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    Judas Priest Hell Bent for Halford

    Judas Priest fans, you've got another thing comin'.

    Rob Halford, seminal head-banging frontman for the enduring British metal mavens, has decided to take the leather and chains out of mothballs and reunite with his old mates after more than 12 years apart.

    With Halford back, Judas Priest aims to start recording a new studio album this fall for a spring 2004 release, followed by a world tour in honor of its 30th anniversary. A retrospective box set is also in the works.

    "The original band members have been reestablishing their personal and professional relationships," the band's publicist says in a press release announcing the reconvened lineup.

    Rumors of a reunion with Halford have been circulating since 1999, but the band members say it was only in recent days that they all agreed to sign on. Joining Halford will be dual lead guitaritsts Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, basist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis.

    Hailing from the working class steel town of Birmingham, England, Judas Priest played its first gig in 1971 with vocalist Alan Atkins, who took the name from the Bob Dylan tune "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest." After Atkins' departure in 1973, Halford and drummer John Hinck, both late of the band Hiroshima, came on board, completing a lineup that more or less stayed the same except for a constant stream of drummers, which helped to inspire the ongoing gag in This Is Spinal Tap.

    The band signed its first record contract in 1974, which is how they explain next year being the 30th anniversary.

    In the late '70s, tours with the likes of KISS and AC/DC propelled Priest to must-see metal status and led to several Top 20 hits, including the hard-rocking classics "Hell Bent for Leather" off the 1979 album of the same name and "Breaking the Law," and "Living After Midnight" off 1980's British Steel.

    Fueled by the pipes of the Halford and the blistering guitar attack of Tipton and Downing, the quintet hit the big time in the U.S. with the release of 1982's Screaming for Vengeance, which spawned one of the band's signature songs, "You've Got Another Thing Comin'." That was accompanied by a six-month trek in the U.S. that helped the record go platinum.

    The band and its label, CBS Records, were infamously sued in 1990 by the families of two Priest fans who committed suicide five years earlier. The families blamed alleged subliminal messages in the band's songs for contributing to the deaths. In 1993, Judas Priest was found not guilty, but by that time Halford had become disenchanted and, after declaring his homosexuality, quit the band in what was said to be an acrimonious split. He subsequently collaborated with Pantera and the then Ozzy-less Black Sabbath before forming the electronic metal act Two in 1996 and later Halford.

    Meanwhile, the other members soldiered on by recruiting Tim "Ripper" Owens, the lead singer of a Priest tribute band called British Steel, to do the shrieking. Owens recorded three albums with Priest and also served the basis for the 2001 Mark Wahlberg-Jennifer Aniston movie Rock Star. (The film was initially supposed to be an authorized big-screen version of the Owens-Priest connection, but the band decided not to cooperate and even threatened to sue, and the filmmakers eventually tweaked the story.)

    With Halford back at the microphone, Owens and Priest have "parted amicably by mutual agreement," according to the band publicist.

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