Since vocalist Rob Halford left iconic metal act Judas Priest in 1992, fans held out hope that there would some day be a reunion. In 2003, their wish came true: Halford rejoined the group with news of

Since vocalist Rob Halford left iconic metal act Judas Priest in 1992, fans held out hope that there would some day be a reunion. In 2003, their wish came true: Halford rejoined the group with news of a summer Ozzfest berth, a planned new studio album and a world tour the following year.

The second prong of the plan is "Angel of Retribution," a new studio album due March 1 via Epic. It's Halford's first album with the band since 1990's "Painkiller" and was produced by Roy Z, who has previously worked on solo albums from Halford and Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. The set will be bundled with a concert DVD shot in a bullring in Valencia, Spain.

Writing for "Retribution," which is still being sequenced, began in October 2003 and continued on and off this year while Judas Priest was on the road. It was another first for the band, as it had never stopped working on an album to go on tour before.

"We didn't even intend to take a break, but the fans were going crazy," Halford tells Billboard.com. "They wanted to see the band; they didn't want to wait. Like we've said all along, the fans are a big part of the reunion story because they've been consistently wanting this forever."

"It was a really good plan, to be honest," adds guitarist KK Downing. "Looking back, I think, to just say, 'OK, gonna lock yourself away for all that amount of time and just concentrate on one thing,' that's quite a tall order."

Guitarist Glen Tipton says the time away from the studio also helped the band decide which songs were the most appropriate for the album. "If we hadn't had that break, maybe that wouldn't have been so clear," he admits.

The five tracks Billboard.com has heard recall the ferocious, full-on metal assault of "Painkiller." The track "Deal With the Devil" is classic Priest, while "Hell Rider," includes a blazing, furious double-guitar attack. The lyrics in "Judas Rising" can be attributed to the group's reunion, though Halford points out that it is also about "the virtues that we believe in," such as being optimistic and fighting for your beliefs.

This is what Judas Priest fans want, and while the band is happy to deliver it, dealing with the expectations of devotees is still a heavy responsibility.

"It wasn't easy to write this album in the sense that everybody's watching, everybody's waiting and obviously you're under the microscope," Tipton says. "I think if we tried too hard to write to order, we would have made a big mistake, so all we did is sit down and wrote naturally."

The group has unveiled more than a month's worth of European tour dates, beginning Feb. 23 in Copenhagen. The trek will reach North America later in the year.

And while this year marked the 30th anniversary of Judas Priest's first album, "Rocka Rolla," the band doesn't see itself stopping at this point. "Just being as good as we can be, for as long as we can be," is how Downing wants to continue.

Halford concludes, "Obviously you face your physical limitations, but the band is firing on all cylinders now. It's a full roar, and there's no end in sight. There's definitely a new energy and a revitalization that's just been brought about by the reunion."

Here are Judas Priest's tour dates:

Feb. 23: Copenhagen (Valbyhallen)
Feb. 25: Karstad, Sweden (Lofbergs Lila Arena)
Feb. 26: Stockholm (Globe)
Feb. 28: Oulu, Finland (Ice Hall)
March 2: Tampere, Finland (Ice Hall)
March 3: Helsinki (Hartwell Arena)
March 5: Gothenburg, Sweden (Scandinavium)
March 8: Oslo (Spektrum)
March 10: Essen, Germany (Grughalle)
March 11: Offenbach, Germany (Stadthalle)
March 13: Munich (Zenith)
March 14: Stuttgart, Germany (Boblingen Sporthalle)
March 16-17: London (Hammersmith Apollo)
March 19: Birmingham, England (N.E.C.)
March 21-22: Manchester, England (Apollo)
March 24: Belfast (Odyssey)
March 26: Glasgow (S.E.C.C.)
March 27: Newcastle, England (Arena)
March 28: Sheffield, England (Arena)
March 30: Cardiff, Wales (Arena)
March 31: Plymouth, England (Pavillions)
April 2: Den Bosh, Holland (Arena)
April 4: Zwickau, Germany (Arena)
April 6: Katowice, Poland (Spodek)
April 7: Brno, Czech Republic (Sports Arena)