Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton doesn’t even know where to start on recounting the long, torturous trail of his solo debut album.

So, he tries from the beginning …

“We really didn’t know if the thing would ever come off,” Tipton said recently from his home in England, “and now we’re finally off and running. I began writing for it about five years ago, but there was never any rush to get it done. I just wanted it to be done right.”

The odyssey of “Baptizm of Fire,” scheduled for a Feb. 18 release (on Atlantic), began when singer Rob Halford left Judas Priest in mid-1992 to form the rock group Fight. Tipton found himself in a quandary: Should he keep Judas Priest’s heavy-metal vision alive and find a new singer or should he go off on his own? He opted for both.

“Where do you go from Priest?” he said with a laugh. “Initially, with my new album, I went too far behind and strayed away from what I’m so accustomed to. Metal will always be in my blood, so I got back to it.

“I certainly didn’t think I’d end up singing on it. We recorded it with various artists around the world over a two, three-year period. I had to find direction, and it’s not that easy going out on your own after so many years with one band. Making it was almost like a sitcom, where your characters don’t quite develop at first, but I took it all very seriously.”

Players assembled for Tipton’s brand of raw, snarling rock ‘n’ roll included The Who’s John Entwistle, drumming veteran Cozy Powell, Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan and Ugly Kid Joe singer Whitfield Crane and drummer Shannon Larkin. Tipton handled all the guitar work and, for the first time since his pre-Priest days in the early ’70s, held his own at the microphone.

“I’ve played backseat for so many years,” Tipton said, “so it was a big adjustment for me. I’ll be the first to admit I won’t win a Grammy for my vocals. I’ve had no vocal idols to follow, so this is me and no one else, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.”

There are shades of Priest throughout “Baptizm of Fire,” but Tipton throws a few curveballs, including the anti-drug “Fuel” and a serviceable, hard-rock stab at the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.”

“I’ve always been a great fan of the Stones,” Tipton said, “but there was no use trying to do it note for note. That’s the easy way out. I was going more for three and a half minutes of mayhem.”

Tipton is most proud of the way “Baptizm of Fire” evolved and grew under such extraordinary circumstances and, despite the Priest-like approach, claiming its own style.

“The last five years have been the best of my life in music,” he said. “I really had to dig deep inside myself and grow as a musician. These guys, these great musicians I played with, they instilled a lot of confidence in me. There was an electricity to the whole project, and I can’t thank them enough.”

And, as for Priest, it’s far from over. After a five-year search and poring over more than 1,000 applications, they have finally found Halford’s replacement: His name is Ripper Owens, a 28-year-old singer from Ohio. Tipton said Owens’ vocal style blew them away.

“We flew him over and the next day he sang the first two verses of ‘Victim of Changes,’ and I knew right then he was the one,” he said. “He had been a Priest fan for years and had all the mannerisms down. It was stunning.”

BWF (before we forget): Tipton, who said his “first love will always be Priest,” promises the band’s comeback album, “Jugulator” (CMC International; released Oct. 28, 1998), will be “brutal, right between the eyes.”