosity between the two, but when Dio died of cancer on May 16, 2010, Ozzy released a statement saying: "I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Ronnie James Dio. Metal has truly lost one of its greatest voices."
This song is an expression of Dio's rebellion against his Catholic upbringing, which he felt distorted the message of the religion. Instead of teaching by love, the nuns would keep order by smacking the kids with rulers and telling them they would go to Hell if they didn't behave.
The lyrics deal specifically with Revelations 12:9 where Satan is cast to the earth. The tiger is symbolic of the wild beast that comes out of the sea, as mentioned in Revelations 13:1.
The malevolent imagery in this song is something that goes along with the genre. "If you're gonna write a gothic song, you're probably not gonna write it about how your love affair broke up," Dio told Sam Dunn. "So, your subject matter becomes a little bit more narrowed and certainly evil is a great subject - evil is dark, evil is something that we know about but don't understand why it happens, and we don't really ever meet up with the devil. So it's kind of having to use your own imagination. The themes around evil are just so much more cognizant to the music that we make because minor keys are so prevalent in most metal music. It's hard to write a song in an entire minor key and talk about nice things. In my case, I've done it differently. I've always tried to be someone who has warned people that there is good and there is evil, and that you have a choice, and your best choice is probably not to be evil. This is what evil can do to you, this is what evil has done to the people that I know. It depends on your perspective of evil though. I mean, drugs are evil, too much indulgence in bad things is evil. Hanging around with evil people is gonna beget you to be an evil person. These are the themes that I've tried to deal with in a darker way. Not to say that the devil is lurking around the corner - I'm not one of those that goes to that kind of extreme. I think that has been a problem that people have taken metal music to that extreme socially. I have tried never to do that."
This song was featured in an episode of South Park
where Dio (in crude cartoon form) appears performing at an elementary school dance with a monkey on drums. In the same NME
interview, Dio said: "When I heard South Park
wanted to use 'Holy Diver‚' I was like No way! You're gonna completely destroy me, I'll be so embarrassed to see it. But they said they wouldn't because they were big fans and they didn't. They were very kind to me - not so much the drummer - but very kind to me! Plus, if you want to be an icon of some kind, you have to be in an episode of South Park
DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation, for above 2
The album cover depicts Satan whipping a priest with a chain, with the priest shackled and drowning in a turbulent sea. Predictably, this caused some controversy.
This was covered, ironically, by the gospel singer Pat Boone on his In a Metal Mood
album. Acknowledging the subject matter, the song ends with Pat reciting Psalm 23:4. Dio sang the backup vocals - he thought it was hilarious.
Brett - Edmonton, Canada
In June 2009, Dio told the NME: "'Holy Diver' is the metal tune that will not die. For some reason, that album and the song really hit a chord with people. Killswitch Engage did a version of it and I saw them do it at a festival recently where the reaction to their version was wonderful. But it's not something that gets resurrected every once in a while, it's just always there. I guess it's because good songs always work. What usually happens when people in bands meet me for the first time and they're fans is that they'll sing [adopts a self-mocking high pitched voice] 'Hoooly Diiiiiver' at me! It happens all the time and it's very touching."
In 1989, Japanese video game company Irem made a game based on this song, featuring a protagonist who resembles Ronnie James Dio. The game was never released outside of Japan.
Douglas - Waterloo, England