Dio's 'Holy Diver': The Story Behind the Cover Art | Revolver

Dio's 'Holy Diver': The Story Behind the Cover Art

Is the monster drowning the priest, or is the priest drowning the monster? Ronnie James Dio shares the answers to this and other burning questions raised by his 1983 debut album.
Dio1983Getty.jpg, Chris Walter/WireImage
Dio, (from left) Ronnie James Dio, Vinny Appice, Jimmy Bain and Viv Campbell, 1983
photograph by Chris Walter/WireImage

"I grew up in the days of actual album sleeves," vocalist Ronnie James Dio says. "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."

After spending most of the Seventies fronting bands like Elf and Rainbow, he replaced Ozzy in Black Sabbath in 1979 but split after just three records (he later rejoined for 1992's Dehumanizer). When the time came to design a cover for Dio's eponymous 1983 solo debut, the singer knew he wanted to use an illustration rather than photo-based artwork.

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"I've always preferred illustrations," he says. "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."

It was Dio's then-wife, Wendy, who came up with the idea for Holy Diver's distinctly unholy cover art: an illustration of a priest being drowned by a red-eyed demon. "The initial concept was more hers than anyone's," he explains. "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 the record label were none too thrilled. "I seem to remember a little bit of 'Are you sure you wanna do this?' from the record company," the singer chuckles. "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 was the work of Randy Berrett. "Gene was this musician we knew who drew pretty well, so we asked him to try it for us," Dio says. "Originally, the artwork had the priest underwater, hanging upside down 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."

The album's cover also solidified the Dio 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 explains. "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."