Released on May 25, 1983, the album has been hailed by critics as Dio's best work and a classic staple in the heavy metal genre. The album was certified Gold in the US on September 12, 1984, and Platinum on March 21, 1989. In the UK it attained Silver certification (60,000 units sold) by the British Phonographic Industry, achieving this in January 1986, at the same time as The Last in Line.
The original vinyl release had a photo-montage LP-liner, with images from both Rainbow and Black Sabbath days.
The album was remastered and re-released by Rock Candy Records in 2005. The only notable addition to the original album is an audio interview with Ronnie James Dio. Tracks 10-19 on the 2005 edition are Dio's answers to various questions about the album. The questions are not posed during the interview itself, but can be found inside the CD's booklet instead. The album, along with The Last in Line and Sacred Heart, were released in a new 2-CD Deluxe Edition on March 19, 2012 through Universal for worldwide distribution outside the U.S.
The cover features the band mascot, Murray spinning chains around waves where a man with a priest or minister's collar in chains is floating. Dio was quick to argue that appearances are misleading, that it could just as easily be a priest killing a devil, wanting people not to "judge a book by its cover".
Murray is featured on several other Dio albums. When the "DIO" logo is viewed upside-down it can be interpreted as spelling either the word "DIE" or "DEVIL". Ronnie James Dio has called this purely coincidental. Album cover artwork is by artist Randy Berrett.
Around the time of making the album, a rise of heroic adventure elements in popular culture (such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books and role-playing games Dungeons & Dragons) were having influence. "Much of heavy metal took place on similar turf, a realm of dark towers and impenetrable wilderness populated by battles and adversity." When Ronnie James Dio had been with Black Sabbath, "He reverently refurbished and reinvented the band's stately doom with grandiose concepts...Dio found a fertile fantasy framework for the big Sabbath themes of madness and desolation". Dio, who had read Sir Walter Scott, Arthurian tales, and science fiction growing up, had previously used fantasy lyrics in his early 1970s band Elf. Dio explained to an interviewer that influenced by his youthful reading, "When I became a songwriter, I thought what better thing to do than do what no one else is doing...to tell fantasy tales. Smartest thing I ever did." The rock historian Ian Christe relates that for the post-Sabbath solo career "Dio simplified his stories substantially for a younger heavy metal audience. The 1983 debut Holy Diver, by his band Dio, reduced lush moral landscapes to simple good-versus-evil conflicts, using the lyrical duality of 'Rainbow in the Dark' and 'Holy Diver' to raise questions about deceit and hypocrisy in romance and religion. In the sharp contrasts of Dio's imagery, there was always a built-in contradiction that fed adolescent revolt: a black side to every white light, and a hidden secret behind every loud proclamation of truth. In a similar way, Dio's music balanced torrents of rage with brief acoustic interludes."
AllMusic reviewer Eduardo Rivadavia praised the album, stating that "aside from Ronnie's unquestionably stellar songwriting, Holy Diver's stunning quality and consistency owed much to his carefully chosen bandmates, including powerhouse drummer and fellow [Black] Sabbath survivor Vinny Appice, veteran bassist Jimmy Bain, and a phenomenal find in young Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell, whose tastefully pyrotechnic leads helped make this the definitive Dio lineup. Holy Diver remains the undisputed highlight of Dio's career...and, indeed, one of the finest pure heavy metal albums of the 1980s." Canadian reviewer Martin Popoff describes the album as "quintessential traditional metal", with Ronnie James Dio "almost single-handedly reinventing gothic hard rock for the '80s, incorporating strong melodic hooks and more than the genre's usual share of velvety, classical-based pyrotechnics."Kerrang! gave the album a positive review in 1983 and Holy Diver ended up at no. 5 in the British magazine's End of Year list of best releases. Today, Kerrang! still considers it a "perfect melodic metal album" and an "essential purchase".
On IGN's list of "Top 25 Metal Albums", Holy Diver is at number 8, and this statement followed, "In all his bands, in all his roles, in all his musical vagabond choices, Ronnie James Dio has been fortunate enough to be associated with some of heavy metal's best -- Sabbath, Rainbow, and his own band Dio. To best represent his tenure in the genre, one must look no farther than Holy Diver. His first album with his new band was also his best. It is one of metal's best albums, and it spawned two of the greatest metal songs of the '80s: 'Holy Diver' and 'Rainbow in the Dark'. Featuring the underrated Vivian Campbell on guitar, this album showed that Dio could do it on his own."