THE BIG DEAL – First Bite

The promotional cycle for melodic rockers The Big Deal was a slow and carefully planned affair. The Serbian band pitched themselves to Frontiers Records with a selection of demo recordings which got the green light for an album, but they didn’t begin work on that immediately. Instead, they took to social media throughout 2021 and shared a set of videos that introduced them to the world via a selection of well known cover tunes. Classic tracks by Europe and Aerosmith very much set out the band’s melodic rock stall in an obvious but very engaging way, but it was their take on the ABBA classic ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ that really stood out. The track’s strong melodies provided vocalist Ana Nikolic with a great platform, but it was guitarist Srdjan Brankovic driving everything forward. The original cut’s distinctive keyboard hook transposed excellently to guitar, and he lent The Big Deal’s recording a truly excellent feature with his massive harmonic sounds.

Despite The Big Deal being a new band, though, Srdjan is something of a familiar face. He first came to prominence as a member of prog metal band Alogia, and literally just a few weeks before The Big Deal released ‘First Bite’, he was heavily featured on labelmate Ronnie Romero’s excellent covers album ‘Raised On Radio’. Joining Srdjan in The Big Deal is his wife Nevena on keys, vocalist Ana Nikolic, drummer Marko Milojevic (also of metal band Numenor) and the omnipresent Alessandro Del Vecchio on bass. They might not be what you’d call a genuine “all star” band, but each member brings something special to the table, and it’s clear from the recordings chosen for the debut that the musicians compliment each other brilliantly.

Interestingly, the band choose to kickstart the album with a metallic banger that doesn’t necessarily show off their most melodic side. ‘Never Say Never’ thunders from the speakers with a super charged and thrashy riff that values speed over almost everything else. Obviously, this gives Srdjan and Marko a superb workout, but it doesn’t necessarily fit with a band you might have already seen chugging through some top notch melodic rock covers. Settling into the verse, things shift into some chunky melodic metal – more in line with the much missed Animal Drive – and Ana’s clean vocals take everything even further into the realms of the AOR/melodic rock you might be expecting, but there’s still an obvious bombast. Given a little more time to adjust, though, it sounds great. Ana’s voice calls out with clarity; beneath the heavier moments, Nevena throws out some classic, stabbing AOR keys, and once the chorus soars above the riff, the track eventually offers something that sounds like a cousin to the best parts of the Angelica Rylin debut. That would be enough to grab the attention, but after a couple of rounds with a great riff and hook, Srdjan indulges in the kind of fretboard melting solo that almost certainly calls back to his prog metal day job. It shouldn’t necessarily work; in some ways, his busy approach is at odds with the melodic core of the track, but hearing him push forth with a frenzied attack of notes actually delivers some genuine excitement within a very retro sound.

Taking everything down a notch in terms of force, but not necessarily speed, ‘I Need You Here Tonight’ works a brilliant Euro melodic metal sound with a jagged riff underscoring a powerful vocal. Ana’s voice is great as she harmonises with Nevena, and their soaring sounds provide a great contrast with the driving edge of the music. As before, there are some great riffs and hooks – the Eurovision-esque chorus melody supplies one of the album’s most immediate melodic charms – but the standout moments often come from some fantastic guitar playing, ranging from multi-layered fills to another busy solo where some top grade shredding eventually gives way to a descending scale that threatens to go the neo-classical route. If you aren’t sold on The Big Deal’s melodic metal at this point, it’s likely you never will be, but for those listeners who’ve found something to enjoy from the first couple of numbers, ‘First Bite’ actually offers a couple of even bigger treats along the way.

An easy stand out, ‘Bad Times, Good Times’ opens with a brilliant harmonic guitar part, then drops effortlessly into some pop edged AOR that accentuates The Big Deal’s Euro origins, but also has a classic rock heart that borrows a little more influence from American sounds from the 80s. It’s great to hear the two vocalists harmonise, and although Srdjan takes more of a back seat throughout, he still drops in a massive guitar solo. His stylistic choice is a little busy for the job in hand on this occasion, but he still demonstrates a really good tone. Although this is a tune that doesn’t ever break new ground for the band or genre, it’s one of the most pleasing with a bigger focus on melody, and the fact that the chorus feels like one you’ve always known is proof of some some solid song writing chops. ‘Top Heaven’, meanwhile, suffers a little from the band writing in a second language, but – again – shows off a really strong musical unit throughout. Tackling some solid hard rock with more of a rock ‘n’ roll swing from the rhythm section, it’s got more of a “party rock” feel than most of the material here, but its high energy approach really allows Ana to cut loose. The trashier aesthetic is counterbalanced by massive pomp metal keyboard solo (akin to something on loan from an old Alcatrazz record) and equally big guitar break, but in terms of catchiness, a big hook lifts everything further than ever before. The chorus vocals are a little buried under the wall of sound, leading to something that sounds more like “ba-bana!” than “top heaven” until you tune in, but that’s down to the album’s final mix – suffering from Frontiers’ usual lack of dynamic range – rather than the band’s obvious vocal abilities.

Charging ahead with more solid melodic metal, ‘Power On’ couples some high octane Malmsteen-isms within a massive riff with some huge vocal wails which, from the outset, aren’t shy in sounding very retro. An obvious throwback to bands like Doro, it’s a style The Big Deal take in their stride, and its very obviously an easy way for Srdjan and Nevena to indulge in some tight solos, but it leaves a feeling that the band sound better when scaling things back a little. In contrast,‘In The Dead of The Night’ centres around tinkling keys which dance beneath a punchy, pompy groove that sounds like a cross between Nightwish and Angelica. Many elements of the track come across as pretty much Euro melodic metal 101, but for those who’ve already taken a shine to Ana’s huge vocal presence, it still supplies a couple of genuine treats, while a couple of its proggier flourishes allow Nevena to tease with a faux harpsichord solo, giving the album a little more depth. Reverting to straight melodic rock, ‘Rebel Lady’ unveils a wall of stabbing keys and soaring guitars, falling between classic Survivor and any number of Frontiers’ Euro talents, but its relative simplicity is half the charm, especially when giving Ana and Nevena more room to harmonise. For those who find some of this album a little too bombastic, this very retro tune should, at least, provide some respite and a welcome reminder of why straight up melodic rock will never get old.

For those hoping for something else in the melodic rock mould, ‘Sensational’ will certainly be another genuine highlight. There’s a heart to the track that, again, borrows from performers like Angelica and Issa, but beefs up the poppier hooks with a massive guitar sound that isn’t a million miles away from a harder version of Pretty Maids. It’s certainly one of the numbers where each distinctive element of The Big Deal gets a moment to shine, from Nevena’s classical piano flourishes, through Srdjan’s hard rock chug, whilst Ana’s friendly, melodic vocal links everything with a strong and more commercial edge. In terms of capturing the band’s brand of melodic hard rock in a perfect three minute package, things don’t get much better than this. At the tail end of the album, ‘Lady of The Night’ isn’t shy in indulging in some severe lyrical cheese, but musically, it’s another decent workout for the band, with Srdjan mixing things up with a Spanish guitar solo and Nevena filling a few bars with a semi-proggy flurry of notes that lifts the mid-tempo chug. If you’ve enjoyed most of The Big Deal’s tunes, it’s pretty much a guarantee you’ll like this too.

In the forty minutes it takes for ‘First Bite’ to play from end to end, The Big Deal make their mark in a very confident fashion. Their music might not be anything new, but in terms of old style melodic rock with a massive presence and a hint of leather trousered action, it hits the mark square on, pretty much consistently. As with the Ronnie Romero covers album, it’s often Srdjan providing most of the highlights, but he’s a great player with a superb tone, and he definitely gives the band most of their important crunch. For those happy to revel in sounds that could have been revived from the big haired glory days of 1987-91 and then given a bigger pair of boots, this is an album well worth checking out.

Buy the album: THE BIG DEAL – First Bite

April/May 2022