'Korn': The Story Behind the Cover Art | Revolver

'Korn': The Story Behind the Cover Art

Thanks to band's 1994 self-titled debut we've never been able to look at playgrounds in quite the same way
korn 1990s GETTY, Mick Hutson / Redferns
photograph by Mick Hutson / Redferns

See You on the Other Side may have a sallow schoolboy lost in an illustrated dreamscape with demonic bunnies; Issues may have cartoon voodoo dolls stuck in the sanitarium; and Follow the Leader may have comics icon Todd McFarlane's sadistic hop-scotch into oblivion. But none of the grotesque graphics gracing Korn's discography offer the real-life creepiness (and undercurrent of molestation) of the cover image from their 1994 self-titled debut.

KornCover.png

The front pictured a frightened little girl on a swing looking up at a figure whose shadow is a cross between Edward Scissorhands and Freddy Krueger — dig the lobster-like claws — and the back showed an empty swing. Together, the images were nearly as jarring as the disc itself, which ushered in a little something called nu-metal.

Even creepier, the child being stalked was a member of Korn's extended family — the niece of Immortal Records rep Paul Pontius (Korn were on Epic/Immortal in those days).

"When the album came out, Paul was in the doghouse with his family," snickers photographer Stephen Stickler, who snapped this and many other seminal rock images (he's also a frequent Revolver contributor). "Paul might have got some shit, but he realized it was just a cover," reasons art director Jay Papke. "Fortunately, the girl had no idea it was this disturbing, molester deal."

Indeed, only 8 years old at the time, Justine Ferrara was oblivious to the horror being orchestrated around her. "I just remember being at a park with this guy Dante [Ariola, the co–art director of the shoot — and owner of the menacing shadow], who's really nice," says Ferrara, now a sophomore at New York University.

Besides, Uncle Paul and Ferrara's mom (his sister) were at the West Hollywood playground behind Immortal's old offices, supervising what seemed a relatively harmless hour-long shoot. "My sister and I were there the entire time," pledges the music exec, "watching Justine just swinging as Stickler told her, 'Look scared!'"

No one seems to remember exactly who came up with the concept, but there's no doubt that Stickler and his crew took the idea as far as they could. As Pontius puts it, "they fucked with the picture" to give the cover its now-legendary eeriness.

"We positioned the Korn logo so the girl's shadow looks like she's hanging [from it]," Stickler explains. "Also, we desaturated the colors to give the picture an old-time, faded feel." Remarkably, the scary claw-like hands in the photo were achieved without props. Ariola simply moved his fingers, "trying to make creepy shapes in the shadows," says Stickler. "It was late in the day, so the shadows were getting long."

Ferrara, who was paid $300 for her swinging skills, says she wasn't allowed to see the cover until she was in eighth grade. "I heard my parents weren't too happy," she recalls. "And my mom wasn't keen on punk kids recognizing her little girl in the supermarket. But I think it's cool. I got some modeling under my belt."         

Which is more than we can say for the little girl in the picture, whose unhappy fate is suggested on the disc's back cover. Laughs Stickler: "The empty swing says it all."