Queen’s self-titled 1973 debut album wades up to the waist—but Queen II dives in headfirst. The layers are denser (“The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke”), the structures are trickier and more exploratory (“The March of the Black Queen”), and the overall attack is both stronger and more flamboyant. Released in 1974, Queen II was too light to be heavy metal (“White Queen (As It Began)”) and too heavy to be glam (“Seven Seas of Rhye”). But its weird mix of power and frilliness captured the essence of both. Drummer Roger Taylor would later claim the band members recorded so many overdubs on Queen II, they wore the oxide off the tape; it’s the art-rock equivalent of a fisherman holding up his prizewinning catch with a grin on his face and the weight printed proudly underneath. And the band members had plenty to brag about when it came to Queen II. If the album’s choral vocals and baroque flourishes of guitar sound indulgent, note with awe the disclaimer pointing out that “nobody played synthesizer”—a purist’s reminder that no matter how complex things got, Queen was still, above all, a rock band. And compared to the band’s coolly received debut effort, Queen II was a success, making noise on the album charts in both the UK and the US. (Freddie Mercury even quit his job selling secondhand clothes in Kensington Market, in order to make time to tour.) As Brian May later noted, Queen II certainly wasn’t a perfect album—but it was the single biggest step the band ever took.